The Coyotes are flying high in the Pacific, but the best is yet to come

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After 40 games the Arizona Coyotes sit 2nd in the Pacific Division, with 20 wins. The Yotes went winless in pre-season, but then started the league with a three game win streak – defeating LA, Pittsburgh and Anaheim.

The Competition

Admittedly, the Pacific Division isn’t the most star-struck league right now, but it is one of the most competitive – mainly because the majority of the teams are having fairly weak seasons.

The LA Kings don the division and – as they were at the start of the season – are considered to be a Stanley Cup favourite. Then there are the Ducks, who started incredibly poor; but after calling up John Gibson from the Gulls they’ve reincarnated into playoff contenders.

Vancouver are still knocking about playoff contention but won’t make the automatic places, and most likely wouldn’t be good enough to fight off Central Division competition for the Wild Card spots.

San Jose could be contenders if they sorted out their home form which, after 38 games, stands at 5-12-0. They have the skater pedigree to make the playoffs, but they still seem to be in an adjustment period with new coach Peter DeBoer.

The Flames have slumped – predictably – after they exceeded themselves last season. Sean Monahan is suffering from some second-season-syndrome, just as top pick of his class Nathan MacKinnon did last season (Monahan’s just taking place in his third season).

Finally there are the Edmonton Oilers. They put all of their hopes on Connor McDavid pulling the team out of their funk, kicking the other top picks into gear, and making a fair playoff push. What really happened was Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins are still not living up to their expectations, and the Oilers still lack defence and goaltending. Darnell Nurse will get good, but they need more than just one decent blue-liner – and McDavid broke his clavicle in-game and is still injured.

Arizona, on the other hand, have been able to put together decent strings of form this season, which has enabled them to rise up the division. What took the notice of the league was their very youthful team.

The Young Yotes

 So far, Laurent Dauphin, Tyler Gaudet and Phillip Samuelsson have been dipped into the first team. Then there’s Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and Klas Dahlbeck who are all rookies with 39/40 games played in the NHL this season.

Following the injury to Mike Smith, Louis Domingue (5th round in 2010) was pulled into the first team, and has started to phase out back-up Anders Lindback.

The Arizona team is full of quality young skaters – their top five point scorers average to be 22.4-years-old, with the oldest being Mikkel Boedker at 26.

Their star man has still got to be Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. At just 24 years of age, he is by far their best blue-liner and one of Arizona’s top point scorers. Soon he’ll be considered amongst the very top defenders in the league.

There’s more to come

 The Coyotes have been very patient with their top draftees, giving them ample time to develop their game in the minors before allowing them to step onto NHL ice. Just seeing the wonders that this has worked for Max Domi proves that Arizona’s patience pays off.

Still to be pulled up in the next couple of seasons are: four first round forwards (Perlini, Samuelsson, Merkley and Strome); second round center Dauphin and; two highly rated defensemen in Capobianco and Mayo.

Due to the patience that the franchise has with its prospects, all of the players that come up to the first team will be NHL ready, and will be able to perform at a high level.

If the Arizona Coyotes can keep these young stars in their team, they could eventually have one of the best classes of players in the league. The future looks very bright for the Yotes; if their fans think that this season’s going well, just wait for what’s to come in a couple of years time.

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7 comments

  • Great stuff as usual, Ben!

    However, I will (as I always do) comment on your paragraph re: the Oilers :p

    Finally there are the Edmonton Oilers. They put all of their hopes on Connor McDavid pulling the team out of their funk, kicking the other top picks into gear, and making a fair playoff push. What really happened was Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins are still not living up to their expectations, and the Oilers still lack defence and goaltending. Darnell Nurse will get good, but they need more than just one decent blue-liner – and McDavid broke his clavicle in-game and is still injured.

    I would contest Nugent-Hopkins not living up to expectations. He may not yet put up gaudy point-totals as other 1st Overall Picks have, but he is a truly wonderful hockey-player. He doesn’t get much exposure because of playing in EDM, but he really is like a young Datsyuk or Bergeron – a stunning skater, has a wicked wrist-shot, and sees the ice like few others, along with an astonishingly polished defensive game for a 22-year old. He plays the toughest competition among all forwards on the Oilers, and often dominates the possession game while doing so, and he’s not yet 23. His best years are yet to come and he’s already first-line center quality. I would wager that once the league starts focusing in on McDavid, RNH will see easier competition during his shifts and he’ll be able to put up higher point totals. He may not be a Crosby/Tavares level 1st overall, but he’s an outstanding NHL forward.

    That said, his points-per-game rate among all centers in the NHL since 2005/06 who have played at least 200 career games (i.e. a good sample size) up to the age of 22 is 9th overall, tied with Matt Duchene and ahead of players like Tyler Seguin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Johansen etc. Check the list here: http://www.hockey-reference.com/play-index/psl_finder.cgi?request=1&match=combined&year_min=2006&year_max=2016&season_start=1&season_end=-1&rookie=N&age_min=18&age_max=22&birth_country=&birthyear_min=&birthyear_max=&franch_id=&is_active=&is_hof=&pos=C&handed=&is_playoffs=N&c1stat=games_played&c1comp=gt&c1val=200&c2stat=&c2comp=gt&c2val=&c3stat=&c3comp=gt&c3val=&c4stat=&c4comp=gt&c4val=&threshhold=5&order_by=points_per_game

    Note: I still hold out hope for Yakupov, and he looked to be turning a corner on a line with McDavid before his injury. Stunning talent but yes, he has not been as hoped, unable to convert that talent to consistent NHL quality play (much of that top 10 in the 2012 draft is looking weak, relatively speaking). Some excuses can be made as to opportunity (he’s often been buried on the 3rd line playing depth minutes with offensively mediocre-players) and coaching (his coach for 1.5 years was Dallas Eakins, who forced him to learn a stifling defensive game at the expense of his offense), but a lot is on the player (it’s not lack of trying, Yakupov is one of the most passionate and driven young players I’ve seen, which makes it even more of a shame).

    With regards to the defence, agreed that it is still a mess. However, the future looks brighter than you may think. Andrej Sekera, after a slow start, has been fantastic overall for the Oilers; he was touted as the best available D in free agency in the offseason and he has been as advertised. Oscar Klefbom is easily the second-best D on this team (some would argue the best) in just his second NHL season, and that’s not just relative to the Oilers’ blueline – he really is a two-way force, he has speed, is strong and smart at both ends of the ice, and plays a pretty gritty game. Many believe he could be better than Nurse at his peak. The Oilers have actually felt his loss to injury more than McDavid’s. Brandon Davidson is rookie another blueliner, whom most wouldn’t even have heard of – he was drafted in the 6th round in 2010, but has steadily developed and while most saw him as the number 7/8 guy this year, he has actually proven an extremely capable top-4 defender so far this year, being strong, extremely smart, and keeping the game simple.

    With regards to Nurse, he looks to be an absolute stud and, along with Klefbom, the future of the Oilers’ D-corps. However, he has been thrust into top-pairing minutes this year (his rookie year) and while he shows flashes of brilliance, he is clearly not ready for that role. His minutes have recently been reduced and the results are improving as a result.

    In truth, the Oilers need one more defender who is a no-questions-asked top-4 guy – my target would be Hamonic. An elite talent would be great, but you can rarely trade for those guys. They need to flush the bottom-pair guys – Nikitin, Ference, Schultz – and replace them with low-event, steady players. We actually have those guys in Fayne and Gryba, but with the youth on the roster and the injuries, they seem to end up playing too high in the batting order. And don’t get me started on Justin Schultz – huge disappointment in his career thus far!

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