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Scott Cullen

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The Arizona Coyotes missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, but they lost ground from the season before and fell in the draft lottery, so they’re due for some good news.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Coyotes team that has loads of young talent, but because most of their talent is so young, it may still take some time before this team is really ready to compete for a playoff spot.

That’s not easy to take, since they probably hoped that they would be in the running for a playoff spot last season but, beyond star defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes future is pinned to the likes of Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, Jakob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo -- all 22-and-under -- so it’s hard to put great expectations on those players to produce now.

There is hope for the future. That young core has a chance to be very good, but it’s going to take some strategic management to give those guys an appropriate supporting cast when the team is ready to be legitimately competitive.

HEROES

Radim Vrbata – The 35-year-old returned to Arizona and led the Coyotes with 55 points, the third time in the past four seasons that he’s surpassed 50 points, and 16 more than any of his teammates.

Jakob Chychrun – He slipped to No. 16 in last year’s draft, the Coyotes jumped up to get him, and then Chychrun played right away.

Mike Smith – Arizona’s veteran netminder got shelled with high-quality shots, but he still produced above-average results.

ZEROES

Anthony Duclair – After scoring 20 goals and 44 points in 2015-2016, Duclair ended up with just five goals in 58 games and was demoted to the AHL last season.

Jamie McGinn – The veteran winger scored a career-high 22 goals in 2015-2016, making him a rare proven contributor in the Coyotes lineup, then managed all of nine goals and 17 points ad his ice time (13:10) was his lowest since 2010-2011.

Shane Doan – The 40-year-old face of the franchise did see his ice time and shot generation dip, but his shooting percentage (4.2%) was his lowest since 1996-1997. Yes, he was playing in 1996-1997.

HOCKEY OPS/COACH

John Chayka/Dave Tippett

 

RETURNING FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP
Max Domi 59 9 29 38 45.6 2.0 100.9 48.3 16:59 $863K
Tobias Rieder 80 16 18 34 45.5 0.5 99.2 39.2 17:19 $2.25M
Christian Dvorak 78 15 18 33 43.9 -1.9 103.4 49.5 15:37 $839K
Brendan Perlini 57 14 7 21 43.9 -1.6 101.3 45.7 14:50 $863K
Lawson Crouse 72 5 7 12 45.0 -0.5 95.5 36.9 11:53 $894K
Brad Richardson 16 5 4 9 44.3 -2.4 99.4 30.7 15:21 $2.083M
Laurent Dauphin 24 2 1 3 45.9 -0.6 98.6 31.1 10:55 $745K
Dave Bolland                   $5.5M
 

 

FREE AGENT FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2016-17 CAP STATUS
Radim Vrbata 81 20 35 55 46.8 2.1 98.7 43.7 16:54 $1.0M UFA
Shane Doan 74 6 21 27 47.8 3.0 101.0 42.6 15:03 $3.876M UFA
Jordan Martinook 77 11 14 25 46.0 1.4 99.3 40.2 15:41 $613K RFA
Alexander Burmistrov 49 5 11 16 43.1 -4.2 99.6 44.1 13:21 $1.55M RFA
Anthony Duclair 58 5 10 15 46.9 2.1 99.6 56.7 13:18 $773K RFA
Peter Holland 48 5 7 12 45.7 -0.1 96.4 48.4 12:45 $1.3M RFA
Josh Jooris 42 3 7 10 44.0 -1.4 99.4 36.2 13:13 $600K RFA
Teemu Pulkkinen 13 2 0 2 45.1 -2.1 99.7 57.4 9:30 $813K RFA
 

While he missed some time with injuries in his second season, Max Domi remained a productive player when healthy. The question is whether he’s going to be able to take a step forward and lead the new group of Coyotes prospects. He's skilled and, as one might expect, will get his nose dirty from time to time.

An underrated winger who plays both ends of the rink, Tobias Rieder is practically a sage veteran compared to many of his teammates, but the 24-year-old is at least a steady top-six winger.

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Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini offered a glimpse into the Coyotes' future.

Of all the rookies who saw the ice in Arizona last season, Christian Dvorak may have made the most progress. He finished the season with 20 points in his last 33 games, and while he has work to do away from the puck, Dvorak is poised to take on a bigger role in his second season. A couple of cautionary stats: he shot 17.0% which isn’t likely to happen again, and his possession numbers weren’t good, but he’s young and can improve.

21-year-old winger Brendan Perlini may not have been fully ready for NHL action, but he was ripping up the AHL (14 G, 5 A in 17 GP), stepped in and scored 14 goals in 57 games for the Coyotes as a first-year pro.

There was some skepticism that Lawson Crouse was worthy of a high first-round pick in 2015 (he was taken 11th by Florida), and the Coyotes acquired him to take a shot on his upside. The result was that Crouse managed a dozen points as a rookie. He’s solid enough, but it will be interesting to see where his game goes as he matures. Can he score 10 goals? 20?

