Fantasy Puck Preview: Phoenix Coyotes

Scott Cullen
9/25/2010 11:02:45 PM
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The biggest surprise of the 2009-2010 season, the Phoenix Coyotes don't necessarily have to be a flash in the pan.

The key to the whole operation is the play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who had an exceptional season, posting 42 wins, a 2.29 goals against average, .920 save percentage and eight shutouts. Those lofty numbers may be difficult to duplicate, but the Coyotes' defence-first style does give Bryzgalov opportunity to put up good stats again.

Defenceman Keith Yandle enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, scoring 12 goals and 41 points to go with a plus-16 rating. He's become the Coyotes' best offensive defenceman, supplanting Ed Jovanovski, who still had 34 points last year, but fantasy owners may want to shy away from his three straight double-digit minus seasons.

The future on the blueline belongs to Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the rookie seems poised to make the team this year. How much he plays, and if he is getting power play time, will determine if he holds fantasy value right off the bat.

24-year-old Wojtek Wolski had his best season last year, though most of it was spent in Colorado. Wolski finished with 65 points after scoring 18 points in 18 games upon arriving in the desert. He's expected to shift to centre this year, but with size, skill (and wing eligibility), he's a promising young player to build around.

The reason for Wolski's shift to the middle is that 38-year-old winger Ray Whitney signed as a free agent in the summer. Whitney has scored at least 55 points in seven of the last eight seasons and remains a force on the power play.

Power forward Shane Doan is still productive, having topped 50 points for seven straight seasons, but last year's 18 goals was his lowest since 1998-1999. He'll be 34 in the first week of the new season, and he has more than 1,000 games on the career odometer, so it may be time for those scoring totals to decline.

Scrappy and skilled winger Scottie Upshall has responded well to his opportunity in Phoenix, scoring 26 goals and 45 points in 68 games since he was acquired from the Flyers.

If he can stay healthy (a knee injury ended his season after 49 games last year), Upshall adds to his value with about a penalty minute per game.

Radim Vrbata has scored 51 goals in his last two years with the Coyotes, sandwiched around three goals in 18 games with the Lightning in 2008-2009.

Unlike Upshall, Vrbata doesn't provide many penalty minutes for fantasy owners, so his value rests with deep leagues in which 20-goal wingers aren't a common asset.

After his stint in Toronto, Lee Stempniak looked like he might never be considered a scoring winger again, then he tallied 14 goals in 18 games for the Coyotes to end last season with a career-high 28.

It's outrageous to think that Stempniak could maintain that pace for an entire season, but the third 20-goal season of his career isn't an unreasonable expectation.

While lanky centre Martin Hanzal continues to improve as an all-around player, he doesn't provide enough offense (33 points last year) to generate fantasy interest.

The one additional Coyotes pivot that might, however, is Kyle Turris, the third overall pick in 2007 who had 63 points in the AHL last year and is more physically ready for the nightly grind of the pro game. For Turris to stick in Phoenix, he would figure to get scoring opportunities.

Ilya Bryzgalov and Shane Doan (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
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