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‘Yotes Notes: Dvorak trying to find consistency in Season 2

Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak, right, has his shot blocked by Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, left, of Russia, in the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Christian Dvorak is a personified reminder that progress is not linear. The Coyotes center had 11 goals and 20 points over the final 33 games of the 2016-17 season. He looked remarkably comfortable in a top-six role under former coach Dave Tippett, even spending time as the team’s No. 1 center on a talent-challenged depth chart.

Dvorak is on pace for a 34-point season this year, which would be one more point than he registered last season. His faceoff percentage has risen from 46.8 to 49.9, his Corsi For percentage is up from 43.35 to 44.18 and he is averaging 16:53 of ice time vs. 15:37 last season. All those numbers suggest steady progress but with increased ice time comes increased responsibility for production, possession and defensive play.

“I think there’s still work to do,” Dvorak said. “I feel a little bit better than last year but I want to contribute a little more offensively to help the team win and make sure I’m still playing good defensively and making sure I’m in the right position.

“Obviously, last year I played with [Shane] Doaner a lot so he kind of led me and told me things and I learned a lot from him. It’s obviously different without him so I have to try to be more of a leader and communicate more with my linemates.”

General manager John Chayka said consistency has been Dvorak’s greatest issue.

“He’s a microcosm of our team in some ways,” Chayka said. “You get a guy like that who can make such an impact and be that 200-foot center that you just can’t go find in the open market, but it’s been a journey for him. It’s had ups and downs.

“There’s been some games this season where he’s really grabbed it and carried the puck, made plays and been that guy, but there have been segments of game where he’s fighting confidence, fighting the responsibility of being a good player, night in and night out.”

The shift to Rick Tocchet’s system may be more dramatic for Dvorak than any player on the roster. The defense and center positions carry greater system-specific responsibilities than the other positions, but the Coyotes have a veteran defensive corps outside of Jakob Chychrun, who will likely go back to a third-pairing role when Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from injury.

At center, the Coyotes have veterans Derek Stepan and Brad Richardson. Dvorak will turn 22 on Feb. 2.

“This is his first really full season,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “He’s going against the best centermen, last three minutes of the game. We’re putting these guys in these kinds of positions that other teams probably wouldn’t but we’re accelerating that process.”

Tocchet said he isn’t worried about sagging confidence with Dvorak, who had just two goals and two points in December.

“I thought, early on, his confidence was a little bit down but I think he’s starting to understand that if he continues to do the right things he’s going to get success,” Tocchet said.

Like the rest of the team, Dvorak is viewing the New Year as a fresh start. The team was vocal and having fun at practice on Tuesday. When forward Lawson Crouse scored a shootout winner to determine which half of the team would skate sideboards at the end of practice, his teammates piled on Crouse.

“I think we’re all looking to turn the page and learn from our mistakes and make sure we have a better second half,” Dvorak said. “This year obviously hasn’t gone as good as I hoped. I just want to make sure I do better as the second half goes on here, contributing wise and other areas.”

ONE MORE YEAR

Coyotes COO and General Counsel Ahron Cohen confirmed Tuesday that team did not opt out of its lease before the Dec. 31 deadline and plans to play next season at Gila River Arena. The Coyotes have consistently said they’d do so since last summer.

The lease at Gila River Arena is an evergreen lease, meaning it automatically renews unless the team opts out.

INJURY UPDATE

–Hjalmarsson and Richardson practiced with the team on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tocchet said both players are close to returning but neither would play Thursday against the Nashville Predators.

–Forward Zac Rinaldo will serve the fourth game of his six-game suspension on Thursday.

–The Coyotes announced Tuesday that forward Emerson Etem informed them he no longer wants to play in the American Hockey League and is pursuing other options. The Coyotes have terminated his contract. The Coyotes signed Etem to a one-year, two-way contract on July 5 but he did not make the team out of camp and was assigned to the Tucson Roadrunners. He had four goals and five points in 16 games with Tucson.

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