Brayden Burke practicing prior to leaving for “The Bubble” – Photo By – Zachary BonDurant
The day before heading to the Edmonton bubble, the Arizona Coyotes released its roster that would be competing for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. These unprecedented times have brought unprecedented roster rules, which may give a chance to players who otherwise may not have been considered for NHL action during the most crucial time of year.
The normal 20 players (18 skaters, 2 goalies) can dress, but the rosters have expanded to 31. With the Coyotes putting together a solid prospect pipeline, the opportunity to play in the postseason may come quicker than expected for some of the younger players.
There are plenty of strong rosters, especially in the West bubble, but the Coyotes come with plenty of talent and lots of names still engraved on the trophy they are chasing. How does the Arizona roster stack up in its pursuit for the Cup?
Nick Schmaltz Clayton Keller Vinnie Hinostroza Brad Richardson
Christian Dvorak Derek Stepan Carl Soderberg Christian Fischer
Michael Grabner Lawson Crouse Phil Kessel Taylor Hall
Conor Garland Hudson Fasching Michael Chaput Barrett Hayton
Each of the last three seasons, most have been waiting for the Coyotes offense to explode. There is plenty of young talent, yet Arizona has finished no higher than 23rd in goals for per game, which was this season prior to the shutdown. While scoring is slowly improving year by year, the Coyotes are going to need more from its top six in order to compete.
Phil Kessel admitted a few weeks ago that this season is the most he has been injured in his career, though he did play all 70 prior to the pause. He has had nearly five months to get himself back to full strength, and the hope is Arizona gets the Kessel who has put up 77 points in 87 playoffs appearances.
Taylor Hall has two huge motivators on top of wanting the Cup. He is in a contract year, ready to prove that he is worth every penny that he will ask for in free agency. Plus, he has played a total of five playoff games in his ten-year career, a number he is probably eager to substantially increase.
No matter how head coach Rick Tocchet draws the lineups, there will be at least two quality bottom 6 NHL players sitting out. After that, the forward pool drops of significantly in NHL experience, so if the Coyotes run into the injury issues of the past up front, the depth may struggle to hold up.
Conclusion: If the Coyotes forwards find their stride, this could easily be a top 3 offense in the West. Because they have yet to show the consistency in games, there is a cautious optimism, especially because the window to get going is so small.
Niklas Hjalmarsson Jakob Chychrun Oliver Ekman-Larsson Alex Goligoski
Jason Demers Ilya Lyubushkin Jordan Oesterle Aaron Ness
Victor Soderstrom Kyle Capobianco Jordan Gross
The perfect mix of playoff experience and young talent is shown perfectly in the Coyotes D-core. Nik Hjalmarsson and Alex Goligoski have each won a Cup (Hjalmarsson has three), plus Jason Demers has competed in 52 playoff games over his career. Those three, along with captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, will help navigate lineup regulars Jakob Chychrun, Jordan Oesterle and Ilya Lyubushkin through their first playoff games.
The one player to look out for is Victor Soderstrom. The Swedish defenseman, drafted eleventh overall by the team in last year’s draft, spent the 2019-2020 season playing for his hometown Brynas IF Gavle. He recorded 16 points in 35 games played, grabbing more points in less games than in his first season in the SHL.
It was another development year for Soderstrom, gaining more experience playing professional hockey as his time to play in the world’s best hockey league nears. While most expected him to make that leap either next year or the year after, he may be playing his first career NHL game in the Edmonton bubble.
Jordan Oesterle and Ilya Lyubushkin will most likely be slotted as the sixth and seventh defensemen, but after that is where it gets tricky. If a couple of the top back-end players is out of the lineup, who jumps into the seventh defenseman spot? Will the Coyotes go with veteran Aaron Ness or Kyle Capobianco, who has played a handful of NHL games? Or will Arizona want to show off its top prospect and give Soderstrom a baptism by fire, similar to the way Cale Makar made his arrival last Spring?
Conclusion: The defense core is exceptional when fully healthy, and they are entering the bubble as a complete unit in what feels like the first time ever. Chychrun, Oesterle, Lyubushkin and all of the other defensemen that are without playoff experience have plenty of guys to learn from if the games begin to ramp up even further. After the seventh defensemen spot, the depth chart takes a steep drop from NHL experience, even in the regular season, and if the D-core depletes rapidly like it has in the past, there may be a lot of learning on the fly with an vastly different lineup.
Darcy Kuemper Antti Raanta Adin Hill
While other teams may claim they have the best goaltending tandem in the league, stats say that distinction lives in the Valley of the Sun. Arizona Sports reporter Matt Layman mentioned in a recent article that Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta are 1-2 in the save percentage category since the 2017-2018 season. Arizona finished sixth last year in goals against per game, and was third this season prior to the shutdown.
Goaltending is this team’s biggest strength in the past two seasons, and it can be everything in the playoffs. While teams ride a hot goalie in the playoffs, the Coyotes just need to rely on the normal production of its netminders to have a great chance of picking up wins along the way.
Kuemper played extremely well in his first full series as starter, backstopping the Wild to an upset of the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While that was his first experience as a full-time starter, he did play two games in relief of Josh Harding during the Wild’s first round matchup with the Blackhawks in 2013. Kuemper also played one game in next year’s series against the St. Louis Blues, and that is the last time he has seen postseason action.
Raanta has only participated in three playoff games of his own, all of them in relief of Henrik Lundquist during the 2016 playoffs. He has had a front-row seat for plenty of playoff games as the backup goaltender, but has only faced a total of 38 shots in 94 minutes in the crease.
Conclusion: While the two goaltenders are inexperienced in the playoffs, they are still the game’s best tandem, giving Arizona a shot every time the team steps on the ice. If the offense picks it up in these new playoffs, the goaltending will be good enough to carry them deep into the playoffs, and steal a few games along the way.