PHOENIX COYOTES 2012/13 – PLAYER BY PLAYER SEASON PREVIEW

Keith Yandle

Photo by Michael Wifall from Tucson, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Due to popular demand (Kyle), I am going out of order today to take a look at the Phoenix Coyotes’ roster.  Enjoy.
In preparation for the 2012-13 NHL Season, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team on a player-by-player basis.  This isn’t really about predicting overall how well the teams will do, where they’ll end up in the standings, line combinations, or even guessing at individual player stats, but is more about analysing the make-up of each roster.  Of course rosters are yet to be finalised, but I will be using the rosters as stated on each individual team’s website.

I am by no means an expert on every single player in the league, but through looking at traditional “box car” stats (G, A, P, PIMs, TOI, +/-, etc.) and also using Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, I hope to piece together a reasonable, realistic view of each player.  Please don’t hesitate to comment if you agree or disagree.

So without further ado, here is the anticipated 2012-13 roster for the Phoenix Coyotes.

FORWARDS

Radim Vrbata

By Michael Wifall (Flickr: Radim Vrbata) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    • PAUL BISSONNETTE – LW (11-12: 31GP, 1G 0A 1P)
      A fairly typical season for the Coyotes’ resident enforcer: not many games played, minimal time on ice per game (6:04), no special teams, easiest competition on the team.  That said, he performed very well by shot metrics, pushing the play in the right direction in an impressive way, so at least he isn’t leaking chances against which is more than can be said for most players of his type.  He’s very popular amongst his teammates and the fans, not least due to his huge twitter following, where he has gained a reputation as one of the NHL’s most prolific tweeters.  At least he looks like he can pursue a media career following his hockey career, then.
    • MIKKEL BOEDKER – RW (11-12: 82GP, 11G 13A 24P)
      The young Dane continues to be somewhat disappointing, at least relative to his high draft position (8th Overall in 2008).  That said, he does finally look to be doing better after spending the last two years mostly down in the AHL, and he performed pretty well in this year’s playoffs too, putting away 4 goals and 8 points, including 2 consecutive game winners against Chicago in the first round.  Could this be the year where Boedker begins to really justify his draft position?  I’m not sure he’ll ever be a great player, but he has every chance to be a good, secondary winger.  He’s stocky and physical, although he could stand to improve on his shot differentials to stop leaking chances against.  Important year coming up for Boedker.
    • KYLE CHIPCHURA – C (11-12: 53GP, 3G 13A 16P)
      The former 1st round pick of the Montreal Canadiens has bounced around the league a bit, never really establishing himself anywhere, but he might have finally found a home in Phoenix after registering a career high in points.  He’ll never be a scorer, but should be a very capable 4th line center who can chip in on offence a little bit and be physical.  It’s a shame he doesn’t have any real defensive acumen, as that would increase his value somewhat.
    • SHANE DOAN – RW (11-12: 79GP, 22G 28A 50P)
      He shouldn’t really be on this list, and I was surprised to see him still listed on the Coyotes’ roster, given that he’s currently a free agent, but if I didn’t have him here he wouldn’t be anywhere.  Doan opted to test free agency this offseason after spending his entire 16 season career in the Coyotes/Jets organisation, many of them as captain.  He’s more than earned that right, being a consistent scorer and a great leader and ambassador for the team, and with the future of the team up in the air (will the Coyotes even exist in the near future?) it makes sense for him to look for a more stable situation, and the chance at a Stanley Cup.  He actually nearly got that chance this year as the Coyotes went on a shocking but brilliant run to the Western Conference Finals, with Doan leading the chance.  It was wonderful to see that success on the back of 2 years being ousted in the first round, but even making the playoffs was a great achievement for a troubled franchise that went over a decade without seeing any hockey at all past April.  Doan himself looks to be showing his age a bit, his scoring gradually going down, but he is still very effective.  He led all Phoenix forwards in ice time per game by over a minute (super-veteran Ray Whitney – a massive loss for the team, especially if Doan goes too – was second) with 19:36, was extremely physical (205 hits) and played in all situations.  The Vollman Charts show he was taking on tough competition and outplaying it.  So all in all, if he goes, Phoenix had better find a capable replacement.  Problem is, players like Doan don’t come around very often.  Wonderful player, and whoever gets him is very lucky.
    • BOYD GORDON – C (11-12: 75GP, 8G 15A 23P)
      The tough-minutes, heavy lifting center that every team needs.  That’s what Boyd Gordon was to the Coyotes this year.  Brought in to replace Eric Belanger, he actually had a far better season in Phoenix this year than Belanger did with Edmonton, so it worked out well.  He’ll never be an offensive player, but he doesn’t need to be to earn his cash.  Gordon played heavy PK minutes, and at 5v5 played some of the toughest competition on the team with by far the toughest zone starts, beginning only ~40% of his shifts in the offensive zone – explaining why his shot differentials aren’t great.  Despite this, he still managed to chip in 23 points AND finished a very respectable +9 on the season.  Couldn’t have asked for much more.  Important player on a team that doesn’t have a lot weapons up front.
    • MARTIN HANZAL – C (11-12: 64GP, 8G 26A 34P)
      Originally drafted as a scoring star out of the Czech junior leagues, Hanzal has developed into a tough minutes center who drives the play in the right direction against the hardest competition available – a player who can do that is invaluable.  If he hadn’t been the victim of a low shooting percentage (5.5%) he would have scored around 13 goals and be closer to 40 points (based on his shooting percentage career average of 9.25% prior to this season), and that figure would be even higher if he had played all 82 games. He plays PK, PP and 5v5 all with aplomb, and is extremely physical with 239 hits.  His faceoffs too are pretty respectable, coming in at just under 52%.  I would not be at all surprised to see his numbers increase this year, and couple that with his ability to be a difference maker at 5v5?  That’s a damn good hockey player.
