Phoenix Coyotes 2009-2010 Season Preview

Posted by rusty in Phoenix Coyotes,Season Previews on September 23, 2009 — 10 Comments
Courtesy of Pulse2.com

Courtesy of Pulse2.com

Where to start with the Coyotes? Lost amid all the summer hubbub is the fact that a young team with a great core calls the desert home. Despite a 36-39-7 record last season (79 points) and a 13th place in the West finish, the Coyotes have some pieces in place that should allow them to more forward should the find a home and/or have its’ affairs settled.

One of the bonuses of being a poor team for so long is the draft picks (ask Chicago). Off-ice woes aside, the Desert Dogs have been able to draft fairly well in recent years, with many of these picks finding their way to the NHL already. Kyle Turris, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle are all regulars on the team and are slowly but surely forming what should be a solid core.

Courtesy of prohockey.de

Courtesy of prohockey.de

The recent addition of Dave King (seen here reacting to the news that he has been hired by the Coyotes) suggests that current coach and owner Wayne Gretzky (a former player himself) may be done with the team. If King is to take the helm, he will be counted on to use his considerable teaching skills to help along the young squad. Though the team is led capably by Shane Doan and features a host of talented young players, don’t expect the team to set the desert on fire.

Lets break the team down by position, starting with the forwards.

Forwards:

Courtesy of zimbio.com

Courtesy of zimbio.com

Led by the seemingly ageless Shane Doan (good thing the Oilers picked Steve Kelly), the Coyotes are blessed with excellent talent amongst their forwards corps. There has been significant off-season movement with the team, as they shipped out Garth Murray, Ryan Lannon, Nigel Dawes, Brian McGratton, Brandon Prust, Steven Reinprecht, and Enver Lisin. Replacing these skaters are Taylor Pyatt, Lauri Korpikoski, Vern Fiddler and Radim Vrbata.

While this provides a lot to talk about, it also makes it difficult to ascertain how the forward lines will shake out and who will mesh with who. Captain Doan (73 points last season) will most likely be a fixture on the first line, and could be centred by Matthew Lombardi. Coach King/Gretzky has a couple of options for the right side, as both Radim Vrbata and Peter Prucha would likely fit. The line provides the Coyotes with some offensive punch, and both Lombardi and Doan are responsible enough to go against other teams’ top lines.

My guess for the second unit would have deadline day acquisition Scottie Upshall on the left side, with youngster Peter Mueller up the middle and either of Vrbata or Prucha on the right. In what is more of a 1A line, Mueller will be counted on to take the next step offensively and be the straw that stirs the drink for this troika. Upshall will be given a larger offensive role with the ‘Yotes and the choices for RW are both capable of putting up points. In addition to taking on the soft minutes role, I would imagine that whoever is behind the bench will have these big bodies doing their fair share of forechecking. Upshall is a load and excels at the power forward game, and Mueller is no stranger to the aggressive cycle game.

So, you might wonder who is going to handle the tough minutes? Reinprecht is gone, and there isn’t an ideal candidate to replace him. Vern Fiddler is likely to get some time with this unit, having experience with the defensive side of the game. Martin Hanzal  is the most likely candidate for the 3rd line centre role. He is a responsible guy who is very aware of what he needs to do in his own zone, and can chip in on offense as well. Capable in the face off circle, watch for him to take draws on the PK as well. Rounding out the unit is more of a mystery. Rookie Mikael Boedkker could get a look, as could Daniel Winnik, who doesn’t produce much but is a grating player to skate against. Taylor Pyatt is also a good bet to get a look here (if not on one of the top two units), as he is another veteran who can play a variety of roles.

The fourth line could see any number of personnel getting a look. Highly touted youngster Kyle Turris was thought to be a good fit on this line, but has been demoted to the AHL. Rookie Brett McLean may get a look here given his offensive acumen, so might the speedy Kevin Porter, who showed very well in limited time last year. Viktor Tikhonov could find himself on the 4th unit too, as he is too talented to spend a lot of time on the farm, but isn’t quite consistent enough to crack the top 6. Also in the mix is Lauri Korpiskoski, whose versatility could be a boon here.

Though this group is a little light on experience, they can certainly all play and should be fun to watch. A tough guy might still be necessary here, and an actual checking line could keep them in a lot more games. I would think that the team will unfortunately play second fiddle to the courtroom for the time-being, so don’t expect any big changes til this is all resolved.

Defense:

Michalek The blue-line is a little easier to figure out. Veteran Ed Jovanoski is the big dog for the Coyotes, and will see the lion’s share of ice-time should he stay healthy. Defenseman of the future Zbynek Michalek (pictured) will get every chance to skate with Jovo on the top pairing. He put up a respectable 27 points last season, and despite going -13, is a competent defender who is just getting better. Veterans Adrian Aucoin and Kurt Sauer form the most likely second pairing. Aucoin has lost a step but still possesses the big shot and plays a tough game. Sauer is more of an underrated type who will quietly help the team, who will need all the help they can get defensively.

The third unit will be the tough guy Jim Vandermeer, the resident heavyweight-by-default, paired with Keith Yandle the puckmover. Each player fills a specific role, tough guy and puck mover, and shouldn’t see a ton of ice time 5 on 5. Nevertheless, they should get plenty of action on special teams, as their skills sets are tailored to these niche roles.

