GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes knew this season would be a rebuilding year but they were hoping to see growth from their young core. The easiest way to measure that growth is in production, and Arizona’s rookies are measuring up well in that regard.
Coyotes rookies have accounted for 87 points this season, the second-highest total in the NHL behind Toronto’s ridiculous 249 rookie points.
Cynics might assume that Arizona is getting so many points from its rookies because it is playing so many of them, but only six rookies have played as many as eight games with the Coyotes. That’s the same number as Chicago, which is fourth in the NHL with 82 rookies points, and the Coyotes’ rookie points are more evenly distributed than third-place Winnipeg, which has received 60 of its 86 points from Calder Trophy candidate Patrik Laine.
The top rookie points producers for Arizona are Christian Dvorak (24), Brendan Perlini (19), Jakob Chychrun (17), Anthony DeAngelo (11) and Lawson Crouse (9).
Perlini scored his 13th goal of the season and third in his last three games in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Monday at Gila River Arena — a win that also gave goalie Mike Smith (22 saves) the franchise’s career shutout streak with No. 22.
Perlini’s goal came two nights after the Coyotes got six points from their rookies in a win over New Jersey on Saturday: a goal and two assists from defenseman Jakob Chychrun, a goal and an assist from defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and a goal from Perlini.
Arizona’s rookies have stacked up well against other teams by other measures, too. Perlini’s .302 goals per game represent the fourth-best average among rookies this season behind Laine, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel.
Chychrun’s six goals are tied with Boston’s Brandon Carlo for second among NHL rookie defensemen behind only Calder Trophy candidate Zach Werenski of Columbus.
Only three NHL rookies (Laine, Matthews, William Nylander) have scored more goals than Coyotes rookie center Christian Dvorak (seven) since Feb. 2.
“Our talent level is continuing to grow and, in my opinion, it’s going to be at an all-time high here in a little while,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “Talent alone doesn’t win you games. It’s how they come together and support each other, but at the same time, it’s an important component of success in the NHL and I don’t think we have had enough of it in the past.”
The Coyotes will have more in the fold next season when Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer likely make the leap to pro hockey and/or the NHL. It’s just as exciting for the players as it is for the team’s management and its fans.
“I had a similar thing in the OHL where my first year we had probably five or six 16-year-olds,” said Perlini, who played for Niagara. “We knew that team would eventually go on be good and last year we competed for the championship.
“We have so many 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds here. It’s not going to be anything that happens overnight. It takes time, but hopefully over the next few years we can progress really well and we’ll be making the playoffs pretty soon.”
Coach Dave Tippett believes that coaching, development and training methods for players are far better than they were 20 years ago. For that reason, young players report to the NHL in better shape, and with a better understanding of structure and concepts than they did when Tippett played.
It’s one thing to understand what you’re supposed to do. It’s quite another to do at the speed of the NHL game, and against the world’s best players.
“They were the best players in juniors so they could get away with stuff,” Tippett said of young NHL players. “Here, you get exploited on that stuff. There’s a fine line of being able to compete at this level. We always talk about keeping percentages in your favor.
“Chych is a good example. In junior, he could just take the puck and just keep it as long as he wanted. Now there’s a little better checking, a little better structure against him so there’s some things you have to recognize and adapt to. That’s just getting familiar with the pro game, especially for young defensemen. It’s a harder go for them.”
Tippett said the only way young players get up to speed is through experience, citing an example with regard to defensemen.
“We ask them to have tight gaps,” Tippett said. “Well, tight gaps against different players are different things. Against a Taylor Hall, you’ve got to manage your gap accordingly. There might be another guy that’s a slower guy that you can stay tight on and still get him. You’ve got to recognize that Hall is a little different animal. So those are the experiences that they have to go through. It’s not just black and white every time. They have to go through the experiences so they have the knowledge they need moving forward.”
While there is still plenty to teach and learn, Tippett has seen progress.
“Our young players are contributing which is a big factor for us right now,” he said.
Teams with the best rookie points production
1. Toronto: 249
2. Arizona: 87
3. Winnipeg: 86
4. Chicago: 82
5. New York Rangers: 76
6. Columbus: 74
T-7. Detroit: 61
T-7. Philadelphia: 61
9. Dallas: 60
T-10. Calgary: 53
T-10. Carolina: 53
T-10. New Jersey: 53
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