At the very least, the Coyotes hope the signing of Swedish-born forward Mario Kempe to a one-year, two-way contract out of the KHL will add organizational depth.
“He’s a dependable, two-way guy who plays with a lot energy, plays in all situations and is willing to be physical in a non-physical league so he has a chance to be that depth player, an energy guy,” GM John Chayka said. “At the end of the day it comes down to this: the two-way contract risk is limited so you step up to the plate and take a swing. You can’t be afraid of striking out. I’m tired of just watching and striking out looking. We have our eyes on a couple other European free agents as well. It’s a good, quick, efficient way to add depth to your organization.”
The Kempe signing may never move the seismic meter, but it is symbolic of an important trend that is taking place within the organization; one that didn’t exist a few years ago.
When Don Maloney was the GM, he admitted that the organization had all but given up on scouting in Europe because the budget constraints imposed by league ownership had reduced the organization to one scout in Europe: a young, part-time scout based in the Czech Republic who was assigned to canvas a continent. That contributed to years of poor drafting, which Chayka said has created a void in the organization of players between the ages of 24 and 30.
The Coyotes have taken steps to remedy the problem. Arizona has five European-based scouts. Thomas Carlsson is based in Sweden; Sergei Kuznetsov is based in Russia; Max Kolu is based in Finland; Robert Neuhauser is based in the Czech Republic and European Player Development Coach Brett Stewart is based in Norway. Those five scouts also canvas other hockey-playing European nations such as Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy, Slovenia and the Baltic States.
In addition, Chayka takes several trips to Europe for scouting purposes (he attended the IIHF World Championship) and Chayka estimated that Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Bernhardt is in Europe “every five to six weeks” to evaluate talent.
“Almost a quarter of the league is now from European countries,” Chayka said. “It’s gotten more and more competitive to find good players; NHL players. For us, this was something we wanted to invest in heavily.”
The 28-year-old Kempe had 14 goals and 34 points in 56 games with Vityaz Podolsk (KHL) last season. Kempe is the older brother of L.A. Kings 2014 first-round draft pick Adrian Kempe.
HOCKEY OPS ADDITION
The Coyotes hired London Knights (OHL) assistant GM Jake Goldberg to fill the director of hockey operations position vacated when Chris O’Hearn was promoted to assistant general manager two years ago. The move should be made official in the next few days.
Goldberg and Chayka became acquainted when they both attended Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in London.
Goldberg was an area scout and scouting director for the Knights before being promoted to assistant GM. He also brings an analytics-based approach and will report directly to Chayka.
“He’ll help me with special projects and analyzing alternatives, and he will serve as our scouting coordinator,” Chayka said. “He has seen the highest levels of junior hockey. We’re looking to add infrastructure to build out a staff and a group of minds.”
• The Coyotes hockey operations staff is still reviewing staff performance and needs. Coach Dave Tippett expects to have a “good handle on which direction things will go in early June.” Goalie coach Jon Elkin is on an expiring contract and the Coyotes will also need to replace assistant coach Newell Brown, who was relieved of his duties after a second straight season of poor performance by the power play, his area of focus.
• Chayka said he already has a protected list compiled for the upcoming expansion draft but there is flexibility within it. The Coyotes hope to negotiate trades with one or more teams that have a surplus of players to protect and might be willing to deal one or two for some return, rather than losing players without return in the expansion draft.
• Chayka said that although majority owner Andrew Barroway’s buyout of the minority owners is not yet complete, he already has a good idea of his operating budget.
• Repeating a stance he took at the end of the season, Chayka said the Coyotes don’t expect to be very active in free agency. “If I’m looking to shop down an aisle, the trade aisle would be the likely one,” he said.
• Chayka has begun discussions with some of the team’s restricted free agents, but he said no signings are imminent. The Coyotes have six key restricted free agents on the NHL club, including forwards Jordan Martinook and Anthony Duclair.
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