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Coyotes focused on growth, not draft position

Detroit Red Wings right wing Gustav Nyquist (14) scores a goal against Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 5-4. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you’re a fan of the tank, you got what you wanted on Thursday at Gila River Arena. If you’re a fan of continued growth by the Coyotes’ young players, you witnessed a small step back in a 5-4, shootout loss to the struggling Detroit Red Wings.

“I thought we were sloppy,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who didn’t like the officiating, his goaltending or his team’s defensive play in a loss that gave Detroit just its second win its last eight games. “We didn’t play as well as we did the three or four games before this.”

Gustav Nyquist scored the lone shootout goal to end the Coyotes’ modest three-game winning streak and drop Arizona to 6-2 in the shootout against a Detroit team that is 8-0 in that format. Radim Vrbata, Alex Goligoski, Lawson Crouse and Jakob Chychrun scored for Arizona.

In terms of the standings, the Coyotes took a significant step toward securing the 29th spot. Arizona entered the night two points behind 28th place New Jersey, three points behind 27th place Detroit, four points behind 26th place Dallas and five points behind 25th place Vancouver.

When the night had ended, New Jersey, Dallas and Detroit had all won, leaving a larger gap as the Coyotes prepare for one more home game against St. Louis before a difficult five-game road trip through Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington and St. Louis.

“You want to do as well as you can and climbing in the standings is a barometer of how you play,” Tippett said. “We want our young guys to push right to the end. We want our veteran guys to push right to the end. You’ve got a lot of players in that room playing for contracts, too, so there’s a lot at stake for individuals.”

There are some members of the fanbase who would like to see the Coyotes get as high a pick as possible, but in a year where Colorado has already locked up the worst record and the best odds to draft center Nolan Patrick, and in a year there is no clear-cut difference between the next half dozen players, there is more value in winning games than there is in draft position.

“First of all, there’s a lottery and the last couple tries it didn’t turn out the way we wanted so you can’t be looking at it that way,” Vrbata said. “There’s so many young guys here. You need to have that good feeling going into next season where you feel like you’re a good team because you had a good finish.

“Besides, there’s no [Connor] McDavid, there’s no [Auston] Matthews and you have Vegas in play, too, in the draft. What people need to realize is you already have those young guys here. For their confidence level going into next year, you need them to feel they can play. That’s more important than finishing second to last.”

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