GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are two weeks of training camp and six preseason games left before the Coyotes settle on an opening-night roster. That qualifier should be taken into account before reading the next paragraph. So, too, should coach Dave Tippett’s reminder that “nobody has made the team yet.”
Even so, it was hard to ignore the tone in general manager Don Maloney’s voice and the expression on his face when asked for his impressions of first-round pick Dylan Strome after rookie camp.
Maloney initially thought Strome would be behind the other players’ preparation because of all the demands on his time this summer, including the week-long World Junior Showcase in Calgary in August. Most outsiders assumed Strome would play another season in juniors to develop his game, body and confidence.
“You watch him play the last couple of (rookie) games and you say ‘well, not so fast,'” Maloney said. “He’s a really intelligent, clever player and all he does is score points and help teams win wherever he is.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself. We’ve got another few days of practice and then we’ve got preseason games, but he’s done well for himself. He is a guy that people shouldn’t forget about.”
Strome hasn’t played against NHL competition yet. The Coyotes rookies just played two games against the Kings’ rookies in L.A., so the six upcoming preseason games will be a better indicator of the big center’s ability to make the immediate leap to the NHL, a stated goal ever since the Coyotes drafted him. Even so, it was surprising to hear Maloney float the possibility so freely at Coyotes Media Day on Thursday.
“Whether he can handle the physical grind and the mental grind against NHL strength and speed, that will be looked at in the weeks ahead but he’s had a great start in this organization,” Maloney said.
If Strome were to make the team, the Coyotes would have to shift either Antoine Vermette or Brad Richardson to the wing, but Richardson reiterated on Thursday that he signed with Arizona this summer to play center and that’s where he expects to play.
The Coyotes lost a first-round draft pick in training camp for the second straight season. Forward Nick Merkley, the 30th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, suffered a collarbone injury on a hit behind the Kings net by Kurtis MacDermid in the first period of Tuesday’s rookie game in Los Angeles.
Maloney said the injury will likely sideline Merkley two weeks, ending his camp and tryout with the Coyotes. Last season, 2014 first-round pick Brendan Perini suffered a broken bone in his hand during camp and missed the first 25 games of the Ontario Hockey league season with Niagara.
The Coyotes acquired the pick to select Merkley when they dealt Antoine Vermette to Chicago last season. Merkley, 18, will likely head back to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League for another season.
The third week in June is one Coyotes center Antoine Vermette will never forget. On Monday of that week, he won his first Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. On Thursday, he took part in a raucous parade downtown to celebrate the achievement and on Saturday, he and his wife, Karen, then had a baby girl (Emilia) — the day before Father’s Day.
“It’s tough to describe how great it was and is,” Vermette said Thursday. “It’s been a very special summer for us and it was pretty intense.
“We’re not sleeping as much as we used to.”
Vermette went to Chicago in a trade-deadline deal that brought defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and the first-round pick the Coyotes used to draft Merkley. His stay in Chicago only lasted four months before the Coyotes re-signed him as unrestricted free agent to a two-year, $7.5 million deal.
“It wasn’t planned,” Vermette said. “Obviously, I knew we were leaving with a good relationship and they would be interested when July 1 came up and obviously I liked it here. I never shut the door. It was always an option in my mind and it worked out that way.”
Vermette expects to slide right back into the top-line center role he had last season, with the possibility of playing alongside skilled prospects Max Domi and/or Anthony Duclair.
— The Coyotes reduced their training camp roster by three players when they released defensemen Jeremie Fraser, Kevin Spinozzi and Chase Stewart.
— The contract for recently acquired defenseman Stefan Elliott is complete. It’s a one-year, two-way deal for $650,000, with an AHL salary of $100,000 and $125,000 guaranteed.
— Maloney said Perlini was arguably the team’s best player in the two rookie games in Los Angeles where he had two goals.