    • NICK JOHNSON – RW (11-12: 77GP, 8G 18A 26P)
      The 26 year old winger came pretty much out of nowhere to post respectable numbers for the Minnesota Wild last season, and the Coyotes have snapped him up.  At his age those numbers were likely his ceiling and so maybe he drops off a bit in his second full season, but you never know.  He doesn’t PK or play on the PP, but he nearly broke even in shot differentials playing very tough competition 5v5.  At the moment he looks like a very capable 4th liner who may be able to move up if required.
    • LAURI KORPIKOSKI – LW (11-12: 82GP, 17G 20A 37P)
      Korpikoski managed to improve his shot totals significantly this season to almost offset the insane shooting percentage (18.4%) he rode last season to post 19 goals, scoring 17 this year at a far more reasonable 11.6%.  If he can keep that up, he’ll be a valuable secondary scorer on a team pretty starved for offence, not to mention he plays heavy minutes on the PK and took on difficult zonestarts last year.
    • DAVID MOSS – RW (11-12: 32GP, 2G 7A 9P)
      Massive player had a tough season in 11-12 for Calgary, for which the 30 year old had spent his entire 6 year NHL career.  He’d always been inconsistent with his scoring, going from 10 goals in 06-07 (41 games), to 4 goals in 07-08 (41 games) to 20 goals in 08-09 (81 games),back down to 8 goals in 09-10 (64 games), back up to 17 goals in 10-11 (58 games), and finally the 2 goals in 32 games he scored last year.  His inconsistency is also shown in the unusual fluctuations in his shooting percentage year to year, from 6% up to 14.3%.  But it crashed this year all the way down to 2.4%, a horrendous total indicating he had really bad luck.  If he’d scored at his prior career average of 10.14%, he would have scored 8 goals.  Extrapolate that over a full 82 game schedule and that’s a 20 goal pace.  That is all ifs, ands or buts however, and at the end of the day he wasn’t healthy and was incredibly unlucky when he was.  He does provide a solid PK presence, is relatively physical, and is capable of facing tough competition.  It will be interesting to see if his scoring can recover this year in order to be really valuable to the team.
    • STEVE SULLIVAN – LW (11-12: 79GP, 17G 31A 48P)
      The diminutive veteran forward played last season with Pittsburgh, with the Penguins hoping he’d be that scoring winger for Sidney Crosby.  Whilst he didn’t put away great totals (he is 38 after all), he was still effective.  He is pretty much exclusively an offensive guy, playing no minutes on the PK, heavy PP minutes and getting an extreme offensive zonestart push at well over 60%.  The problem for the Coyotes is, for all his skills, I am not sure he will provide the same individual presence that departed veteran Ray Whitney did, which is what I’m sure they were aiming for when they signed Sullivan.  Phoenix doesn’t have anywhere near the same scoring prowess that Pittsburgh does, so I would expect Sullivan to maybe hit 40 points, but not much more.  He has had a remarkable career though, and if everything works out should reach the 1000 game milestone this year.  Hopefully Phoenix can stay competitive enough to give Sullivan a chance at a Cup (something he should have got with Pittsburgh if they hadn’t imploded against the Flyers), but I don’t see it happening.
    • RAFFI TORRES – LW (11-12: 79GP, 15G 11A 26P)
      Raffi was formerly one of my favourite players on the Oilers, for whom he was an absolute force to reckoned with.  Not only was he an absolute wrecking ball, throwing monstrous hits and giving psychopathic looks to anyone who got in his way, he could score too, putting up 20 goals in 03-04 and then 27 in 05-06.  Unfortunately, after a hit on a player in 06-07 (I forget who) resulted in a serious injury, Torres lost a huge amount of confidence and started to become less physical.  Injuries to himself began to hamper his own scoring ability, and eventually the Oilers traded him as he appeared to be a shell of his former self.  He has since managed to return to reasonable levels of scoring, capable of providing decent secondary production, and is also back to being an absolutely vicious hitter.  He is despised around the league for being dangerous and has seen multiple suspensions, including playing for the Coyotes in last years’ playoffs against Chicago, where his feet left the ice on a hit to the head of superstar Marian Hossa, for which he received a 25 game suspension which will carry over to this season too.  Torres is a very capable 2nd/3rd liner when he’s not trying to kill people, and should make the Coyotes tougher to play against.
    • ANTOINE VERMETTE – C (11-12: 82GP, 11G 26A 37P)
      Traded to Phoenix from Columbus at the deadline last year, Vermette is yet another capable secondary scorer who outplays middling competition, plays in all situations and is pretty physical and wins faceoffs. He is historically quite a high percentage shooter but last season he dropped to around 7%, so his goal totals should see a slight increase this season if the luck comes back.
    • RADIM VRBATA – RW (11-12: 77GP, 35G 27A 62P)
      The Coyote’s lone hope for a goal scoring star, Vrbata had an outstanding year last season.  Whilst he has bounced around the league somewhat, all his best seasons have come in a Phoenix uniform, and it really came together for him last year.  He was doing a lot of it, however, off the back of a very high shooting percentage (15.1%).  Had he shot at his previous career average of 8.72%, he would have scored 20 goals. Still very good, but a 15 goal drop nonetheless.  He is a talented player though, and he plays in all situations and takes on some of the toughest competition and wins, so is very valuable whether he is scoring or not.  Of course, the Coyotes would prefer if he was scoring.  I see him most definitely regressing this year, but still being invaluable to the team given their lack of a high scoring player; rather, he is an integral part of their score-by-committee approach.

