Since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2012, the Phoenix (soon to be Arizona) Coyotes have missed the postseason in back-to-back years.
It’s not that they’ve been a bad team, finishing just four points out of a playoff spot in 2013 and two back of one in 2014, but they just haven’t been good enough.
With stability at ownership may believe improvement could come from outside of the organization, but much of the team’s hopes for the future may rest on those who are expected to be a big part of it, specifically former first-round draft picks Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson.
“I think they both have an excellent chance of starting the year here (with the Coyotes),” GM Don Maloney told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday. “The way we’re going, we have to change our mix. I’m really convinced that we need to open up opportunity for some young legs.
“I thought at the end of last year we seemed to get old and slow in a hurry, and I didn’t like it.”
Maloney said turning to players like the 19-year-old Domi and 20-year-old Samuelsson may mean accepting the types of miscues that come with younger players, but feels like both have proven they’re ready to contend for an NHL roster spot.
Domi, a center, tallied 93 points (34 goals, 59 assists) along with 90 penalty minutes for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights last year, posting a +24 in the process. Samuelsson, also a center, earned 95 points (35 goals, 60 assists), 97 PIMs and a +35 for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.
“Both those players excelled at the junior level, top-10 in their league in scoring, played in the league championships and then the Canadian junior championships, both of them, in multiple years, so what I really like about both of them is they understand the price it takes to win,” Maloney said. “Now that being said, this is men now and they’re still very young men, so how they perform at training camp will dictate how long both of them are here. But I certainly expect them to make a real run at a roster spot.”
The Coyotes would certainly like to see that happen. While all teams would prefer their top picks become contributors at the NHL level, Arizona could really use an influx of young talent.
Of the team’s top eight scorers last season, four are at least 31 or older. The emergence of Mikkel Boedker, who poured in 51 points, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who chipped in 44, give the team reason for optimism, but it wouldn’t hurt to have more youth come through the pipeline as the team moves into a different era.
And if it sounds like the Coyotes are looking to undergo a bit of a youth movement, well, Maloney said that’s not exactly inaccurate, but there’s more to it than that.
“If you look at where we have been the last four years prior to our ownership group taking over, it was all about survival; nothing more, nothing less,” he said, adding that he’s not sure if that’s even a bad thing, having a minimum expectation of reaching the playoffs. “And now I think, this is more we’ve had the same sort of group for a number of years. We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at, and even though we just missed we still missed, so we’re looking hard.”
Maloney pointed to Brandon Gormley, Connor Murphy, Lucas Lessio and Tobias Rieder as well as Domi and Samuelsson as players who may help to change the team’s dynamic. Where once they had veterans, soon they may have promising youth.
“Those are the kind of players that rather than go out on July 1 and filling 13 forward spots with veteran players, which we were at last year, we’re leaving two or three of those positions open for training camp to let people win the positions,” he said.