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Arizona Coyotes

Phoenix Coyotes rank high in defenseman rankings

Detroit Red Wings' Jimmy Howard, left, makes a save on a slap shot by Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23), of Sweden, in the first period during an NHL hockey game on Thursday, April 4, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Phoenix Coyotes' 2012-13 season didn't go according to plan for a number of reasons, but there is optimism for the future.

General manager Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett were re-signed to new contracts in the offseason and IceArizona, a group headed by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc, bought the team from the NHL.

There's also reason to be optimistic on the ice, more specifically the blue line, according to ESPN's Craig Custance.

In an Insider piece, Custance ranks the top ten groups of defensemen in the league, and has the Coyotes at number seven.

The Coyotes have nine defensemen on one-way contracts, which says something about the depth that GM Don Maloney is building on defense in the desert. One NHL source joked that Dave Tippett would dress them all if he could. The Coyotes also make this list because they have a defense led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a young star you can pencil in as a Norris Trophy finalist this coming season. "[Ekman-Larsson]'s an absolute stud," said the scout. "They have him and [Keith] Yandle and they've got some guys who can defend, as well. And Tippett's style -- they play a good, predictable defensive style. But Ekman-Larsson, he's a star."

The 22-year-old Ekman-Larsson led the Coyotes with 21 assists last season and 2013-14 will be the first in a new six-year extension he signed with the club that's worth $33 million. In other words, the belief is the 2009 first-round pick is just getting started.

Yandle, a two-time All-Star, is still just 26 years of age and his 30 points led Phoenix last season.

Custance has Stanley Cup champion Chicago at the top of the list, followed by Boston, the New York Rangers, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Vancouver ahead of the Coyotes.

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