DEFENCE

Ekman-Larsson

By kcxd (Canucks!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON – D (11-12: 82GP, 13G 19A 32P)
    Myself and virtually every other NHL fan is extremely jealous that the Coyotes have this future superstar on their roster.  When he was drafted in 2009, most thought he was taken a bit high at 6th Overall.  Since then he has blossomed into an unbelievably good young defenceman.  He is most definitely at the level of Victor Hedman (TB), Tyler Myers (BUF) and Adam Larsson (NJ) if not better than all of them, and nipping at the heels of young  stud d-men Drew Doughty (LA) and Alex Pietrangelo (STL).  Seriously, he is probably the next big thing in terms of Swedish defenseman.  It’s way too early to tell if he’s the new Lidstrom, it’s doubtful anyone can live up to that billing, but man does he ever do good things – and at only 21 years old!  He was second to Yandle amongst Coyote d-men for scoring, was taking on tough competition with less than favourable zonestarts and beating it, is big, physical, plays minutes in all situations and is just generally awesome.  Defenseman usually take years to mature into good players who don’t hurt their team (even if they are scoring a lot), so for him to be doing what he does at both ends of the ice… wow.  It might not look like much on the face of it, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the Coyotes have a possible future Norris Trophy winner here.  Franchise cornerstone, without a shadow of a doubt.  Don’t ever trade him.  Unless it’s to the Oilers.
  • RUSTY KLESLA – D (11-12: 65GP, 3G 10A 13P)
    The veteran player provided pretty good value in a defensive role in his first full season in the desert.  He was a shotblocking machine, physical, reliable, and played big minutes on the PK.  He seems to thrive under the defensive system coach Dave Tippett has employed with this team, playing some of the toughest minutes in order to allow the other players some easier ones.  Sacrificial lamb, you might say.
  • ZBYNEK MICHALEK – D (11-12: 62GP, 2G 11A 13P)
    Michalek returns to the Desert Dogs, for whom he previously played from 05-06 to 09-10, after playing for 2 years in Pittsburgh.  The big d-man is almost a carbon copy of Klesla except is less physical but plays even heavier PK minutes.  Good player to have on board, hopefully he can keep on playing the tough minutes and not falter.
  • DEREK MORRIS – D (11-12: 59GP, 2G 9A 11P)
    It used to be possible to describe Morris as a puck-moving, 2-way defenseman, but I’m not sure you can really call him that any more.  He does play significant PK minutes, but isn’t on the PP anymore so doesn’t get a chance to score much.  He plays easy competition and gets easy zonestarts but is outshot, is reasonably physical but not very, and just generally seems to be slowing down significantly.  He’s not useless by any stretch, but he’s a shadow of his former self and I’d imagine that sooner or later David Rundblad takes his place on the blueline – I’d bet on sooner.
  • DAVID SCHLEMKO – D (11-12: 46GP, 1G 10A 11P)
    Yet another defensive defenseman on the Coyotes roster, Schlemko plays significant PK minutes and tough competition at 5v5.  The difference is that Schlemko is only 25, so has plenty of time to learn from the likes of Klesla and Michalek on how to play the role.  He seems to a solid player, Phoenix are lucky to have so many capable guys on the blueline.
  • KEITH YANDLE – D (11-12: 82GP, 11G 32A 43P)
    The former shining star in the desert as recently as 1 year ago, that shine has come off somewhat as Yandle faltered in the playoffs.  Ekman-Larsson took many of Yandle’s minutes, and according to reports Yandle was basically man-handled by LA’s heavy forwards.  How could a guy who was nominated for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman suddenly be so bad?  The reason is simple: situational playing time.  Yandle is placed almost exclusively in offensive situations, starting 55% of his shifts in the O-zone against only middling competition and getting next to no time on the PK but almost 3.5 minutes per game on the powerplay.  To be fair to the guy, he’s very good at what he does – scoring – so it makes sense to capitalise on those skills, and he outshoots the competition that he faces.  I think his 10-11 season was so good offensively that people believed he was more than what he was, when in fact he never really changed.  Besides, for a team that is starved for offence both upfront and on the backend, would you really want to get rid of your leading scorer from the blueline the last two seasons?  There has been talk of a Yandle trade, which I believe would be a mistake, but it depends what they get in return.  A skilled but flawed player, Yandle is what he is – an offensive dynamo.  Think Mike Green or Erik Karlsson, pretty one-dimensional but very very good at that one dimension.

