Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Arizona Coyotes.
2019-20 Arizona Coyotes Preview
The 2018-19 version of the Arizona Coyotes was one which showed much promise since the team was decimated with injuries pretty much the entire season. They came very close to acquiring a wild-card spot, falling short by just four points. They had obstacles like finishing 28th in goals scored (209) and 26th in power play success rate (16.3 percent).
While injuries were a major factor, especially to key players, the Coyotes ‘scratched and clawed’ their way to almost getting to play in the post season. They pretty much did it on the back of goalie Darcy Kuemper who was exemplary. Antti Raanta was only able to play 12 games due to a season-endng injury. It was Kuemper who grabbed the starting role and finished with a sparkling .925 save percentage and a dazzling 2.33 goals against average. He had a respectable 27-20-8 record. He placed within the top-10 of all NHL net minders and that is something to build upon for the future.
The other team accomplishments were their defence really stepping up and finishing tied for fifth in the league allowing a stingy 2.68 goals per game. The team they were tied with were the St. Louis Blues, and they finished the season pretty well. The other key season highlight was their formidable penalty kill. They killed off penalties at an 85 percent success ratio tying them for first in the NHL. Quite the accomplishment.
The Arizona Coyotes made some big moves this off-season. First and foremost, they hope to have solved their dormant offence when they traded for Phil Kessel. Going the other way to the Pittsburgh Penguins was forward Alex Galchenyuk and prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
This may finally give the Coyotes the offensive forward threat they have missed.
They weren’t done though. They also added veteran forward Carl Soderberg from the Colorado Avalanche for defenceman Kevin Connauton. Soderberg tallied 23 goals, 26 assists with an impressive shooting percentage of 12.2.
Whenever a team can add a premier forward like Kessel, the offence will get a boost. Had the Coyotes scored more last season they would have made the playoffs. While Kessel cannot be the savior taking them to places they’ve never been, he adds a quality they lacked last season.
The other factor of adding Kessel is that he will make players like Clayton Keller, and Nick Schmaltz become better players. There was already chemistry between Keller and Schmaltz before the latter went down to a season-ending injury. While Kessel can score he is also an adept playmaker collecting 55 assists last season, 24 of which came on the power play. Kessel adds instant credibility to the team’s power play. He has scored 24 extra-man advantage goals over the last two seasons.
Advancing Lawson Crouse to the top-six seems like a good move. His progression has been improving each year and he was recently awarded a three-year $4.6 million deal. He has the toughness and is acquiring the skill to score. Putting Soderberg in the top-six is also a no-brainer. He has stepped up his offensive numbers and deserves to be there. Between Soderberg and Crouse that second unit will be tough to move out of the opposing team’s crease. They’re both big bodies and should use that asset to screen the goalie or deflect shots in the net.
The top-six is definitely set with Kessel, Schmaltz, and Keller creating plays with regularity and scoring goals with frequency. This could really be the year for Keller to shine, and Schmaltz could tally 60 points. Look for Keller to be near the 65-point plateau.
The third line holds much promise and excitement and they showed it last season. Grabner and Richardson are unbelievable together and Hinostroza came into his own gathering 16 goals, 23 assists in 72 games. For a line to be successful there must be chemisty.
The fourth line will be made up of some young promising players. It is certainly expected that Dvorak will be able to contribute this season after he too was a player injured most of last season. The team must feel excited about Dvorak as well since they awarded him a six-year, $26.7 million contract. Now, it’s time for him to prove himself.
Barrett Hayton should make the final cut in the Coyotes roster this fall. He is still only 19-years-old and has played well in the OHL where he accumulated 66 points in just 39 games last season. Because of his age he either must make the NHL roster or be returned to the OHL. He cannot go to the AHL.
The rest of the fourth line will be split between Garland and Fischer. Fischer needs to begin producing or he could see himself as the odd man out.
Look for the team to take a look at forward Nick Merkley at some point during the season. He has had injury issues, but has potential to be in the NHL. He had a good year in the AHL last season with 34 points in 45 games.
The duo of Ekman-Larsson and Demers played well together last season until Demers fell to a mid-season lower-body injury which seemed to plague the team at critical times. OEL needs to lead the defence this year as he has done in years past.
Two veteran defencemen in Goligoski and Hjalmarsson who still can play will attempt to duplicate the excellent defence the team exhibited last season. There have been trade rumours involving both players, but for now they look to fortify the second unit.
Chychrun is a talented offensive-minded defenceman but needs to stay healthy. He has only played in 103 games over the past two seasons due to lower-body injuries. He’s already had two major knee surgeries in his young NHL career. Oesterle had played well was awarded a new contract for two years worth $2.8 million.
Ilya Lyubushkin looks to be the extra D-man on the blue line. The Russian played a solid, physical game last season and earned a one-year contract renewal for his efforts.
The team is in excellent shape in net as long as Raanta stays healthy. They almost will have a 1/1-A situation between the pipes. In this writer’s estimation, Kuemper deserves to be the starter until and if Raanta can prove he can stay healthy. The duo will certainly be competitive and it may give head coach Rick Tocchet some tough game-time decisions as to who to start each night. Going with the hot goalie is always the way to go, so we shall see how it all turns it once the season begins.
Players to Watch
Keller fell off his rookie year production by nine goals and 18 points last season. Look for him to produce much more this season. Why? Well, for one it will be his last entry-level contract year and he will be playing for a multi-year contract. If he produces to the level of his ability (maybe 65-70 points) his bank account will be increased. All signs lead to his doing just that especially if he lines up with either/and Kessel or Schmaltz.
Schmaltz was showing such good potential with the Coyotes and then he went down with a knee injury to end his season. Without his production, the team lacked the firepower to overtake the Colorado Avalanche for the last wild-card playoff berth. Still the Desert Dogs felt confident enough in his abilities and future to give him a seven-year $40.95 million contract. We’ll soon find out if he is worth that as well as if the team gave up too much by sending Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The one player to watch the most will be Raanta. If he can’t stay healthy (not saying he’s trying to get hurt) his worth will need to be reevaluated. He’ll be in the second year of his three-year $12.75 million contract and the team has only received 12 games out of him. Look for him to compete for the starter role, but at this point Kuemper has shown that he can step up play that part very well.
This is the part you’ve all been waiting for… me too!
The Arizona Coyotes can certainly be a playoff caliber team. What can almost be assured is that they will not have such terrible bad luck with injuries disabling the team again. They have added some pieces which should get them to at least a wild-card spot.
Yet, as is always the case the Western Conference as well as the Pacific Division has improved. Who could the Coyotes displace in the standings to get that prized playoff berth they’ve been missing for the last seven years?
The only way the team can be in the playoffs this coming season is to overtake the Vegas Golden Knights or San Jose Sharks in their division. That may be a tough pill to swallow, but it could happen. The Golden Knights are still a strong contender to be in the fight for a Cup. Knocking them down may be difficult, to say the least.
On the other hand, the Sharks seems vulnerable this time around because they lost three key players in Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, and Gustav Nyquist to free agency. That will hurt their potential output. Their goaltending will not be as strong as the Coyotes. IF the Arizona club can eclipse the Sharks they’ll be competing in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. IF not, there doesn’t seem to be a path to get there with teams ahead of them being much more talented and loaded with excellent players.
Prediction: They will finish in the final wild-card spot.