Former Blackhawks hope to help Coyotes turn around fortunes
GLENDALE, Ariz. – During the last two years, the Arizona Coyotes and the Chicago Blackhawks have become cozy trade partners, teaming up in three transactions.
Now all of those players with Chicago ties are hoping to help the Coyotes return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.
It began when the Blackhawks sent defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes before the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Last season the Coyotes acquired forward Richard Panik as part of a four-player trade that sent Anthony Duclair to Chicago.
And most recently the Coyotes worked a deal with the Blackhawks to acquire forward Vinnie Hinostroza and defenseman Jordan Oesterle.
With so many former Chicago teammates in the Coyotes room, the newcomers have leaned on one another while becoming acclimated to a new city and team.
“A lot of familiar faces coming in here,” Hinostroza said. “Jordan (Oesterle) came over with me in the trade. Pans (Panik), Hjalmarsson, Raants (Antti Raanta) was with the Hawks, and (Christian) Dvorak and (Christian) Fischer being from Chicago, I knew them. So a lot of familiar faces.”
The group of former Blackhawks contributed to a long, successful run in which Chicago hoisted three Stanley Cups and reached the playoffs nine straight years from 2009 through 2017.
Hinostroza believes he can use his experience in Chicago to help Arizona establish a winning culture.
“I think being around all those guys that won three Cups together, you learn a lot from them,” he said. “In coming down here to a team that hasn’t won any Cups … you just learn so much from those guys from the way they carry themselves and how much they want to win.
“I think we have a great group here, and it would be awesome to win here. So we’re just trying to look forward to every game, investing every day and trying to win some games here.”
Panik was traded to Arizona in January and played in 35 games recording 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists). The time he spent last season with the Coyotes has helped prepare him for this season.
“I got used to the organization, coaches, guys in the locker room, everybody,” he said. “I feel more comfortable around the team now.”
Oesterle is currently in a battle to stay on the roster with defenseman Jakob Chychrun rehabbing from knee surgery. After starting the season opener against Dallas, Oesterle was scratched from the previous two games for defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin.
“So far, so good,” he said. “Preseason, I thought the transition was pretty fluent to the system I like to play. Obviously, game one didn’t go the way we wanted to. There are things that I can do better and more of to get back into the lineup, and that’s what I’m looking to do.”
The first-year Coyotes defenseman often has leaned on Hjalmarsson for advice.
“I was talking to him (Hjalmarsson) during the preseason, and he said it was tough for him to switch over (from) the things he was doing in Chicago,” Oesterle said. “He said it took some time. I can slowly see it creep out of my game and get to the way I want to be here.”
In Chicago, Oesterle was given the opportunity to play alongside and learn from one of the game’s best defenseman in Duncan Keith.
“It was huge,” he said. “To play that close to arguably a Hall of Famer and to get to learn the things he does and the way he plays the game, I think it helped my game last year.”
Now, Oesterle hopes to prove to the Coyotes organization that he can be depended on each night.
“I want to be a relied upon player and have the coaches’ trust to play me in all situations,” he said. “It starts with just getting back into the lineup and proving I shouldn’t come out … playing hard defensively. And the rest will come.”
After scoring 25 points in 50 games last season with the Blackhawks, Hinostroza’s adjustment to the Coyotes has gone smoothly.
“I think the past few years I’ve gotten better every year,” he said. “And I think last year, I really found my place in the NHL, where I needed to be mentally and physically.”
Going from a traditional hockey market in Chicago to a growing market in Arizona can have its pros and cons for the players.
“In Chicago, you can feel it always. You can feel the fans and stuff,” Panik said. “I think this (Arizona) has real good potential. It can be a fun place to play. I think the fans are here, but it’s different.”
Hinostroza said weather is a big part of the adjustment to Arizona after winters in Chicago.
“That’s probably the biggest change,” he said. “You leave the rink every day and it’s sunny. It’s hard to be upset when you leave the rink when you’re seeing the sun every day. In Chicago, the winter is pretty rough, and it’s pretty cold and kind of depressing to not see the sun for a while.”
Oesterle’s noticed a difference in media interest around the Coyotes.
“Obviously, Chicago is a different market,” he said. “There’s a lot of media around you, a lot of scrutiny coming from the outside world. I think it’s nice here. Bad games you don’t get that bad look from the media and things like that.
“If you look at our pregame media scrums, they are very little while in Chicago it’s pretty big. It was nice to do that my first full year and kind of learn what different markets are like.”