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Scott Cullen

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The Arizona Coyotes didn’t expect to be also-rans in 2017-2018. They made deals for proven veteran performers, expecting to be more competitive than a 70-point team.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Coyotes team that has recorded fewer than 80 points for four straight seasons, but they’ve accumulated young talent along the way, but they are operating on a budget, so it’s still an uphill fight.

Because of that budget, and the team’s relative lack of success in recent years – missing the playoffs for six straight seasons – there may be a major move brewing with the Coyotes. Star defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has one year left on his deal, and if he’s not inclined to stick around, it would be incumbent on the Coyotes to explore what they could get in a trade.

The positive for Arizona is that they do have a lot of young talent playing in significant roles, so internal improvement is one avenue that should help generate better results, but if the Coyotes are going to close the gap on a playoff spot, making up more than 25 points in the standings, they likely need to be more aggressive when it comes to player acquisition.

To do this in a summer in which they might have to deal their franchise defencemen, well, let’s just say that GM John Chayka probably has his hands full.

HOCKEY OPS/COACH

John Chayka/Rick Tocchet

HEROES

Clayton Keller – The seventh pick in the 2016 Draft stepped into the league and put up a team-leading 65 points in 82 games as a rookie.

Derek Stepan – For the fifth consecutive season, Stepan finished with a point total between 53 and 57 points and, as usual, his team had better shot differentials when he was on the ice.

Antti Raanta – Although he missed some time due to injury, the 28-year-old responded well to his chance in the starter’s role, posting a .930 save percentage in 47 games.

ZEROES

Max Domi – The third-year winger scored four of his season-total nine goals in the last 13 games of the season.

Alex Goligoski – The veteran blueliner had the worst relative possession numbers of his career and the Coyotes were outscored 64-40 with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations.

Brad Richardson – He did make it back from a broken leg in the previous season, but the veteran centre managed just three goals in 76 games.

 

 

RETURNING FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2018-19 CAP
Clayton Keller 82 23 42 65 48.4 0.4 100.5 56.4 18:05 $886K
Derek Stepan 82 14 42 56 49.2 1.5 101.3 49.5 19:16 $6.5M
Christian Dvorak 78 15 22 37 48.3 -0.2 98.9 46.1 16:26 $839K
Richard Panik 72 14 21 35 55.3 5.6 100.9 53.7 15:12 $2.8M
Christian Fischer 79 15 18 33 48.2 0.2 99.6 44.3 13:54 $822K
Brendan Perlini 74 17 13 30 47.0 -1.4 102.7 48.9 14:31 $863K
Nick Cousins 71 12 7 19 49.6 1.2 97.6 40.0 12:52 $1.0M
Marcus Kruger 48 1 5 6 54.4 1.0 95.8 45.4 10:50 $1.8M
Josh Archibald 42 5 6 11 47.4 -1.7 100.0 46.3 11:57 $675K
Dave Bolland                   $5.5M
 

 

FREE AGENT FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP STATUS
Max Domi 82 9 36 45 48.0 -0.2 100.9 55.0 16:42 $863K RFA
Brad Richardson 76 3 12 15 47.9 -0.4 95.5 34.4 14:46 $2.083M UFA
Zac Rinaldo 53 5 2 7 43.2 -4.8 100.0 43.2 11:17 $700K UFA
Freddie Hamilton 16 0 1 1 48.6 -3.5 98.7 44.2 8:59 $613K RFA
 

A creative playmaker with star potential, Clayton Keller burst onto the scene scoring right away, went through a slump, and then finished strong on his way to a 65-point rookie season. While the Coyotes wait for other players to pick up the scoring pace, Keller is the clear offensive leader.

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Clayton Keller showed game-breaking talent as a rookie.

Acquired from the Rangers to provide veteran leadership on a young team, Derek Stepan offered his typically reliable season, with strong two-way play in addition to tying Keller for the team lead with 42 assists. Stepan also finished with a career-low 14 goals while shooting just 6.7%, so there is some room for improved production, even if his point totals fell within his standard range.

22-year-old centre Christian Dvorak has shown some potential in his first two NHL seasons, and he improved his game in his second season even though his on-ice percentages dipped. Can he take his game to another level? Is there a bigger role for him?

