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What experts, opposing players are saying about the Arizona Coyotes

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) celebrates with teammates after scoring in the second period during an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

There was a time when you could mention the idea of the Coyotes making the playoffs, and the reaction — at least from the national perspective — would be similar to that of the famous press conference outburst from Jim Mora, Sr.

“Playoffs?!”

That is no longer the case.

As the NHL season got underway Wednesday night, there have been several weeks worth of projections, podcasts, power rankings and predictions to hit the world wide web. The narrative around the Coyotes has largely shifted.

National outlets aren’t calling Arizona a Stanley Cup contender, but there is more positivity being preached about the Coyotes than there has been for quite some time.

Here’s some of what the experts — and opposing players around the league — are saying.

League survey, via Emily Kaplan, ESPN

In an article titled, “Why the Sabres are everyone’s sleeper pick,” Kaplan writes that ESPN polled 58 players, executives and coaches and asked them which team could surprise people this year. Buffalo was the No. 1 answer, but Arizona was the second-most popular, followed by the Florida Panthers.

League survey, via Frank Seravalli, TSN

An anonymous poll of 33 NHL players showed that the players believe the Sabres and Coyotes will turn around their misfortunes from last season and make it to the playoffs this year.

“I feel like they’ve done some really good things the past couple years,” one Western Conference player said via the story on TSN.ca. “Plus, everyone likes their coach [Rick Tocchet].”

“I think Arizona’s going to be better than people think,” a Pacific Division rival said. “They gave us a lot of trouble last year, and quite honestly, I think they’re just a better team than people give them credit for.”

NHL Prediction Spectacular, The Athletic

A panel of writers from The Athletic gave their predictions for the upcoming season, and the Coyotes were the top vote-getter for the category of surprise team, receiving 11 votes from the 47-person panel.

Also, goaltender Antti Raanta was tied for fourth in votes (3) for Vezina Trophy winner and head coach Rick Tocchet was tied for fourth in votes (4) for Jack Adams winner.

Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet

One of the NHL’s top news-breakers said on his podcast with Jeff Marek that the Coyotes may make the playoffs. It was recorded, however, before forward Alex Galchenyuk got hurt.

“I think Arizona is a playoff team, but there’s a lot there that I don’t know,” Friedman said.

He went on to say that the Coyotes’ success down the stretch last year — when they were already out of the playoff hunt — can be deceptive because Arizona had no postseason hopes to play for at that point. Still, he had mostly good things to say about the team.

“I just look at their roster, they’re pretty deep, I think Galchenyuk being out of Montreal, he should be a lot better. I’m a big Clayton Keller guy.”

Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maybe the Scottsdale native was just being a homer, but one of the top stars in the NHL in Auston Matthews was recently on the Barstool Sports hockey podcast Spittin’ Chiclets and said the Coyotes could surprise some people this year.

“I think they’re going to be pretty good this year. I think they’re going to surprise some people,” he said. “And I also think like, you know they didn’t have the best season last year, they had a really good end of the year, but I feel like teams, like when you come in to play them, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, last season, they didn’t really perform how they wanted,’ and like and they’re going to go out and surprise you. Like in the first period, they might put up three and then you’re back on your heels.”

Listen here (warning: podcast contains explicit language and content).

Season preview, Greg Wyshynski, ESPN

Wyshynski didn’t offer a bottom-line, here’s-where-they’ll-finish kind of prediction in his preview of the Coyotes for ESPN, but did quip that the “best case scenario” was that “the buzz about the Coyotes being a stealth playoff contender in the West was justified, as the Coyotes finish in the top two-thirds in the NHL in both goals scored and goals against.”

He also gave ranks for the Coyotes’ forwards, defense and goaltending: 23rd, 15th and 22nd in the league, respectively.

Season preview, The Hockey News

In their 2018-19 season preview of the Arizona Coyotes, The Hockey News wasn’t so optimistic, predicting the Coyotes finish seventh out of eight teams in the Pacific Division.

The publication stated that uncertainty around the Coyotes’ youth, a lack of consistent scoring and trouble with Raanta staying healthy are reasons to believe Arizona won’t be a playoff team.

They did, however, say this under their “Best Case Scenario” description: “With a mostly veteran defense corps and a solid goalie in Antti Raanta, who has been getting better every season that his workload increases, the Coyotes have no more excuses if they’re doormats again.”

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