GLENDALE, Ariz. – Don’t look now, but the Coyotes rookies are going to have the summer to prepare themselves and avoid the infamous sophomore slump.
And if there were ever an offseason where it was important for Coyotes young guns to continue to progress, it’s this one — because there are a lot of rookies, and there are a lot of holes to fill.
Next year, the Coyotes will likely be without longtime staples like Martin Hanzal, Zbynek Michalek and possibly Shane Doan. A new core is being built, one that will be faced with getting the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
“I think our core, to say there’s a core here, we’re not there yet,” head coach Dave Tippett said Monday. “Our core still has some growing to do.”
The Coyotes closed the season with six rookies on the roster: forwards Lawson Crouse, Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller and Brendan Perlini; and defensemen Jakob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo.
They all still have more to prove.
Shane Doan said the emotions of a rookie season can give players a boost. But as it fades away, your enthusiasm can, too.
“The second year, that enthusiasm – it’s not gone, it’s there – it’s just not near as strong,” Doan said. “And now you mentally have to be able to get yourself up to play in each game. That … is sometimes harder the second year. Nobody tells you great job when you score that second year, because the first year you kind of set the example of what they expect out of you.”
“In every single sport, everyone talks about the sophomore jinx. And that’s what it is, I think.”
Some of the notable sophomores-to-be
Jakob Chychrun – 19 years old
Without counting Keller, who appeared in just three games at the end of the regular season, Chychrun is the youngest player on the roster.
His 19th birthday was less than two weeks ago.
He seemed to adjust well to the NHL level. His seven goals were the most by a Coyotes rookie defenseman since Zbynek Michalek tallied eight in 2005-06.
Still, the rookies have all had to face the learning curve of coming to the NHL, but Chychrun made one mistake in particular that had everyone a little shaken up: He bulldozed Doan during a warmup skate.
“I felt terrible,” said Chychrun with a laugh of relief. “Not a situation you want to be in, I apologized probably 100 times. I just couldn’t believe it, honestly, I felt so bad. I was just happy he was alright.”
As far as his play during the actual game is concerned, he said he got more comfortable as the season went on.
“Just being here, it becomes more of a regular routine for you, rather than showing up and not knowing what to expect. It definitely helps when you can settle in with the older guys and gain more friendships.
“It was obviously nerve-wracking at the start, but as the year went on, it wasn’t hard to fit in with the group we have here.”
Anthony DeAngelo – 21 years old
DeAngelo was recalled from the AHL during the season and went on to play 39 games, scoring five goals with nine assists. He became part of the Coyotes organization when he was traded to Arizona on draft day last year from Tampa Bay.
“That was a good trade for me,” DeAngelo said. “It’s part of the business, so it was nice to experience how it is. To me, it worked out great. I’m real happy about it.”
Since then, he’s continued a career that’s had a few hiccups.
“I feel like I can play, but I’ve got a lot to prove and work on, too. I can talk about now, but it will be when I come in at the end of summer. I’ll be looking forward to that.”
Christian Dvorak – 20 years old
Dvorak scored 15 goals and 18 assists in 78 games with Coyotes this year. A man of few words, the quiet, confident Dvorak looks to be a major factor for Arizona at just 20 years of age.
Doan laughed at Dvorak’s stoic demeanor.
“The goal he scored against Washington, he pulled off his skate, there wasn’t even a hint of a smile on his fence, just skating back to the bench just stone-faced,” Doan said, chuckling. “I’m like, ‘Come on, Dvo, it was an unbelievable goal and you don’t even react?!”
It’s just who he is.
“I’ve always been not a big emotional guy on the ice, no (celebrations) or whatever,” Dvorak said. “That’s the way it’s always been and the way I was raised. I don’t think that’s going to change too much.”
Brendan Perlini – 20 years old
Perlini lit the lamp 14 times to go with seven assists in 57 games in the NHL this year. But it was what he did in the AHL – scoring 14 goals in 17 games – that had so many people excited about the youngster.
He played well, but Doan mentioned Perlini by name when he discussed the ‘sophomore slump,’ noting that expectations grow each year.
“Perls is a guy that came in and scored a ton of goals, and everyone was over-the-moon excited about him,” Doan said. “If he comes in next year and scores 15 goals again next year, you’ll be like ‘What happened, Perls?’
“As a player, it’s happened that way every year,” Doan continued. “As you play minor hockey, if you scored 10 goals as a first-year Pee Wee, your second-year Pee Wee, you expect to score 25 goals. And then you get to the NHL, you score 10 goals your first year and you’re expected to score 25 the next year.”
Crouse and Keller could also prove to be big factors in the team going forward. The former is a 19-year-old left wing who scored five goals and seven assists in 72 games this year. The latter is an 18-year-old just weeks removed from his tenure at Boston University.
Tippett also noted that others like Christian Fischer and Laurent Dauphin will make a push, while Dylan Strome is also in the pipeline.
Coyotes GM John Chayka will have to find a “balance,” he says, to have veterans to support to the young players. But if young players want to stick around, they’ll have to avoid the curse of their second season.