Now that the opening roster is finalized, Arizona is officially tied for the third youngest roster, behind Buffalo and Ottawa.
This young roster currently consists of rookies, up-and-coming studs, and veteran castaways who are looking for a bounce-back year. Needless to say, this will be a rebuilding year for the Coyotes and the team will be contending for Connor Bedard. But, there are still 82 games, and here is what hockey fans can expect from the Arizona Coyotes:
- Offense: Aside from Clayton Keller and Nick Schmalz, the Yotes’ opening night roster does not really scream offensive talent. Keller and Schmalz will be relied upon heavily for offense and if they stay healthy, both players will likely have a great year with fantastic offensive stats. Forwards like Barret Hayton, Travis Boyd, Nick Ritchie, Zack Kassian, and Nick Bjugstad are looking to build upon their prior success, re-find their offensive game, or maximize their offensive potential to reach new career highs.
- Defense: Given the Jakob Chychrun situation, Conor Timmins, Shayne Gotisbehere, and Dysin Mayo will need to step up to help fill the void. Newcomers Troy Stecher and Josh Brown are hoping for a bounce-back season after consistently being healthy scratches for their respective teams last season. One of the Yotes’ recent waiver pick-ups, Jusso Valimak, is hoping to prove his 1st round potential and gain more NHL experience after having limited opportunities with the defensively-talented Calgary Flames. For the Coyotes to have stable defense, multiple players will need to step up and bring their game to a new level.
- Goaltending: After signing a 3-year, $8.175 million contract back in March and winning a bronze medal with the Czech Republic in the 2022 Ice Hockey World Championship, Karel Vejmelka is looking to prove that he is the guy to protect the crease for Arizona. Last season, Vejmelka has stolen games on multiple occasions. Remember when he made 42 saves to upset the Avalanche or the 45 saves to beat the Maple Leafs or his first shutout that required him to make 46 saves? With experience under his belt, it would not be surprising if the Coyotes pull a few unexpected wins, as a result of superb goaltending from Vejmelka.
- Diamonds in the Rough: During this recent off-season, the Coyotes signed some players who are looking to rejuvenate their careers after a rough season or two. Arizona is the perfect place for a player to have a bounce-back year given the lackluster media attention and minimal pressure surrounding the Coyotes. Just look at Nick Ritchie. After struggling in Toronto and being traded to Arizona, Ritchie posted 10G- 4A- 14P in 24 GP. These numbers are very respectable since Ritchie only had 2G- 7A- 9P in 30 GP for Toronto and has a $2.5 million AAV. Some new Coyotes to keep your eye on are Zack Kassian, Troy Stecher, and Nick Bjugstad.
- Physicality and grit: The Coyotes have a lot of big bodies and skaters who hit hard and can get under opponents’ skin like Nick Ritchie, Jack McBain, Zack Kassian, Lawson Crouse, Liam O’Brien, Josh Brown, and Nick Bjugstad. Arizona might be able to steal some games if the physicality and grit take over their opponents and their game.
- Arena: Let’s address the elephant in the room- Mullet Arena, the 5,000-seat arena at Arizona State University that has made the Coyotes the continued laughingstock of the NHL. In an ESPN article, Arizona Coyotes President and CEO, Xavier Gutierrez, shared that all home games are expected to sell out. This is great news because a packed barn will create a much livelier atmosphere. Any high-caliper athlete will say that an energetic, engaged audience and atmosphere will create positive momentum for the team which can often guide them to victory. Thus, a sold-out Mullet Arena may not be impressive especially as other teams have a sold-out arena, but it could help create a constructive atmosphere for the Coyotes to pull some W’s.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, the Yotes’ are forecasted to be near the bottom of the standings. But, do not be surprised if Arizona performs better than expected, pulls some unexpected wins, and steals some games because of superb goaltending, stellar play from a bounce-back or up-and-rising player, physicality and grit, or a lit atmosphere at Mullet Arena.