The Arizona Coyotes are looking to rebound after a disappointing 2016-17 season. The Coyotes finished 27th in the league, one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.
The NHL draft lottery did not provide any comfort for Coyotes fans when the news broke that Arizona would pick seventh overall. The New Jersey Devils, owner of the number one pick, finished 26th in the league with the same amount of points as the Coyotes.
However, the Coyotes do not look like a team that needs a first overall pick to push them into the playoffs. Arizona looks to be at the tail-end of their rebuild similar to Toronto and Edmonton, so they have the ability to push for the playoffs with the team they have built.
Strong Forward Core
Arizona looked to be a solid team at the start of last season but was unable to put it all together. Later in the season, the team began to look better with the rookies learning the system a little better every day. After the trade deadline, the team looked solid even after losing key players. Players like Martin Hanzal and Ryan White went to Minnesota, while Michael Stone was shipped to Calgary. Rookie Christian Dvorak stepped up to the first line, where he excelled offensively and defensively.
Brendan Perlini started his first professional hockey season with the Tucson Roadrunners, where he played 17 games before being called up to the Coyotes. Perlini scored 14 goals and had 19 points with the Roadrunners in the AHL. He went on to play 57 games with the Coyotes where he tallied 14 goals and seven assists.
Christian Fischer, who spent most of the season with the Roadrunners, had a solid rookie season, scoring 20 goals and picking up 27 assists. Fischer also attended the AHL All-Star weekend where he competed in the accuracy competition and collected six points in the two games he played. He did play seven games with Arizona where he scored three goals on his first three shots, giving him a franchise rookie record.
Other forwards that the Coyotes have to rely on are, of course, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Domi spent a couple of months off the ice last season after breaking his hand in a fight that required surgery. Duclair had a rough year playing with the Coyotes as well as the Roadrunners, and there were plenty of trade talks circling Duclair, who seemed to lose some confidence early in the year.
Having these two forwards on the same line together brings a whole new dynamic to the team. Known for being best friends in Arizona, the line chemistry they share is uncanny, as both players elevate their game when they are on the ice together.
Possible Line Combinations Early in the Season
Max Domi-Christian Dvorak-Anthony Duclair
Tobias Rieder-Dylan Strome-Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini-Clayton Keller-Christian Fischer
Lawson Crouse-Jordan Martinook-Shane Doan
NHL players not included in this list are Alexander Burmistrov, Peter Holland, Josh Jooris, Jamie McGinn, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Brad Richardson. If Doan retires this season, Richardson could slot in his place if he is not taken in the expansion draft. Vrbata is a UFA July 1 and could potentially not re-sign with the team. If he does not play for the Coyotes next year, Rieder could move to the right side, where he spent some time last year, and Perlini could move up to the second line. Burmistrov could re-sign with the team and play with Keller and Fischer.
Arizona holds one of the best offensive defensemen in the league today in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. OEL had a rough season last year, ending with him leaving for Sweden after the death of his mother. Team Sweden went on to win the World Championship tournament with help from the Coyotes alternate captain. He should be ready to go come October and could be a possible Norris Trophy contender by the end of the year. Nothing has been said about the future of Shane Doan and the Coyotes, but if he retires, expect Ekman-Larsson to get the call as the next captain of the Coyotes.
Jakob Chychrun was drafted 16th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and after playing hard in training camp, the organization gave him a shot in the NHL, where he played exceptionally well. Chychrun finished the year with 20 points, including seven goals. The strong 19-year-old defenseman should give plenty of teams problems next season, both offensively and defensively.
Possible Top Six Pairings
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Jakob Chychrun
Alex Goligoski-Connor Murphy
Luke Schenn-Anthony DeAngelo
The Coyotes’ roster looks very deep right now, making it hard to say for sure where everyone will end up. Nick Merkley will move to the AHL next season, and he could move up more depending on how well he plays in pre-season and training camp. Conor Garland seems to be one of the Coyotes’ secret weapons just waiting to explode; although he is not a very big guy, his puck skills and speed are exceptional.
The Roadrunners should have Garland as a top-line forward next season alongside a player like Chris Mueller. Kyle Wood also played very well last season with the Roadrunners. The big defensemen scored goals and won the hardest shot contest at the AHL All-Star event. One more year in the AHL to increase his defensive play should allow him to make the next step to the NHL.
Marek Langhammer is the final wild card for the Coyotes, which could come as a surprise to some people. Langhammer was off and on last season with the Roadrunners and even played about 10 minutes’ worth of hockey with the Coyotes. The games with Tucson were where he played very well. If he could be that type of player almost every night he steps on the ice, he could become a solid goaltender in the NHL some day.