32-year-old veteran Brad Richardson suffered a broken leg last season, interrupting the good run he’s been getting in Arizona, putting up 40 points in 98 games over the past couple of seasons. He’s a capable third-line centre and on a team of young ‘uns, he’s a steadying influence.

A centre prospect who has been inching his way into the Arizona lineup, Laurent Dauphin is at risk of being passed by other prospects, but he does offer some organizational depth and improved his point production in the AHL (17 G, 11 A in 38 GP).

Jordan Martinook is a reliable checking winger. He’s not going to score a ton, but does enough to handle a third or fourth-line role.

Last season looked like it was a lost cause for Alexander Burmistrov, but then he was claimed on waivers and fared much better in a more prominent role with the (admittedly playing out the string) Coyotes, putting up 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in 26 games with Arizona.

Arizona would have had higher expectations for Anthony Duclair, especially after he had a 20-goal season in 2015-2016, but he doesn’t generate a lot of shots which makes it tough to score consistently. Even when he was demoted to the AHL, he had just one goal (and seven assists) in 16 games. With all the prospects pushing for playing time, it would come as no surprise if Duclair found himself elsewhere before next season.

The move to Arizona did give Peter Holland more playing time, but with 11 points (5 G, 6 A) in 40 games, he didn’t exactly ensure that he’s going to be part of the future. It was worth a try, but the 26-year-old has 81 points in 243 career games and is at risk of bouncing around some more.

A 26-year-old checking centre, Josh Jooris is going to be in a battle for playing time, but he’s been competent in a fourth-line role for three seasons. If he doesn’t continue with the Coyotes, he may need to scramble for an opportunity.

Arizona’s forward group is likely to get augmented by skilled rookies Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome. Keller is undersized, but one of the top prospects in the game after a productive freshman season at Boston University. Strome looked overmatched in his taste of NHL action last season, but the 2015 third overall pick has put 315 points in 159 games for Erie of the OHL in the past three seasons.

The question is whether veteran free agent wingers Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan are returning. Vrbata was the club’s leading scorer last year and it seems hard to imagine Doan playing anywhere else, so the guess is that they will be back. The team can’t be all rookies, and Arizona may not be the most desirable free agent destination, so at least stick with guys that have been productive in this uniform.

 

RETURNING DEFENCEMEN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP
Oliver Ekman-Larsson 79 12 27 39 45.4 0.0 99.0 42.7 24:37 $5.5M
Alex Goligoski 82 6 30 36 45.9 1.2 100.1 44.6 23:20 $5.475M
Jakob Chychrun 68 7 13 20 45.6 0.3 98.9 47.5 16:40 $925K
Connor Murphy 77 2 15 17 46.0 1.0 98.5 41.5 19:11 $3.85M
Anthony DeAngelo 39 5 9 14 46.0 1.5 97.3 56.5 17:06 $863K
Luke Schenn 78 1 7 8 44.1 -1.4 100.0 38.5 18:03 $1.25M
Kevin Connauton 24 0 1 1 45.3 1.5 100.8 42.6 13:08 $1.0M
 

 

FREE AGENT DEFENCEMAN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2016-17 CAP STATUS
Zbynek Michalek 3 0 0 0 36 -8.3 104.5 44.8 17:40 $3.2M UFA
 

It was an extremely difficult season for star blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who played with a broken thumb through a portion of the season, and his mother died late in the season after battling cancer. His numbers were down across the board, so Arizona had better hope that he can return to form with a fresh start next year.

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It was an unusually tough season for Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2016-2017.

Veteran blueliner Alex Goligoski was as good as advertised. He’s a productive and durable puck-mover, though he couldn’t drag the Coyotes to respectable shot differentials. Nevertheless, he played more than 23 minutes per game, put up 36 points and has missed a total of three games in the past five seasons.

It’s remarkable for a player to go straight from getting drafted to playing in the league, even moreso when it is a defenceman, yet Jakob Chychrun did it after being selected 16th in the 2016 Draft. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but Chychrun’s performance was very promising.

24-year-old Connor Murphy is a steady, stay-at-home defenceman, which is fine. In fact, as a right-handed defensive defenceman, he’s valuable enough even if he’s not contributing much on hte offensive end.

It may be a challenge to keep Anthony DeAngelo on the right path, because he’s had disciplinary issues, but the 21-year-old saw half a season of action with the Coyotes and his skill was evident. The right-shot blueliner can quarterback a power play and if his game evolves a bit, he could be a valuable contributor.

Luke Schenn doesn’t move the puck well enough to anything more than a depth defenceman, yet his most common partner last season was Ekman-Larsson, which seems like over-slotting for Schenn. He’s a tough, physical player, but his limitations with the puck are pretty well established at this point.

While Kevin Connauton hasn’t been able to hold down a regular spot, and the Coyotes are the 27-year-old’s fourth franchise, but he does have 47 points in 187 career games. He can move the puck a bit, but isn’t getting a great opportunity to play in Arizona.

