The Arizona Coyotes have missed the playoffs for the seventh straight season, but finished the year as one of the hottest teams and have something to build on heading into 2020.
General Manager John Chayka has not been shy about making trades since getting hired in 2016. He swapped Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk last summer. Traded Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz in November. But his biggest trade came this summer. After just one-year in Arizona, Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph were traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Phil Kessel, Dane Birks, and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Some of his trades have been highly criticized, but adding Kessel gives the Coyotes the bonafide star that they’ve been lacking. Another tweak that Chayka made this summer was acquiring Carl Soderberg from the Colorado Avalanche for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick.
Arizona was 26th in the NHL at 23-26-5 through their first 54 games of the season but went 16-10-3 down the stretch, ranking 11th in the league in the final two months of the season. They did so without No.1 net minder Antti Raanta, who missed the final 59 games with a knee injury. Raanta has a .925 SV% through 59 games with the Coyotes and will be a difference-maker for them in 2020.
The Coyotes forward group had a difficult time with injuries in 2019. Schmaltz only played 17 games with Arizona before suffering a season-ending injury. Derek Stepan, Vinnie Hinostroza, Christian Fischer, Brad Richardson, Michael Grabner, and Christian Dvorak all missed at least 10 games—missing a combined 150 games (30.5%) between the six of them.
- — They shouldn’t have to worry about Kessel missing any games in 2020. Kessel has not missed a game in nine seasons while averaging 75 points per 82 games over that time. During the last three seasons he is tied for 11th in the NHL in points (244) and tied for 32nd in goals (84) Kessel obviously benefited from playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, but he is also no stranger to being the go-to guy from his time in Toronto (2011-to-2015). The 31-year-old should go from playing under 18 minutes per game in 2019 to over 20 minutes a night in 2020, helping offset the talent drop-off from Pittsburgh to Arizona.
- — Clayton Keller had a terrific rookie season but went endured a “sophomore slump” in 2019. Keller had just 47 points (14G / 33A) in 82 games but should see positive regression in 2020. Keller’s shooting percentage dropped from 10.8 percent to 7.0 and had a lowly 7.8 on-ice SH% in 2019. He should get back above 20 goals and 60 points in year-3.
- — Derek Stepan had five straight seasons of 50-plus points but a 7.1 on-ice SH% limited him to just 20 assists in 2019. The veteran forward should have no issue bouncing back this season with Kessel on his wing.
- — Schmaltz is a breakout candidate as he comes into 2020 fully healthy. Schmaltz had 14 points (5G / 9A) in 17 games after the trade, which extrapolates to 24 goals and 43 assists (67 points) over 82 games. The Kessel trade should also help Schmaltz because he should get the chance to play full-time with Keller. Last year’s injury should make him a bargain on draft day.
- – Dvorak started the year on IR and then missed the final 54 games of 2019 following pectoral surgery. He had seven points (2G /5A) in 20 games while playing just 14:23 TOI/gm. Back to full health, Dvorak could easily be a top-6 winger for Arizona this season, which would give him post-draft, waiver value as the season progresses.
- — Hinostroza had a solid first season in Arizona, finishing third on the team in goals (16) and fourth in points (39). Adding Kessel to the right-side could mean that Hinostroza is a bottom-6 player in 2020, but he has some deep-league value if he works his way into the top-6.
- — Soderberg set a new career-high in goals (23) last season but did it while shooting a 12.2 percent—after being a 8.5 percent career shooter coming into 2019. He should play a similar role in Arizona (17:27 TOI/gm) but his final stat line will probably more closely resemble what he did in 2018 (16G / 21A).
- — Barrett Hayton is likely the Coyotes only forward prospect that has a chance of making the jump to the NHL this season. Hayton was picked No.5 overall last year and posted 66 points (26G / 40A) in 39 games with the Soo Greyhounds (OHL) last season. With Stepan, Schmaltz, Soderberg and Richardson already on the roster, Hayton will likely start his NHL career as a winger.
