Head Coach: Rick Tocchet
Key Additions: Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Grabner, Vinnie Hinostroza
Key Losses: Max Domi, Luke Schenn
Strengths: Skill, Stability at Defense and Center
Weaknesses: Lack of Depth
Predicted Point Total: 80 pts (35-39-8)
For the last couple of seasons, the Arizona Coyotes have been a mystery. The Coyotes continue to take small steps forward on the way to being playoff-caliber team with big acquisitions over the past few summers.
It is hard to imagine the Coyotes competing for a spot in the top 3 for the Pacific Division, since this team has yet to make the playoffs since 2011. However, if Arizona can carry out the second half of the 2017-2018 season into the beginning of this year, there is potential for the Coyotes to fight for one of the two Wild Card positions. Or one of the three open spots in the Pacific Division
A chance to make the playoffs will be tough, given the Pacific Division stacks up to a much larger advantage and the Kings still stand as a favorite to punch a ticket to the first round. But who knows? Hot streaks, the leadership of a new captain, and a healthy Antti Raanta in goal could possibly bring the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the desert.
The addition of Alex Galchenyuk (for Max Domi), appears to be a favorable one for the ‘Yotes. And the upside of Michael Grabner and Vinnie Hinostroza provide some more talented depth to a young forward group. The 1-2 punch of Galchenyuk and Derek Stepan solidify the center role tremendously.
After the top two lines is where the Coyotes find holes on the left and right wings. As Arizona does not have the forward depth of a team like the Sharks or Golden Knights. Still young and capable, the Coyotes hold high hopes for the likes of rising stars Dylan Strome, Jakob Chychrun, and Lawson Crouse, all of whom seek to make big impacts during the regular season.
Clayton Keller, a Calder Trophy finalist, looks to have another breakout year on the top line with Derek Stepan and Richard Panik. Keller led the Coyotes with 23 goals and 42 assists, including a team-high 20 power play points. The 20-year-old forward finished second among rookies last year with his 42 helpers and 65 points, behind Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders.
Locking down Oliver Ekman-Larsson for eight years is crucial to the stability of Arizona’s blue line. Ekman-Larsson was announced as the fourth captain in Coyotes history (Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen, and Shane Doan). The 27-year-old defenseman has been the foundation of the blue line for last seven seasons and poses as an exceptional leader on the top defensive pairing and power play unit. Ekman-Larsson leads all Coyotes’ defensemen in points and assists the last five seasons, playing a pivotal role as a skillful sniper from the point.
The Coyotes’ success and ambitions of making the playoffs will be reliant on the pads of Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta. The 2017 offseason trade sent him and Stepan to the desert and opened the eyes of many within the Western Conference.
A dismal 1-12-1 start last season and early injuries pulled him out of what some considered a Vezina Trophy-caliber year for 29-year-old netminder. Surprisingly, Raanta posted a Pacific Division-leading 2.24 GAA, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games, during a roaring second half. While Darcy Kuemper serves as an adequate backup, a full, healthy season of Raanta just might push the Coyotes into playoff contention.