For the most part, the Coyotes can probably move ahead with this group in place for next season, depending on whether someone like Schenn gets claimed in the expansion draft. Chychrun’s development will mean a lot to the supporting cast behind Ekman-Larsson.

 

RETURNING GOALTENDERS

 
NAME GP W L T SV% EV SV% 2017-18 CAP
Mike Smith 55 19 26 9 .914 .924 $5.667M
Louis Domingue 31 11 15 1 .908 .922 $1.05M
 

Veteran netminder Mike Smith is probably victimized by expectations after his .930 save percentage for Arizona in 2011-2012, but he’s still been an above-average starter overall. He has a .916 save percentage in six seasons with the Coyotes and, last season, he did it while facing a barrage of high-quality shots.

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Some nights for Mike Smith might feel like Wile E. Coyote getting hit by an anvil.

With a .910 save percentage through 77 career games, Louis Domingue has established that he’s a decent backup; the question is whether the 24-year-old is capable of more. If he’s left unprotected, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Vegas was willing to find out what kind of upside might be left in Domingue’s game. Would Arizona be willing to leave Smith available, betting that Vegas wouldn't take on his pricier contract? With plenty of veteran free agent goalies providing potential insurance, that might be the smarter play.

If Domingue does get claimed, the Coyotes would need to seek out a backup goaltender. Anders Nilsson, Ondrej Pavelec, Jean-Francois Berube, and Darcy Kuemper are some free agents worth looking at, and a trade for Carolina’s Eddie Lack or Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson would probably cost very little.

EXPANSION DRAFT TARGETS

Louis Domingue – He would be an inexpensive backup right from the start, but is young enough that he could potentially become something more.

Brad Richardson – He could very well be protected, but the versatile veteran could play third-line centre or wing for Vegas.

Jamie McGinn – A physical winger who has gone for 20 goals twice in his career, McGinn struggled in his first season with the Coyotes, but could certainly fill a top-nine role in Vegas.

TOP PROSPECTS

 

COYOTES TOP PROSPECTS

 

PLAYER

POS.

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

TEAM (LEAGUE)

Clayton Keller

C

31

21

24

45

15

Boston University (HE)

Dylan Strome

C

35

22

53

75

36

Erie (OHL)

Christian Fischer

RW

57

20

27

47

-17

Tuscon (AHL)

Kyle Wood

D

68

14

29

43

-23

Tuscson (AHL)

Laurent Dauphin

C

38

17

11

28

-10

Springfield (AHL)

Nick Merkley

RW

63

23

40

63

22

Kelowna (WHL)

Michael Bunting

LW

67

13

15

28

-1

Springfield (AHL)

Ryan MacInnis

C

68

8

9

17

-21

Tucson (AHL)

Adin Hill

G

40

 

 

 

.906

Portland (WHL)

Kyle Capobianco

D

65

10

35

45

-20

Sudbury (OHL)

Marek Langhamer

G

25

 

 

 

.902

Tucson (AHL)

Conor Garland

RW

55

5

9

14

-13

Tucson (AHL)

Lane Pederson

C

62

25

40

65

9

Swift Current (WHL)

Hunter Miska

G

39

 

 

 

0.92

Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)

Tyler Gaudet

C

62

6

16

22

-15

Tucson (AHL)

 

 

 
 

The Coyotes have one of the league’s deepest prospect pools and there is a decent likelihood of Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome, at least, making the jump next season. If looking for positional needs, they could use better prospects on defence and in goal.

DRAFT

7th – Casey Mittelstadt, Timothy Liljegren, Cale Makar

FREE AGENCY

The Coyotes have approximately $46.3M committed to the 2017-2018 salary cap for 17 players.

NEEDS

Veterans, four top-nine forwards, depth defencemen

WHAT I SAID THE COYOTES NEEDED LAST YEAR

Four top-nine forwards, one top-four defenceman

THEY ADDED

Radim Vrbata, Christian Dvorak, Jamie McGinn, Lawson Crouse, Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun

TRADE MARKET

Jamie McGinn, Anthony Duclair, Peter Holland

 

MY PROJECTED COYOTES 2017-18 LINEUP

LEFT WING CENTRE RIGHT WING
Max Domi Clayton Keller Radim Vrbata
Tobias Rieder Christian Dvorak Shane Doan
Brendan Perlini Dylan Strome Anthony Duclair
Jamie McGinn Alexander Burmistrov Brad Richardson
Jordan Martinook Peter Holland Christian Fischer
Lawson Crouse Josh Jooris Teemu Pulkkinen

 

LEFT DEFENCE RIGHT DEFENCE GOALTENDER
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Connor Murphy Mike Smith
Alex Goligoski Anthony DeAngelo Jean-Francois Berube *
Jakob Chychrun Luke Schenn Adin Hill
Kevin Connauton Luke Witkowski *  
Kyle Capobianco Kyle Wood  

 

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca