The newly-renamed Arizona Coyotes open their 18th hockey season in the Valley of the Sun Thursday night at the newly-renamed Gila River Arena in Glendale against the Winnipeg Jets.
With all that newness in the air, you’d expect the Coyotes to have plenty of new faces on their 2014-15 opening night roster, but that’s not the case. There are five players — forwards B.J. Crombeen, Sam Gagner, Justin Hodgman, Joe Vitale and goalie Devan Dubnyk — on the roster who weren’t in the organization last year, and head coach Dave Tippett likes what each of them brings to the team.
“Well, each of them are kind of different roles. Crombeen is kind of a fourth-line right-winger, rugged guy that has no problem sticking up for his teammates when he has to, but is a real dependable player,” Tippett told Bickley and Marotta Wednesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Vitale is this year’s option of what we had in Boyd Gordon or Jeff Halpern last year. He’s a right-handed center man, just an energy guy, good penalty killer, will really help us out in those critical times in the game when you need a faceoff won or a shot blocked, that’s the kind of player he is. ”
Crombeen, a Denver native, was acquired along with Gagner for a sixth-round draft pick in a June trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s played in 387 NHL games over the past seven seasons with Dallas, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Vitale, another American who hails from St. Louis, signed as a free agent in July after spending four years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 29-year-old had a goal and 13 assists last season.
“Sam Gagner is an interesting player. He’s a young player, even though he’s played in the league for five or six years now, but is high skilled, high talented player,” Tippett continued. “We need him to come in and help fill some of the void from Vrbata and Ribeiro. He’s been dinged up a little bit in training camp, but in the last couple of days, he’s looked pretty good, so hopefully he can jump in there and add some of that skill to our lineup.”
Gagner was the Coyotes’ biggest acquisition in the offseason. The 25-year-old was the sixth overall selection of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He spent seven seasons with the Oilers, tallying 101 goals and 194 assists in 481 games.
Both Tippett and general manager Don Maloney have commented in the preseason about the lack of chemistry with last year’s Coyotes — a team that failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The veteran head coach doesn’t think that will be an issue this season, mostly because of the hard-nosed work ethic he believes this roster owns.
“That’s the way I think we’re going to have to play every night if we’re going to be a playoff team. That’s just the way we’re going to have to play'” he said. “What you do as a coach is you see what your team is like in front of you and figure out the best way to have success. With players that have a will to win like (Shane) Doan and (Oliver) Ekman-Larsson and (Martin) Hanzal, these guys, that’s where we’re going to have to play. So that’s the message we’ve sent over and over again in training camp, and hopefully we can put that on display (Thursday).”
The Coyotes and Jets will face off at 7:00 p.m. from Glendale. You can hear the game on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM beginning with pre game coverage at 6:30.