The Coyotes will once again enter this season with aspirations of qualifying for the post-season, a feat that they have yet to accomplish under head coach Wayne Gretzky. After some retooling during the offseason through free-agency, trades and the draft, the Coyotes now possess a very talented mix of youth and veterans up front. More importantly, they have a legitimate starting goaltender to start the season, which they have not been able to claim since the days of Nikolai Khabibulin. The Coyotes certainly have a bright future, but you may not even have to look past this season to see their potential. While they likely won’t be competing for a division title, with another year of coaching under his belt, Gretzky will certainly ensure that his team will be prepared to play every game and slipping into one of the final playoff spots in the West is a real possibility for the former Jets.
Don Maloney has assembled arguably the most talented group of forwards the team has had since they moved to Phoenix and with only 2 of the team’s forwards over the age of 30 (Reinprecht, 32 and Doan, 31), there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this franchise. Gretzky also loves to work closely with young players, so he will certainly help this team reach their potential.
Gretzky will have the luxury of rolling three lines that he can rely on to provide some offensive power. 20 year old Peter Mueller, who enjoyed a breakout sophomore season last year with 54 points, will look to rekindle the chemistry he displayed last season with Shane Doan. Newly acquired, Olli Jokinen will be the team’s top centreman and he will alleviate the scoring pressure off the younger players.
The team’s “third” line will feature two rookies the team hopes to build around. The 2006 2nd overall pick, Kyle Turris, has been centering a ling during the preseason with Danish rookie, Mikkel Boedker and newly acquired Todd Fedoruk as his wingers. Fedoruk’s toughness and feisty play should open up the ice for Turris and Boedker and with their natural ability to find the back of the net, this line will cause troubles for opposing coaches looking to match their defensive pairings.
Martin Hanzal can also play centre and he will look to build upon a very successful, yet under the radar, rookie campaign. Dan Carcillo is a very energetic player that plays a similar in-your-face style of hockey to Sean Avery, although he is not as skilled.
Gretzky will also be able to rely on Fedoruk and fellow tough guy, Brian McGratton, to make sure the younger players are protected.
The Coyotes gave up two dependable defensemen in Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton when they traded for Jokinen on draft day. David Hale and Kurt Sauer were both signed during the offseason to fill their spots on D, however, few would consider them to be replacements for Ballard and Boynton. Hale and Sauer are both stay-at-home defencemen and will provide a physical presence on the blueline.
Veteran Ed Jovanovski will be relied on even more this year to play substantial minutes in all situations, particularly on the power play. The Coyotes are hoping that he can duplicate his success from last season where he played 80 games and amassed 51 points.
Derrik Morris, Zbynek Michalek and either Matt Jones or Keith Yandle will likely round out a weak defensive corp. Fans better hope that Gretzky can get enough offense out of his forwards.
Ilya Bryzgalov welcomed the mid-season trade to Phoenix last year, because he was tired of playing behind Giguere in Anaheim. Bryzgalov certainly proved his worth as a starting goaltender in the NHL as he picked up 26 wins and posted a 2.43 GAA for the Coyotes. Bryzgalov will likely improve on those stats this year as he enters an NHL campaign for the first time as the undisputed starting goaltender.
Ceiling: 7th in the West
Floor: 12th in the West