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Kyle Wood itching for opportunity on Coyotes’ blue line

Arizona Coyotes' Kyle Wood (65) battles with Los Angeles Kings' Matt Luff (64) for the puck during the first period of an NHL rookies hockey game Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jakob Chychrun’s knee injury has created a series of questions as the Coyotes prepare to open training camp on Sept 14. When the team has a clearer picture of Chychrun’s timeline for recovery and return, they’ll have a clearer idea of how to answer the remaining questions.

If Chychrun misses significant time, the Coyotes must find a replacement for his minutes and role. That could mean signing a free agent or trading for a player who can assume a second- or third-pairing role. It could also mean giving one of their own prospects a shot at the third-pairing role or the seventh defensive slot on the roster, while moving a rostered player up in the lineup.

One player who is itching for opportunity is 21-year-old Kyle Wood. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-handed defenseman was acquired in the trade that sent forward Mikkel Boedker to Colorado at the 2016 trade deadline. Wood finished up that season with the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, where he was a teammate and defensive partner of Coyotes prospect Cam Dineen.

Wood played last season with Tucson of the American Hockey League, leading all Roadrunners defensemen in goals (19) and points (43) and finishing 11th among league defensemen in points as a rookie. He was also second among AHL defensemen in power plays goals (11) and represented the team at the AHL All-Star Game.

“I think it was great season,” Coyotes assistant GM and Roadrunners GM Steve Sullivan said. “There were really no expectations for Kyle except to see how his game translated from junior to pro and it happened with flying colors. He was still able to have the offensive output he had in junior, he was a power-play specialist for us and he made the transition very well.”

Like most young defensemen, Wood has a laundry list of areas on which he is working, but Sullivan said most of Wood’s skill-set is high enough for the NHL.

“He thinks the game very well, he’s really good at first passes on the breakout and his offensive output…those are all NHL caliber,” Sullivan said.

Wood’s main deficiency — the one thing Sullivan said could keep him from the NHL — was his skating. He has attacked that deficiency all summer with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid.

“I’ve been to Arizona three times just for my skating, working with Dawn and I’ve seen her here in Toronto once or twice a week,” Wood said by phone on Friday. “I think it has made a huge difference and I’m really excited to see how it shapes up at training camp.”

Wood said Braid zeroed in on a couple areas.

“At the beginning of the summer, we really focused on my backwards skating, trying to lengthen out my stride and get me to be really efficient that way,” he said. “Later this summer, it was about quick feet, quicker starts, getting to the corners quicker and trying to shut things down as quickly as possible; getting to pucks before the opposite team and trying to make plays.”

One thing Braid tried to do with the latter area is quiet Wood’s upper body.

“It’s about trying to keep it stable,” Wood said. “Before, I was really moving my upper body a lot. It makes everything go out of whack so you’re not as quick, so it’s about making everything simple.”

Wood will be back in Arizona next week to work with Braid. He hasn’t decided whether he will stay until the start of rookie camp on Sept. 7, or head back to Toronto for another session with Braid.

Nobody is certain what sort of opportunity exists on the Coyotes’ blue line in the wake of Chychrun’s injury. With Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson locked in on the top pairing, and Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn, Adam Clendening and Kevin Connauton also expected to assume roster spots, there could be just one position available.

Wood isn’t alone in wanting that spot. Left-handers Dineen, Kyle Capobianco, Joel Hanley, Andrew Campbell, Dakota Mermis, and right-hander Dysin Mayo are also options, as is finding outside help.

“I’m a young player so I’m obviously trying to play it simple and chip in on the power play when I can,” Wood said. “I want to play well defensively and I want them to trust me in all situations.

“When I saw the awful news of Chychrun’s injury I didn’t know what to think, but I can’t get too far ahead. I just have to think about my game. I just have to show the coaches and the staff what I’m capable of and hopefully I get a chance.”

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