Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 season preview

       The year was 2012. The 2011-12 NHL season had just ended, and like every season in their 15 year history after a move from Winnipeg, the Phoenix Coyotes weren\’t champions. But there was hope, as for the first time ever, they made it to the Conference Finals. Then, the team fell, coinciding with the lockout the following season, and the team hasn\’t made the playoffs since. Now the Arizona Coyotes, the team has finally seen some good news, and while an 86 point 2018-19 season didn\’t warrant a playoff appearance, there is hope. The team battled many injuries, including a lower body injury to starting goalie Antti Raanta that ended his season after 12 mediocre games. Forward Nick Schmaltz played in just 17 games after being acquired in November, and Derek Stepan, Alex Galchenyuk and Jakob Chychrun also missed amounts of time. If healthy, this could be the year.

        Additions: Phil Kessel, Carl Soderberg, Aaron Ness

        Subtractions: Alex Galchenyuk, Richard Panik, Nick Cousins, Kevin Connauton, Josh Archibald, Calvin Pickard, Mario Kempe, Pierre-Oliver Joseph

The Coyotes lacked a scoring punch, finishing 28th in the league in goals per game (2.55). Clayton Keller was an all-star, put saw a big drop in goals (9) and points (18). His 47 points did lead the team, though. He was very unlucky, with a weak 7% shooting percentage. To improve their top line, the Coyotes traded Alex Galchenyuk and former first rounder Pierre-Oliver Joseph to Pittsburgh for Phil Kessel. A point per game player last season, Kessel hasn\’t missed a game since 2009-10, Kessel has scored 61 goals the past two seasons. Derek Stepan missed 10 games, but also had his worst NHL season. His 15 goals was just his second lowest, but his lowest was in 2017-18. His 35 points was a career low, snapping a five year 50 point streak. His production has dropped in his two years in Arizona. Playing with either Kessel or Keller, or both, could get him back on his level. Vinnie Hinostroza was impressive, with 16 goals and 39 points in 72 games, all career highs. Three of the top six Coyotes forwards in points have left; Galchenyuk, plus Richard Panik and Nick Cousins in free agency. Carl Soderberg comes from Colorado, coming off a career high in goals with 23, plus his highest points total (49) since 2015-16. At age 33, Brad Richardson scored a career high 19 goals. His previous career high was 14, sustained way back in 2006-07. He also received Selke votes, and was third on the team in short handed ice time. Nick Schmaltz scored 14 points in 17 games after his trade from Chicago, but missed most of the season with a knee injury. He still got an eight year contract in the offseason. In year one of a six year, $26.7 million contract, Christian Dvorak missed 62 games, and scored just two goals in his 20 games. He had 15 in 78 games in his first two seasons. Speedy Michael Grabner had scored 27 goals in two consecutive seasons entering 2018-19. In his first season as a Coyote, he missed half of the season and scored just nine goals. The 11th overall pick in a stacked 2015 draft, Lawson Crouse has yet to break through, with a career high 11 goals in 2018-19. Conor Garland took a chance and ran with it. He scored 13 goals in just 47 games. That\’s a 22 goal pace in 82 games. Christian Fischer scored 11 goals after a 15 goal season, and had just 18 points, a 15 point drop off from 2017-18.

The Coyotes were led by their deep defense. They were fifth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.68). Oliver Ekman-Larsson was named captain before the season, then scored 14 goals for the second consecutive season. He has scored at least 12 goals in six consecutive seasons, impressive for a defenseman. He was tied for eighth among defensemen in goals. Alex Goligoski scored just three goals after a 12 goal season, but had 20 assists for a 10th straight season. Defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson didn\’t score a goal despite playing in all 82 games, but he was second on the team in plus/minus (+8). The leader was Jason Demers, who was a +9, but played in just 35 games, as health continued to be an issue for him. He has missed 60 games over two seasons with Arizona. Another defender with injury issues, Jakob Chychrun had 20 points in just 53 games, which is an 82 game pace of 31 points. He is now 21, and if he can stay healthy, he can breakout in a big way. In a career high 71 games, Jordan Oesterle had a career high 20 points. Russian blue-liner Ilya Lyubushkin figures as the 7th defenseman. He shoots right, unlike everyone mentioned above expect Demers.

Antti Raanta had established himself as a good starting goalie entering 2018-19, but had a 2.88 GAA and .906 SV% in 12 games before his season ended early. In his absence, Darcy Kuemper had a career season. In 55 games, Kuemper had a .925 SV% with a 2.33 GAA, finishing 5th in Vezina voting. Depth goalies Calvin Pickard and Hunter Miska left, leaving Adin Hill as the third goalie. Hill had a .901 SV% and a 2.76 GAA in 13 games, filling in for Raanta.

             Deep Depths
Michael Bunting, a 4th rounder in 2014, debuted in 2018-19, scoring a goal in five games. He\’ll go back to the AHL this year. Michael Chaput scored 16 points in 16 games for AHL Tuscon after a trade from Montreal in February. Beau Bennett is back in North America after a five game run in the KHL last year. Hudson Fasching played in 22 games for the Sabres over three seasons, but spent 2018-19 exclusively with Tuscon. He scored 16 goals in 64 games. Aaron Ness lead AHL defensemen with 50 assists last year for Hershey. He now comes into Arizona\’s organization.

             Up and Coming
The 5th overall selection in 2018, Barrett Hayton will likely make his NHL debut this year, and likely stick as a regular. He had 66 points in 39 OHL games. A 19 year old center, the team could move Hayton to the wing to start. A 2015 first rounder, Nick Merkley has one game of NHL experience (in 2017-18). He has 73 points in 83 games over the past two AHL seasons. Kyle Capobianco played in two NHL games last year. In the AHL, he had 32 points in 40 games. He is NHL ready, though is likely blocked. He shoots left handed, like five of the Coyotes\’ six projected starters.

             2019 draft class
Round 1, 11th overall: Victor Soderstrom
Round 3, 76th overall: John Farinacci
Round 4, 98th overall: Matias Maccelli
Round 4, 107th overall: Alexandr Darin
Round 5, 151st overall: Aku Raty
Round 6, 174th overall: Danil Savunov
Round 6, 176th overall: Anthony Romano
Round 7, 200th overall: Axel Bergkvist
Round 7, 207th overall: Valentin Nussbaumer

With the Coyotes in the playoff hunt last year, and battling many injuries, Head Coach Rick Tocchet received minor Jack Adams support. He was a big reason the team was able to get Phil Kessel to waive his no-trade clause to come to Arizona. Tocchet was an assistant coach in Pittsburgh with Kessel. 30 year old GM John Chayka has rebuilt the team from nothing, and while they aren\’t Cup contenders, he has good job security, even under new owner Alex Meruelo.

              Projected lineup

Christian Dvorak – Derek Stepan – Phil Kessel
Barrett Hayton – Nick Schmaltz – Clayton Keller
Michael Grabner – Carl Soderberg – Vinnie Hinostroza
Lawson Crouse – Brad Richardson – Conor Garland
Extras: Christian Fischer, Michael Chaput, Nick Merkley

             Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Jason Demers
             Jakob Chychrun – Alex Goligoski
             Jordan Oesterle – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Extras: Ilya Lyubushkin, Kyle Capobianco

                            Antti Raanta
                            Darcy Kuemper
Extras: Adin Hill

The Coyotes haven\’t made the playoffs since 2011-12, but that drought looks like it will soon end. The team has two good goalies, an improved offense and a great defense. I predict the Coyotes will finish third in the Pacific Division, making the playoffs.

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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