A skilled yet inconsistent winger, Richard Panik was acquired in a trade with Chicago and was a solid contributor with 19 points in 35 games for the Coyotes. He had an off-ice incident that might be some cause for concern, but he’s a capable secondary scorer.



21-year-old Christian Fischer had a solid showing as a rookie, displaying some offensive ability while still needing further development to round out his game.

Like Fischer, Brendan Perlini is a winger with good size and the 22-year-old has scored 31 goals in 131 NHL games. The questions for both Fischer and Perlini are whether they can become productive 20-25 goal-scorers, which seems possible, and when that day might arrive.

24-year-old Nick Cousins had a career-high 12 goals and 19 points last season, which should keep expectations modest but, beyond point production, he was a solid player, with positive relative possession numbers despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone.

After six-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, Marcus Kruger fell out of favour rather quickly in Carolina last year, and he’s landed in Arizona, which could be a really good fit. The Coyotes, for all the young talent they have up front, desperately need some forwards that can play shutdown minutes and Kruger, who has six goals in 159 games over the past three seasons, has experience playing tough defensive minutes.

Speedy winger Josh Archibald played a career-high 42 games last season. He’s on the lineup bubble, but may have found a role to play in Arizona.

Arizona has a couple of forward prospects knocking on the door as well. Dylan Strome, the third pick in 2015, has just 10 points in 28 NHL games, but he had a terrific season in the AHL in 2017-2018, scoring 53 points in 50 games. His results with the Coyotes were better than they had been previously, so maybe he’s turning the corner and will be ready to contribute as a scoring centre.

A lower-body injury ended Nick Merkley’s season prematurely, but the 21-year-old finished with 39 points in 38 AHL games, so he may soon be ready for his shot with the Coyotes.

 

 

RETURNING DEFENCEMEN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2018-19 CAP
Oliver Ekman-Larsson 82 14 28 42 51.1 4.6 98.3 45.9 23:41 $5.5M
Alex Goligoski 78 12 23 35 45.8 -2.9 98.0 43.9 23:17 $5.475M
Jason Demers 69 6 14 20 51.6 4.5 99.0 45.7 21:08 $3.938M
Jakob Chychrun 50 4 10 14 47.6 -1.6 101.3 55.4 20:15 $925K
Niklas Hjalmarsson 48 1 8 9 48.0 -2.8 99.0 45.0 20:42 $4.1M
 

 

FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP STATUS
Kevin Connauton 73 11 10 21 46.5 -1.1 102.6 47.5 15:11 $1.0M UFA
Luke Schenn 64 1 6 7 45.7 -3.3 97.8 40.6 16:23 $1.25M UFA
 

 

The franchise’s star defenceman for the past eight seasons, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming to a crossorads, as he enters the final year of his current contract. Since 2013-2014, he has scored 85 goals, tied with Brent Burns (who played one year on right wing) with the most goals among defencemen. He’s also strong defensively, a bona fide No. 1 defenceman.

The issue for the Coyotes is that if they aren’t going to get Ekman-Larsson signed to a long-term contract extension, then they probably have to consider dealing him this summer, because there’s just no way, especially for a team not expected to be in the playoffs, to justify losing Ekman-Larsson for nothing at the end of next season. The good news is that there will be no shortage of suitors if Ekman-Larsson is available, so the Coyotes should be able to extract some value in return.

It was a rough season for veteran defenceman Alex Goligoski, even though he scored 12 goals, his most since 2010-2011. He played on both the left and right side, but the Coyotes were buried with him on the ice.

He’s moved around a bit in recent seasons, but Jason Demers has settled into a role as a reliable, top-four, right-shot defenceman who can handle 20-plus minutes per game. His numbers may have been inflated by primarily playing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson last season, but his track record goes beyond last season too.

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Will Jakob Chychrun be asked to play a bigger role next season?

A knee injury left 20-year-old Jakob Chychrun on the shelf to start last season, but he played well once he returned to the lineup. He has had the luxury of not being force-fed minutes in his first two seasons, but it could be time for him to step into a more significant role in his third season, especially if Ekman-Larsson is moved.

A premier shutdown defenceman when he was with Chicago, Niklas Hjalmarsson did not fare as well in his first season with Arizona, missing significant time with injuries, and with one year left on his contract, it’s possible that he could be trade bait either this summer, or before the trade deadline.

