GLENDALE, Ariz. — The most consistent rookie on the Coyotes roster this season may also be the least talked about rookie on the Coyotes roster.
Brendan Perlini has taken the team by storm with eight goals in 25 games, Lawson Crouse is a big, fast, and physical force and Jakob Chychrun looks like a can’t-miss, top-four defenseman.
All the while, Christian Dvorak has manned the difficult, responsibility-laden center position while playing 46 of the team’s 50 games after Thursday’s 4-3 loss to Chicago at Gila River Arena. In that span, he owns a team-high plus-4 rating.
“That position is a hard position to come in, especially when you’re asked to play some pretty important minutes,” coach Dave Tippett said. “His faceoffs have improved and his confidence in knowing he can get out there and play against anybody and do the job — he’s starting to recognize he’s a real good NHL player.”
Dvorak hadn’t shown a lot of offensive upside to his game through the season’s first half, but he had an extra jump in his step on Thursday when his hometown team came to town on his 21st birthday; a game that also marked the return of Max Domi after a 23-game absence due to a broken hand.
“It was kind of funny because I watched the Hawks all the time when I was a young kid and then I was obviously playing them on my 21st birthday,” Dvorak said. “It was pretty cool.”
Like many of the Coyotes, Dvorak spent the first period watching the three-time Stanley Cup champs in awe as the Blackhawks’ skill built a 3-0 lead on goals by Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa. When the star-gazing was over, however, Dvorak played a big role in the Coyotes’ second-period rally in which they outscored Chicago 3-1 to draw within 4-3.
He scored on a deft redirect of Shane Doan’s shot to cut Chicago’s lead to 4-2 at 14:24 of the second period for his fifth goal of the season, and he set up Perlini a minute and 27 seconds later to cut the lead to 4-3 with his 10th assist of the season.
“He’s coming,” Tippett said. “He makes smart plays that a lot them go unnoticed but he makes real smart plays and he has a nose for the net. His goals, I think three or four of them are off deflections just like the one tonight.”
To play in Tippett’s lineup, players have to be responsible defensively and Dvorak has taken that to heart as much as any of the young players on this roster.
“I think I’m just playing a full 200-foot game, making sure I’m always good defensively and all that,” he said. “I’m starting to feel more confident out there and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Of all the positions where the Coyotes need hope, center tops the list. The jury is still out on Dylan Strome, this year’s draft pick and the future of Martin Hanzal, but Dvorak offers one ever-increasing reason for optimism.
“He’s a good young player,” Tippett said.
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