GOAL

Mike Smith

Photo by Mathew Cerasoli from United States (#41 Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • JASON LABARBERA – G (11-12: 19GP, 3W 9L, .912SV% 2.54GAA)
    The journeyman backup goalie provided his usual solid play in his 3rd season in the desert, and although he didn’t pick up many wins, the stats show that probably wasn’t really down to him.  Besides, when the 2011-12 Edition of Mike Smith is the starting goalie, you don’t really need to win a lot of games.  Expect more of the same going forward.
  • MIKE SMITH – G (11-12: 67GP, 38W 18L 10OT, .930SV% 2.21GAA)
    An absolutely incredible season by Mike Smith.  People have been waiting for years for him to put his considerable talent together and really take control of the situation, and he finally did it – and did it in style.  He backstopped the Coyotes all the way to the Conference Finals – making some stunning saves along the way – and was surely their MVP and was in consideration for the Vezina Trophy – although he didn’t make the final 3 contenders.  That said, one possible reason for this sudden break out year is the system that Phoenix plays.  Many people thought that after controversial goalie Ilya Bryzgalov left Phoenix after a few great seasons for Philadelphia, that the Coyotes were done for and that Mike Smith would in no way provide the same level of goaltending.  Coach Tippett employs a very defensive, stifling system, and that would almost inevitably help out a goalie to pad their stats a little.  Still, credit where its due, Smith did his job.  Here’s hoping he can continue to do so, otherwise Phoenix may find the going a little rough.

 

PROSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE TEAM / EARN A CALL-UP

David Rundblad

By Canada Hky (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Phoenix might be in a spot of bother should any of their forwards get injured – there isn’t much in the system to take their place, at least not effectively.  Brett MacLean has been great for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL and would have been in consideration for a roster spot this year, but a serious cardiac emergency this off-season has threatened his life, not to mention his career.  What happens to him from here is a mystery at this moment; all the best to Brett.  After MacLean, small center Andy Miele might be their next best bet; after being a scoring star in the NCAA he had a good first season in pro hockey in the AHL, and should see some more NHL time this year beyond the 7 game cup of coffee he had in 11-12.  Henrik Samuelsson is another one to watch, playing junior for the Edmonton Oil Kings and providing grit, scoring talent and physicality, but he was only just drafted and won’t make the team for another 2-3 years I’d expect.

On the backend, things look a lot rosier, with 2 of the premier young NHL prospects both playing in the Coyotes’ system.  Brandom Gormley is a terrific young all-round player who will be entering his first year of pro this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a splash and see some NHL time.  The other is David Rundblad (see above picture), who was a sensation in his native Sweden after scoring 50 points in 55 games in the SEL in 10-11 – as a defenceman!  The highly skilled player saw time in the NHL with Ottawa in 11-12 (24 games, 4 points, -11) and played relatively well, plus another 6 games in Phoenix where he played even better (3 points, -1).  He spent most of his season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL though, where he was very effective scoring 7 goals and 16 points in 30 games.  He was a -18 though, and will need to work on his defensive play in order to be a difference maker at the NHL.  If there’s any team that can do that though, Phoenix is.  He could make the team out of camp if he performs well enough.

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