It has been rumoured that the Coyotes are in on Russian defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin, a 24-year-old right-shot defenceman who has been playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the KHL. He could add some bite to the third pair if he can make a smooth adjustment to North America.

While the Coyotes have some defence prospects in the pipeline, they could use some more time to develop, so it could make some sense to add a veteran free agent. Ian Cole, Nick Holden, Thomas Hickey, and Jack Johnson are among the veterans who might be worth considering for the right price.

 

 

RETURNING GOALTENDERS

 
NAME GP W L T SV% EV SV% 2018-19 CAP
Antti Raanta 47 21 17 6 .930 .936 $4.25M
Darcy Kuemper 29 12 7 5 .920 .927 $1.85M
 

 

Arizona took a bit of a chance on Antti Raanta as their starting goaltender, and he responded with an outstanding season, posting a .942 save percentage in 27 games after January 1. He will be 29 next season and earned a three-year contract extension.

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Antti Raanta impressed in his first season as a starter.

At the trade deadline, the Coyotes picked up Darcy Kuemper from Los Angeles. The 28-year-old was in the midst of the best season of his career but, not altogether surprisingly, his numbers dipped (from a .932 save percentage in 19 games with the Kings, to a .899 save percentage in 10 games with the Coyotes) after he arrived in Arizona.

Even so, the Coyotes inked Kuemper to a two-year contract extension so, for better or worse, they have found the goaltending tandem that they will lean on going forward.

 

TOP PROSPECTS

 
PLAYER POS. GP G A PTS +/- TEAM (LEAGUE)
Dylan Strome C 50 22 31 53 +8 Tucson (AHL)
Nick Merkley RW 38 18 21 39 +6 Tucson (AHL)
Pierre-Olivier Joseph D 63 13 33 46 -5 Charlottetown (QMJHL)
Lawson Crouse LW 56 15 17 32 +3 Tucson (AHL)
Kyle Capobianco D 49 2 28 30 +9 Tucson (AHL)
Adin Hill G 36       .914 Tuscon (AHL)
Tyler Steenbergen RW 56 47 55 102 +52 Swift Current (WHL)
Filip Westerlund D 19 0 2 2 -4 Frolunda (SHL)
Cam Dineen D 65 20 44 64 -4 Sarnia (OHL)
Michael Bunting LW 67 23 20 43 +21 Tucson (AHL)
Trevor Murphy D 59 10 25 35 +2 Tucson (AHL)
Kyle Wood D 49 3 16 19 +12 Tuscson (AHL)
Laurent Dauphin C 50 9 20 29 -1 Tucson (AHL)
Ryan MacInnis C 59 6 8 14 +3 Tucson (AHL)
Lane Pederson C 63 12 14 26 +3 Tucson (AHL)
 

 

DRAFT

5th – Brady Tkachuk, Evan Bouchard, Quinton Hughes, Adam Boqvist

FREE AGENCY

The Coyotes have approximately $52.1M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 17 players.

NEEDS

Two top-six forwards, two defenceman

WHAT I SAID THE COYOTES NEEDED LAST YEAR

Four top-nine forwards, one top-four defenceman

THEY ADDED

Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan, Nick Cousins, Zac Rinaldo, Mario Kempe, Jason Demers, Niklas Hjalmarsson

TRADE MARKET

Richard Panik, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson

 

PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART

LEFT WING CENTRE RIGHT WING
Max Domi Derek Stepan Clayton Keller
Andreas Athanasiou* Christian Dvorak Richard Panik
Brendan Perlini Dylan Strome Christian Fischer
Nick Cousins Marcus Kruger* Josh Archibald
Lawson Crouse Laurent Dauphin Nick Merkley
Michael Bunting Freddie Hamilton Tyler Steenbergen

 

LEFT DEFENCE RIGHT DEFENCE GOALTENDER
Jakob Chychrun Jason Demers Antti Raanta
Alex Goligoski Niklas Hjalmarsson Darcy Kuemper
Ian Cole* Ilya Lyubushkin* Adin Hill
Kyle Capobianco Filip Hronek*  
Trevor Murphy Jordan Gross  

 

Many of the advanced stats used here come from Natural Stat TrickCorsicaHockey Viz, and Hockey Reference.

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