With the regular season beginning Thursday in Dallas, the Arizona Coyotes will answer questions about their playoff chances after a productive offseason. The Coyotes also had one of the best finishes in the league and are hoping to build off of that. Their long offseason left fans wondering what could happen next and this is what they should look out for this season.
Less physical play, more skill
If 5-foot-10 Clayton Keller was not a good enough case for the Coyotes to trust their smaller, skilled players, then losing key physical players this offseason is another defining move by them.
While the Coyotes had the fourth-most hits in the league (1999) last season, they will likely see that total go down. Forwards Lawson Crouse and Brad Richardson provide the needed physical play for the team, but competition for the puck is a bigger priority for them this season.
Dylan Strome’s defining season
Strome has one year after this season left on his entry-level contract. Even though he is behind his draft class peers in experience, this could be the year where he breaks out. Strome will likely play center on the third line while Alex Galchenyuk and Christian Dvorak are out.
After spending his first season in the American Hockey League and becoming the Tucson Roadrunners’ top scoring threat, this year looks promising for the center. Strome dealt with an upper-body injury for some of training camp but managed two points in five games. Behind center Derek Stepan, Strome posted the second best face-off percentage (53.8) among active players in his position.
Former Blackhawks will make an impact
Oesterle came in a trade this season with Hinostroza that will likely give both players a fresh start. The defenseman led his position with two goals and registered five points in five games. He will likely fill the hole in the defensive group left by Jakob Chychrun, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.
Hinostroza scored a goal and an assist in five games this preseason. The right winger could play on one of the top two lines, especially with the injuries to the center position that will shift the forwards around.
Antti Raanta’s amazing second-half performance last season catapulted the Coyotes into one of the toughest teams to play. Raanta posted a .950 save percentage, a Goals Against Average of 1.67 and three shutouts from February 8 to the end of the season. In three starts this preseason, Raanta’s save percentage (.943) and GAA (1.68) are promising signs of his upcoming regular season.
The only issue with goaltending is the heavy reliance on Raanta. When he spent part of the season dealing with injuries, the Coyotes went 8-24-6. He was also the only goaltender to finish with a save percentage higher than .900, and backup Darcy Kuemper slightly missed that mark with .899.
Kuemper got the most action of the group this preseason and posted solid stats (.887 save percentage and 3.58 GAA). As he adjusts more to the season, he will likely become a solid choice between the pipes while Raanta is resting.
A blossoming desert rivalry
Last season was the first time the Coyotes played fellow desert resident Vegas Golden Knights, and now that they had one season to play each other, expect things to get more heated between the division rivals. Even though their record was 1-2-2 against Vegas, both teams scored a combined 36 goals. This season should be interesting with former teammates Max Pacioretty and Galchenyuk facing each other. The first contest is November 21 in Arizona.
This year’s team has a different look and they expect different results from last year. If other factors allow them, a playoff spot is possible in the upcoming seasons for this team.
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