GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Tippett has never had cause for concern with what he calls “the guts” of Tobias Rieder’s game. The third-year forward is smart, he competes hard, he is responsible defensively, he is responsible with the puck, he can play in all situations and he finds ways to utilize his most noticeable asset: his speed.
The one area in question has been Rieder’s production. A roster hole may provide Rieder the opportunity to add that final, important element to his game.
Since moving to the right wing on a line with center Jordan Martinook and left winger Brendan Perlini on March 2 in Buffalo, Rieder has two goals and eight points in eight games. His 15 goals this season are a career high, his 18 assists are five short of a career high and his 33 points are four short of a career high.
“He’s been real steady, real solid all year and the last couple weeks since we put him over on the right wing, we’re really seeing some good stuff from him,” Tippett said. “We asked him to give it a try and he’s adapted. He’s added an extra element of creativity in his game that I’ve liked so far. It’s helped him get some points.”
It’s no secret the Coyotes have an abundance of left wingers on the roster or in the system. Max Domi, Perlini, Jamie McGinn and Lawson Crouse are currently manning those duties, but Martinook can also play the left side, Rieder has played there his entire NHL career and elite prospect Clayton Keller probably fits best in that spot.
On the other side, Shane Doan may be in the final year of his career, Anthony Duclair has struggled and Radim Vrbata is in the final year of his contract, although he could return. That dearth of depth has created both a need and an opportunity. Rieder has seized it.
“I played the right side in junior [Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League] for three years so you slowly get back into it but it’s a still little different after playing the left wing my whole NHL career,” said Rieder, for whom the greatest adjustment comes in the defensive zone. “On the right side of my body is a wall now so I’m pretty much always going to receive pucks with my backhand in the D-zone.”
“There are pluses and minuses each way. It’s easier on the left side to receive pucks and make plays, but coming into the zone you’re kind of locked into shooting it or driving down low. On the right side, you have a couple different options. You can drive the net, you can pull up easier when you have it on your forehand and make plays easier with the puck closer to the net; find the late guys coming in. That’s obviously way more difficult to do on the left side when you pull up and try to make a hard pass on your backhand on the tape, right in the slot.”
Rieder has always been a disciplined offseason worker. He works out with the German national team, he shoots hundreds of pucks to improve his finishing skills and he does a lot of off-ice work with Penguins forward and fellow Landshut, Germany native, Tom Kuhnhackl, because ice is scarce in Germany during the summer.
If the Coyotes think this experiment is going to bleed into next season, Tippett has no doubt Rieder will tackle the challenge.
“There are players that are like that; they know what they have to do to be good players,” Tippett said. “He continues to build his game: Career highs this year and hopefully he does it again next year.”
If the Coyotes could come to training camp this fall with a right wing depth chart of Vrbata, Rieder, Duclair and Christian Fischer, they might feel good about those options. What’s never certain is whether Rieder’s current line will remain intact, but Martinook loves the combination.
“Me and Tobi have that chemistry because we’ve been penalty killing the last couple years and then when you throw a guy in that can skate and shoot the way Pearls can, it adds an extra dynamic,” Martinook said. “We try to be strong on the walls in our zone and if we can get the puck out and get the other guy coming across we’re in good shape.
“If we keep putting up points, it’s going to be hard for [Tip] to switch us up.”
Blues at Coyotes
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Blues — 37-28-5. Coyotes — 26-35-9.
Season series: First meeting
Injury report: Coyotes — RW Shane Doan (lower body) is day-to-day and doubtful to play. D Kevin Connauton (upper body) and C Alexander Burmistrov (concussion) are day to day. C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is on injured reserve. Blues — LW Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body), C Jori Lehtera (upper body) and LW Robby Fabbri (ACL) are out.
Scouting the Blues: St Louis has won two of the first three games (Los Angeles, San Jose) on its five-game road trip and is 6-2 in March. The Blues currently sit in the Western Conference’s second wild card spot, four points ahead of Los Angeles and two points behind third-place Nashville in the Central Division. … RW Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 34 goals (third in the NHL) and 63 points. … G Jake Allen has a .952 save percentage in five March games; backup Carter Hutton has a .939 save percentage in three March games. .. The Blues’ power play is ranked fourth in the NHL (22.4 percent); the penalty killing unit is sixth (84.3)