PHOENIX — The Coyotes have been remodeling their team more rapidly and dramatically than a house on “Fixer Upper.”
The team addressed needs at center, goal and top-line defense with two significant trades Friday before the start of the NHL draft. They acquired center Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in the draft.
The Coyotes had Stepan on their radar for quite some time.
“Leading up to it today, I heard the rumors,” Stepan said. “At least last summer there was rumors about it. I kind of had a feeling if it was going to happen, it was going to happen in Arizona. I wasn’t completely blindsided by it.”
Earlier in the day, the Coyotes acquired defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin.
This comes on the heels of the team parting with its coach, its cornerstone and its starting goalie.
Hjalmarsson is another player the Coyotes have had their eyes on and believe he will be able to complement Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The two are friends and have played together in the past.
“We think Hjalmarsson is the perfect partner for him,” general manager John Chayka said. “It’s a guy (Ekman-Larsson is) dying to play with. It was the genesis of the move.”
Ekman-Larson was a player that struggled last year, but the addition of Hjalmarsson should contribute to a bounce back season.
Stepan scored 19 goals and assisted on 38 last season. He should be able to provide the elite talent the Coyotes have been looking for at center.
Stepan turned 27 on Sunday and has four years left on his contract.
“I look forward to jumping into the Coyotes jersey and playing with some of the young talent that they have there,” Stepan said. “(I’m) trying to do what I do in New York and try to bring that to the Coyotes and show them I can lead in that way.”
Stepan finished in the top three in points for the Rangers each season dating back to 2012-13. He managed to score 55 points last season and provide the Coyotes an offensive weapon. The Coyotes’ only player to score more than 40 points last season was Radim Vrbata.
“When I look at the Coyotes, I look at a team that has a ton of young talent,” Stepan said. “A team that is on the cusp of taking the next step on being a real strong team. And being someone that could compete for the Cup every single year.”
The Coyotes are also looking to fill a hole left after trading goalie Mike Smith and hope Raanta can fill that position.
“I was expecting something to happen and then when I got the phone call I was super excited when I heard that Arizona was asking for me,” Raanta said.
Raanta is intrigued by the opportunity that awaits.
It’s a super big challenge for me, of course,” Raanta said. “I feel like I’m ready to do that and just come there and start playing.”
Raanta has played for the Rangers and Blackhawks the last four seasons as a backup goalie.
“It’s the biggest chance for me to take the No. 1 spot so you never know what happens,” he said. “If everything goes well, I can help the team to win.”
This has been an eventful offseason for the Coyotes.
They opted not to bring back captain Shane Doan, they traded starting goalie Mike Smith and agreed to part ways with head coach Dave Tippett.
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