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Pacific Peeks: Arizona Coyotes

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Healthy Coyotes will make the playoffs.

Mar 29, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) celebrates his goal with center Clayton Keller (9) and center Christian Dvorak (18) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Bad luck and not enough skill have left the Arizona Coyotes on the outside looking in at the playoffs. The poor Desert Dogs (take a drink) haven’t made it to the NHL’s postseason since the 2011-12 season, when Shane Doan was captain and Ray Whitney was still lacing up his skates.

For the past few seasons, September has looked bright for the Coyotes, but injuries quickly dashed those hopes and left fans wanting more. Last season, I predicted the Coyotes were the dark horse to make the playoffs but sadly, I was wrong.

The Coyotes finished fourth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the Western Conference, four points out of the final wild card spot that was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche. The team ended the season with a 39–35–8 record (86 points).

The Sharks and Coyotes will play four games this season. The first one is Nov. 30 in Arizona; the Sharks will return to Gila River Arena on Jan. 14, 2020. The Coyotes visit SAP Center on Dec. 17 and March 29, 2020.

If you’re picking a Sharks-Coyotes game to go to, March 29, 2020 is your best bet. It’s Hockey is for Everyone Night and the Sharks are sure to have some fun stuff planned. Plus, if my prediction is correct, it will be two teams about to meet in the playoffs going after each other.

Where We Left Off

The Coyotes looked like they were in the playoff race right up until the end, but a so-so March and winless April sealed another early end for the team.

The end was really indicative of the season as a whole for the Coyotes — so-so. Scoring was down throughout the roster. Star forward Clayton Keller led the team in points with a grand total of 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists), 18 points fewer than his rookie season. No one on the team broke the 20-goal plateau though Brad Richardson and Alex Galchenyuk both came close with 19 goals apiece.

A lot of the issues were due to injuries. The Coyotes lost 380 man games to injury. Starting goaltender Antti Raanta only appeared in 24 games last season. Defenseman Jason Demers played just 35 games; Galchenyuk missed 10 games and Richardson missed 16 games.

The only two players to play in all 82 games last season were Keller and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Our friends at Five for Howling know the 20-goal plateau is important, predicting in this article which players are likely to reach the plateau this season.

Head Coach Rick Tocchet is entering his third year behind the bench. Management has given him a pass the last two seasons because injuries have plagued the team. We’ll see if this year he gets to use all the pieces at his disposal.

2019 Entry Draft

By finishing fourth in the Pacific Division, the Coyotes claimed the 14th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. On draft day, the team traded up with the Philadelphia Flyers for the 11th pick and claimed Victor Soderstrom of the Swedish Hockey League.

Sporting News calls the 18-year-old defenseman a “graceful puck mover”. Soderstrom made his professional debut in the SHL last season and scored just 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists). It’s not horrible, considering he was playing in a league of men much older and stronger than him.

Ryan Dadoun of Rotoworld says, “In the long run he might not be an elite blueliner offensively, but he’ll be strong enough defensively that it wouldn’t be shocking to see him eventually settle into a top-four role.”

In the third round they added center John Farinacci; in the fourth round left winger Matias Maccelli and right winger Alexandr Darin. In later rounds, the team added forwards Aku Raty, Danil Savunov, Anthony Romano, and Valentin Nussbaumer as well as defenseman Axel Bergkvist.

Roster

In the past 12 months, the Coyotes have brought some scoring power into their lineup.

The team added forward Nick Schmaltz at the end of November 2018 in a trade with the Blackhawks. Schmaltz scored 14 points in 17 games with the club until he too was bit by the injury bug and missed the rest of the season. In March, he signed a seven-year contract extension worth $5.85 million annually.

In June, a pair of trades brought more hope to the Coyotes fan base. Arizona added depth center Carl Soderberg, sending Kevin Connauton and a pick to the Colorado Avalanche.

Four days later, the Coyotes made a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Coyotes added Phil Kessel and Dane Birks to the mix in exchange for Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

If the season were to start today, CapFriendly believes the roster would look something like this.

Forwards

Clayton KellerDerek StepanPhil Kessel
Michael GrabnerNick SchmaltzConor Garland
Lawson Crouse — Carl Soderberg — Vinnie Hinostroza
Christian DvorakBrad RichardsonChristian Fischer

Defense

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunJason Demers
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Goaltenders

Darcy Kuemper
Antti Raanta

What can we expect in 2020?

The off-season moves by the Coyotes indicate that they’re looking to take that next step. They have an impressive young player in Keller and added Kessel to play alongside him. It’s now a bonafide top line for the Desert Dogs (take another drink).

The addition of Soderberg gives the Coyotes good depth at center. Soderberg is a player who scored 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) last season and is responsible enough defensively to fill that third line role.

On the defensive end, the duo of Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson is a great top pairing. Chychrun and Demers round out the top four. It’s a group that’s not going to put up those amazing numbers, but it’s a better top-four group than at least half the teams in the league.

A goaltending tandem of Kuemper and Raanta is another strength for the Coyotes. With more and more teams going with a 1A, 1B system that’s a great pairing to have.

Half of the Pacific Division is weak, which could work in the Coyotes’ favor. The Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks are all teams in turmoil and working on recovery. The Calgary Flames surprised everyone last season and it will be interesting to see if that success can be duplicated next season.

I’m saying the Coyotes are one of the surprise teams of the 2019-20 season and they make it into the playoffs. With the Pacific Division playing out the way it is, it’s possible the Coyotes sneak into the third spot behind the Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights.

If they don’t, they still have a good shot at a wild card spot, though the Central Division looks formidable, so the third spot in the Pacific Division is probably the Coyotes’ best bet to get in on playoff action.