Sami Lepisto and Jonas Ahnelov are prospects that may well get a look in top 6, and should fight it out for the 7th spot. Lepisto likely has the insde track, as he is 25 years old and has plenty of pro experience (though mostly in the Finnish league an AHL).

The defense seems to be a stable, if unspectacular unit. A little shy on the skating and puck moving skills so valued in today’s game, this group will be still be unpleasant to play against. I wouldn’t expect a lot of production outside of Michalek and Yandle, but they should get their fair share of PIM’s.

Goaltenders:

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated.CNN.com

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated.CNN.com

There are no real surprises expected between the pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov has cemented his status as the team’s number one goalie, and its very unlikely that he lets that status slip. Jason LaBarbera was brought in to compete for the backup spot with prospect Al Montoya. Fellow prospect Josh Tjordman is also in camp, but is expected to be sent out.

Predictions:

As you can see, Team Turmoil doesn’t have a great deal going for it right now. There is some talent there, but they aren’t likely to put it all together this season, even though the team held a playoff spot til the mid-way point last year.

I envision this team with a ceiling around 11th in the West. Most teams have made at least minor improvements to their team, and the Pacific is a strong division getting stronger as LA improves.

The floor for this team is unfortunately 15th, dead last in the west. Unless Colorado really tanks, these guys might find themselves being the doormat.

http://www.nhlgametag.com/
  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Drew

    Kyle Turris is already down in the AHL camp. The Coyotes can’t be happy with that development so soon into training camp.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    Nice preview Rusty. No chance Phoenix, with all its young talent, becomes the Blues of this season?

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Richard

    Turris needs to physically mature before he starts playing a top-six role on a NHL team.

    Rusty, great preview.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com rusty

    Drew, thanks for the tip. I have updated the preview to reflect his departure.

    I think the Coyotes will succumb to the drama surrounding them. Its hard to focus with all of that going on.

    Agreed on Turris.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    Turris should still be in college. I dunno know why the Coyote’s rushed him.

  • http://coyoteshipcheck.com Z4dfense

    Can’t wait to come back and call this dead wrong on quite a few counts.

    The team is actually stronger than 08. Don’t expect that mid seaon wall to take us out of contention this season.

    The Tippett/King coaching combo (along with some upgraded in talent) will be tough to play against and dangerous to underestimate add the fact that Fuhr is no longer screwing up Bryzgalov’s head should mean a faster, more potent and no longer defenseless Coyotes team.

    See you all in the playoffs

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com rusty

    Z4, thanks for your comment.

    While the team has added some good pieces, specifically on defense, I still believe they are a little too young to compete in the Pacific or the West. While the coaches will make them competitive, I don’t see who they are going to leap frog to make it in.

    Playing the hypothetical game, lets say Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary, Anaheim, Columbus and Anaheim make it. That still leaves bubble type teams such as St. Louis and Minnesota to maybe get into the top 8. Who does Phoenix knock off here?

    Not saying it can’t happen, just saying they have a long ways to climb.

  • http://coyoteshipcheck.com Z4dfense

    Hey Rusty,

    I’m thinkin (hoping and prayin) based on the moves made in offeseason theat CLS/MIN/PHO and STL are gonna be the pivotal battles for the final spots in the west. (cant quite count out NSH but they look like one of the weaker links in terms of improvement.

    MIN did nothing spectacular in the offseason to improve and I am hoping that they have a ‘new coach/new system learning curve’ that slow them down, they will be scoring by committee just like us and only if ST Nick goes monster in their net do they have an advantage.

    CLS is perhaps the greatest threat (Nash is always a pain in the rump)

    STL last year bent us over a bit but the last couple of years we’ve hung with them just fine and I am confident that we can bump them off.

    We aren’t as young as we were, there were some real key tweenies added to the mix. Lombardi, Pucha, Upshall, Vrbata can all contribute handily. The key rookies are all now used to an 80+ games season so that 40 game wall doesn’t loom quite so menacingly for 09.

    We’ve started holding our own w/ the Wings n Nucks, swappin beatings with the Ducks & Sharks… friggin Hawks are a problem still but over all we aint the doormats we used to be.

    I’m not expecting Tippett to perform miracles, but if Gretz can get a motley-er lineup to 5th in conf for a brief period, I not only expect Tip to get us over the ASG break runnin in the midrange of the pack but to be able to push/drag/motivate them into one of those bottom rungs.

  • http://coyoteshipcheck.com Z4dfense

    Forgot to add, we swept the Jackets last season and the Blues swept us… its gonna be tight as hell for the final 3 spots in the west as always. But to count us out automatically is a mistake. The turmoil off the ice is being used to channel pride and effort on the ice.

  • Bob Roberts

    In Love Actually, Daniel (Liam Neeson) has lost his wife to cancer and he’s constantly embarrassed by his weepiness in front of friends. Karen (Emma Thompson) tells him not to worry, he’ll come through it and concludes, “This was always going to be a sh@t time.”

    The same applies to the Coyotes this season.