Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Arizona Coyotes.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Arizona Coyotes
In what was not much of a surprise, the Arizona Coyotes failed to make the playoffs for the sixth straight year. The Coyotes finished with a record of 29-41-12 and finished last in the Western Conference. General manager John Chayka made a flurry of moves in the off-season leading up to 2017-18. He tried to address many much-needed issues the team was facing. After moving on from longtime goaltender Mike Smith, Chayka pulled the trigger on a deal which sent Anthony DeAngelo and a first round pick to the New York Rangers in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. He then bolstered his defence group by trading Laurent Dauphin and Connor Murphy to the Chicago Blackhawks for Niklas Hjalmarsson as well as Jamie McGinn to the Florida Panthers for Jason Demers.
The Coyotes got off to a slow start going 0-10-1 in their first 11 games. It was the start of a disastrous first half for the Coyotes that saw goaltender Antti Raanta miss 15 games due to injury and the team posted a dismal record of 9-27-5. The Coyotes put together a much better second half, led by Raanta who posted a 16-6-4 record in the last half of the season with a goals-against average of 1.84 and a 0.942 save percentage. The poor first half was just too far to overcome. However, it is something for the team to build off to start this upcoming season.
The Coyotes made some moves leading up the NHL Entry Draft. They made a minor trade in which they sent Brandon Hickey and Mike Sislo to the Buffalo Sabres for Hudson Fasching. A day later they made a much bigger deal, sending Max Domi to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. Both forwards have struggled and a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered. The Coyotes are hoping the former 30-goal scorer can return to form, after finishing second last in goals for in the entire NHL last season.
The Coyotes also made a whopping seven-player deal with the Chicago Blackhawks that sent Marcus Kruger, prospects Mackenzie Entwistle and Jordan Maletta as well as AHL player Andrew Campbell and a fifth0round pick to the Hawks in exchange for Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, a third-round pick and the contract of Marian Hossa.
The Coyotes drafted for need in this year’s draft by selecting centre Barrett Hayton with the fifth overall selection. The pick may seem like a reach as most people, including Last Word’s own Ben Kerr, didn’t have Hayton going in the top 10. However, with the centre position being so important and the draft not holding a whole lot of elite talent at the position, the Coyotes decided to grab the second-ranked centre in the draft. Hayton enjoyed a solid year playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, scoring 21 goals and 60 points in 63 games. The Coyotes signed Hayton to a three entry-level contract on July 6th.
Here’s the complete draft for the Coyotes:
1-5: Barrett Hayton C Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
2-55: Kevin Bahl D Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
3-65: Jan Jenik RW Benatky N.J. (Czech Jrs)
3-73: Ty Emberson D U.S. National Under 18 Team (USHL)
4-114: Ivan Prosvetov G Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
5-142: Mike Callahan D Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
5-145: Denis Busby D Flint Firebirds (OHL)
6-158: David Tendeck G Vancouver Giants (WHL)
7-189: Liam Kirk LW Sheffield Steelers (EIHL)
The Coyotes never made a big splash in free agency as the only notable name they signed was Michael Grabner. They gave the winger a three-year, $10 million contract. Chayka’s biggest announcement came on July 2nd when he announced that he signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million contract extension. On the same day, he announced that he had signed Hjalmarsson to a two-year extension worth $10 million.
Projected Lineup for 2018-19
It’s a much different line up than what we saw on opening night last season. The additions of Galchenyuk, Hinostroza and Grabner give the Coyotes more scoring depth and they can put together three solid scoring lines. The line of Crouse, Cousins and Fischer is a pure energy line and will be a thorn in their opponent’s side night in and night out. Clayton Keller will look to build off of what was a solid rookie campaign where he led the Coyotes in scoring. Dylan Strome will look to finally crack the lineup and be an everyday NHL player as well. If he can play to his potential, the Coyotes will have a ton of scoring options on each line and could be a problem in the west.
Not much has changed on the defensive side of things. The Coyotes added Jordan Oesterle this summer in a trade with Chicago and signed Ilya Lyubushkin to an entry-level contract. Both players will fight to get into the top-six this season. They also let Luke Schenn walk in free agency. Outside of that, the group is exactly the same. It is, however, a solid group. Hjalmarsson was limited to 48 games last season due to injury. Having a steady defenceman like Hjalmarsson out of the lineup certainly diminishes your defence group as he is the most reliable defensive defenceman they have. A healthy season from will greatly improve the Coyotes chances.
The Coyotes will move forward with a duo of Raanta and Kuemper this year after going through six different goalies last season as they dealt with injury issues. This could prove to be one of the more solid goaltending duos in the league this season. Kuemper proved to be a solid back up goaltender in Minnesota and Los Angeles before being traded to Arizona last season. Raanta, on the other hand, proved that he is much more than a back up in his first year with the Coyotes. After a slow start and battling injuries in the first half, Raanta tightened up his game and finished the year with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Solid numbers for any goalie let alone playing for the last place team in the Western Conference. If he can build off that the Coyotes will be a tough team to beat.
Players to Watch
Galchenyuk will be the most intriguing player to watch on the Coyotes. He has the abilities to score 30 goals but was never given a fair shake in Montreal. Chayka said his plan was to put him at centre and it is where he produced best while with the Habs. However, his defensive lapses and work ethic can drive coaches wild and is the one thing that kept him from staying at centre with the Habs. If he can put it all together Galchenyuk become a very dangerous player for the Coyotes moving forward.
Keller will be looking to build off a fantastic rookie season. He scored 23 goals and added 42 assists for 65 points in 82 games while holding a respectful minus seven on a team who was a minus 45 collectively. He also had great possession numbers as his Corsi-For was 56.4%. It will be interesting to see if the Coyotes elect to put Keller alongside Galchenyuk. For fans it would be an absolute dream watching Keller feed Galchenyuk the puck for one-timers in the slot, for opponents, it would be an absolute nightmare.
With the game leaning towards speed and skill, Hinostroza is certainly a player built for the new NHL. A speedy forward with great playmaking and stick handling abilities, Hinostroza could find himself jumping into the top six this season. He scored seven goals and 25 points in 50 games with the Blackhawks last season while posting a Corsi-For percentage of 57.8. He could be a very important player in helping the Coyotes solve their scoring issues.
Strome looks like he is finally ready to make the jump to the NHL. He had nine points in 21 games at the NHL level last season and was outstanding at the AHL level producing over a point per game. The Coyotes patience with Strome looks to have certainly paid off. He should be a very important part of the offence next season, and for years to come.
2018-19 Arizona Coyotes Season Prediction
The Coyotes are looking like a team that’s finally going to be making their way out of the basement. Chayka has made some solid moves to improve the core and has some top prospects finally ready to make the jump to the NHL. The additions of Galchenyuk, Hinostroza and Grabner, as well as the emergence of Dylan Strome, should get the Coyotes offence going. A healthy Hjalmarsson paired with superstar Oliver Ekman-Larsson will do wonders for the back end and if Raanta can put together a season like he did last year the Coyotes could be a very dangerous team. While there is still some work to do, the Coyotes are on the right path and are looking like a team that will be challenging for a wild card spot this upcoming season.