Head coach Rich Tocchet likes to pair forwards together and we will likely see the following duos to start the year:
- 1st — Stepan & Kessel
- 2nd — Schmaltz & Keller
- 3rd — Hayton & Soderberg
- 4th — Grabner & Richardson
That leaves Dvorak, Hinostroza, Conor Garland, Fischer, and Lawson Crouse to fill out the four openings.
The Coyotes did not tweak with their blueline at all this summer. They bring back their core five from last season and will get Jason Demers back after he missed the final 47 games of 2019 with a knee injury.
- — Ekman-Larsson is the leader of Arizona’s blueline and quarterback of their top power-play. Since setting a career-high in points in 2016, Ekman-Larsson is seventh among defensemen in goals (40), tied for 12th in power-play points (53) and tied for 23rd in points (125). Arizona had the sixth-worst power-play last year (16.3%) but the addition of Kessel should help bolster that unit, adding to O.E.L’s overall fantasy appeal in 2020.
- — Jakob Chychrun was the No.16 overall pick in 2016 but has dealt with injury issues in his first three years. Overall, Chychrun has missed 30.5 percent of his NHL career and hasn’t played in more than 53 games in the last two seasons. Last year, he scored at an eight-goal, 23-assist per 82-game pace while being a threat on the power-play and in banger leagues (1.4 hits per game). The 21-year-old defenseman has averaged 20:15 TOI/gm in the last two years, showcasing how important he is to the Coyotes. They need him to stay healthy if they’re going to make the postseason for the first time since 2012.
- – Alex Goligoski has been a consistent producer throughout his career but his shooting percentage and on-ice SH% plummeted in 2019, limiting him to 27 points (3G / 24A)—the second-lowest total of his 11-year career. When Chychrun is healthy, he is third in the pecking order for PP time but could work his way onto fantasy rosters if the fourth-year defensemen gets hurt again.
The Coyotes goaltending duo gave up the 13th fewest goals in 2019 and had the 10th best 5v5 SV% (.922). Things didn’t go quite as planned with Darcy Kuemper being forced to start 55 games. Before 2019, Kuemper had a career-high of just 25 starts, but he handled the increased workload with aplomb. Kuemper carried a 2.33 GAA, .925 SV% and posted five shutouts, giving the Coyotes the utmost confidence in both their goalies.
In limited action, Raanta wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2018 but played well enough to go 12-5-6. Raanta will be 100 percent this fall and set to take on a full workload. The 30-year-old has never played more than 47 games in a single-season, so expect Kuemper to get more work than the average backup. This should be a 60-40 split with Raanta being a solid No.2 fantasy netminder and Kuemper being one of the higher owned backups.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|P. Kessel (29)||P. Kessel (50)||P. Kessel (79)||P. Kessel (11)||P. Kessel (28)|
|C. Keller (23)||C. Keller (40)||C. Keller (63)||O. Ekman-Larsson (6)||C. Keller (20)|
|D. Stepan (20)||D. Stepan (34)||D. Stepan (54)||C. Keller (4)||O. Ekman-Larsson (17)|
Coyotes in the DFO Top 300
- 41 — Phil Kessel (RW)
- 105 — Clayton Keller (C/LW/RW)
- 115 — Antti Raanta (G)
- 133 — Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D)
- 184 — Derek Stepan (C)
- 212 — Nick Schmaltz (C/LW)
- 237 — Darcy Kuemper (G)
- 287 — Jakob Chychrun (D)
|4||ARIZONA COYOTES||39-32-11||89 PTS|
|7||ANAHEIM DUCKS||36-36-10||82 PTS|
One thing the Coyotes won’t be mistaken for is flashy, but they have a quality, veteran group of defensemen to go along with a solid goaltending tandem. Up front, they’re tough to play against but they don’t have enough game-breakers to win high-scoring games with any regularity. Overall, they should get off to a better start than last season and fight for a playoffs spot again, ultimately falling just short. They can be in the top half of the Pacific Division and still miss the playoffs in 2020.