After a very successful offseason, the Arizona Coyotes’ playoff hopes were dead on arrival after starting this past season losing their first 11 games. However, after turning a page at the start of the new year, the Coyotes finished their remaining 41 games with a 20-14-7 record and show plenty of promise for better results next season.
Despite finishing 30th overall in league scoring, the Coyotes have plenty of players who can put the puck in the net and it all starts with star rookie Clayton Keller. Keller, 19, was drafted 7th overall by the Coyotes in the 2016 NHL Draft and made the jump to the NHL full time after playing 3 games last year following his freshman year at Boston University in 2017. Keller not only managed to be one of the best players in Arizona, but one of the best rookies in the entirety of the league. Keller finished his first year in the NHL leading all Arizona skaters in scoring and goals netting 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games played. That also places Keller second overall in league rookie scoring behind only Mat Barzal of the New York Islanders. Just on the cusp of turning 20 years old, Keller will likely be one of the next leaders of this team both on and off the ice.
Another player that should give Coyotes’ fans optimism is Derek Stepan. Stepan was one of the players brought in from the New York Rangers last summer to solidify the number one center spot and has done well in his first season with Arizona. Stepan, 27, finished second on the Coyotes in scoring coming within one point of his career high set in 2013-14 scoring 14 goals and 56 points in 82 games. As Keller continues to develop his game, Stepan will likely see continued production as well and will be a lethal duo for Arizona in the coming years.
Along with Stepan and Keller, the Coyotes have a plethora of secondary scoring. After selecting high in the draft for the past few years, it’s finally beginning to pay off as these young players graduate from the AHL into the NHL and start to make their mark. These players include the likes of Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer and Christian Dvorak. All three of these players are 22 and under and are still on their entry level contracts and have shown excellent progression throughout the early days of their respective NHL careers.
Perlini, 21, made his jump to the Coyotes last season after putting up solid numbers in the AHL and his continued his development reaching career highs in every offensive category. In 2018 Perlini finished second in goal scoring recording 17 goals and 30 points in 74 games played. Dvorak and Fischer also had excellent sophomore seasons as the 22 and 20 year olds both finished the season with 15 goals a piece and at least 30 points. With all of three of these players still on their entry level deals, and Perlini and Dvorak due extensions at the end of 2019, the Coyotes will be relying heavily on these guys as the next wave of youth comes up through the pipeline and hopefully can get Arizona trending in the right direction.
Along with all of their options up front, Arizona has seemingly found the future in net for them with Antti Raanta. Raanta, 28, was traded to the Coyotes along with Stepan last summer and had a very successful first season out west. Although limited due to nagging injuries, the Finnish netminder gathered a 21-17-6 record with a 2.24 GAA and .930% save percentage. For a team that ultimately finished the season third worst in the league, those are pretty incredible stats. General Manager John Chayka rewarded Raanta with a new three year contract extension with an annual average value of $4.25 million. Although it may be a stretch to say that Raanta will immediately lead the team back to the playoffs, he should be able to help them be competitive down to the very end as long as he remains healthy.
Despite doing well in the second half, the Coyotes still have a lot of progress to make before they’ll find themselves back in the postseason. One particularly large question to answer is what will happen with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson? With one year remaining on his deal Arizona will hope to try and sign him to a long term deal, but he may seek to test the waters in free agency. If they can lock up Ekman-Larsson and continue to get more quality results from their forwards and goaltending, the Coyotes may have their best shot at making the playoffs in 2019 in recent memory. Also, potentially winning the draft lottery and landing franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin may also help jump start Arizona back into consistent winning ways. Regardless of whether they win the draft lottery or not, the Arizona Coyotes have plenty of pieces that are beginning to come together and show they can compete and win on a nightly basis.