Ceiling is high, outcome TBD for trio of Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. — A team that was elite defensively and near the bottom of the league offensively has its work clearly cut out.
The Coyotes need to score more goals, and that’s well-documented.
But apart from a dream-come-true spending spree or a blockbuster trade or the emergence of some diamond-in-the-rough prospect, the Coyotes need help from the personnel they already have on their roster. That’s especially true for a trio of young Coyotes forwards the team and its fans are keeping a close eye on: Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller.
If those three were to play all 82 games next year and match their career high in goals — a true best-case scenario situation — they would combine for 74 goals.
But last year, an injury limited Schmaltz to just 17 games with the Coyotes. Galchenyuk was the co-leading goal-scorer for a team that failed to have a 20-goal scorer for the first time in franchise history. Keller saw a step back in offensive production compared to his rookie season but still led the Coyotes in points with 47.
So where is the ceiling for these three players?
To be fair, Keller, Galchenyuk and Schmaltz aren’t the only ones. What will the Coyotes get in 2019-20 from a healthy Christian Dvorak and Michael Grabner? Or from Christian Fischer? Or from a sophomore Conor Garland? Or from Brad Richardson after he just had a career year?
“I … believe there’s a lot of latent potential and latent ability on this roster,” GM John Chayka said. “I think there’s a number of players that offensively, can perform better, should have performed better. We gotta do a deep dive here, and what is the impact of the injuries, not only in terms of man games lost, but chemistry?
“How much potential is there in some young players and their development, and their trajectory? And then that piece of adding externally. How does that play into that equation?”
In other words, the Coyotes’ hope to benefit greatly from — knock on wood — being fully healthy in 2019-20, seeing players take a step forward in maturity and chemistry, and even benefiting from some help from the outside, whether that be via trade or free agency.
But it could start with three players the Coyotes view as a big part of their future:
CLAYTON KELLER: YEAR-THREE ADJUSTMENT?
He was a seventh overall draft pick, scored 23 goals his rookie season and finished third in Calder Trophy voting.
So how did he find himself just fifth on his team in goals in his second season with 14?
“A young kid that expectations are high. And then you look at, well, he did lead the team in scoring,” assistant coach John MacLean said. “But sure. Kells could be standing right here beside me and I’m sure Kells would say the same thing. He expected more of himself as well, as far as like goals, but great rookie year, still led the team in scoring his second year, his potential is … he’s high ceiling.”
Compared to his rookie year, Keller had fewer goals, fewer points and a lower shooting percentage with slightly higher average ice time and a higher offensive zone start percentage.
On the other hand, he has 37 goals in his first two seasons and he’s only 20 years old. He also was an All-Star this year, and his ability to produce offense must be measured beyond how many times he put the puck in the net.
“Up and down,” Tocchet said of Keller’s season. “He still led our team in points, so you’ve got to give the kid credit. He’s a second-year guy, he’s a young kid, still learning. I think he knows that this is a big summer for him, I think he’s got to train harder. His practice habits got to get a little bit better, he knows it.
“And I’m going to help him this summer, because he’s an elite guy, a great kid, loves the game. But he’s got to play better for us if we go anywhere, for sure.”
Tocchet said he doesn’t buy into the idea that a player will predictably regress in his sophomore season, saying everyone needs to be prepared for what the game will throw at them, including opponents being more aware of Keller’s skill in year two. But Keller did admit that opponents knew what to expect from him more in his second campaign.
“I think you’re getting the top matchups every single night,” Keller said. “They’re trying to shut you down, so you’ve got to try to find ways to produce, go to the net, little things like that, shooting the puck more. I think as the year went on, I mean you get chemistry with guys and then you’re able to produce.”
But maybe getting chemistry with other players, as Keller mentioned, is key; he could benefit from Schamltz — a player to be discussed later — being healthy next year.
“Nick Schmaltz and me were great together,” Keller said. “He’s a really skilled player and he’s a lot of fun to play with. It sucks that he got injured, but you can’t really think about it at the time, you’ve just gotta keep moving forward and doing everything you can to help the team win.”
Keller is entering the last year of his entry-level deal, so how he performs next season could be a big factor in how the team approaches his long-term situation.
ALEX GALCHENYUK: GETTING BACK TO 30
Galchenyuk is the goal-scoring specialist for whom the Coyotes traded Max Domi last offseason. Domi wound up with 28 goals, nine more than Galchenyuk, putting the criticism up on a tee for those who declared that Montreal won the trade even just a few weeks into the season.
But the mystery of Galchenyuk (and Domi) is the very same question that’s being presented here for other Coyotes forwards: Will these players’ long-term averages end up being closer to their career highs or their career lows? Somewhere in between?
“Well, I think he can score more,” Tocchet said after Galchenyuk, a former 30-goal scorer, had 19 goals this season. “I think him coming in healthy is going to really help. I think he’s got to get used to my style of play. Like he’s got to play a little more north-south for me, a little bit quicker game. And I think he wants to buy into that. What I told Alex, you can’t just kind of wait around for your shot.”
Tocchet described Galchenyuk as a player who has a “different level” and a desire to have responsibility. Tocchet also noted that the 25-year-old turned his own garage into a place to practice shooting and stick-handling, a feature seen in the Coyotes’ video series, “Home Trippin’ with Biz.”
“I think just I’m an offensive player and that’s my game,” Galchenyuk said. “And I want to make sure I even work more at it to bring more success to this team, more offense, and that’s where I’ll be focused on all offseason.”
For his career, Galchenyuk is averaging just over 21 goals per 82 games. He came close to that mark this season, and that was after suffering an injury in preseason and missing time, eventually appearing in 72 of his team’s 82 games. The team also tinkered with Galchenyuk’s positioning, originally having him play center before moving him to the wing.
He also was given a lot of different line mates throughout the year.
How would a healthy start and less day-to-day change help Galchenyuk down the line?
“It was definitely hard to come in and start off with an injury, but it is what it is,” Galchenyuk said. “It’s part of the game and stuff like that happens, and I was prepared really well to anything and it took me some time to get going, find my game, but since I took that step, I think I had an overall good season.”
Galchenyuk is signed through next season at a $4.9 million cap hit.
NICK SCHMALTZ: OFFENSIVELY CREATIVE
Like Galchenyuk, Schmaltz has been compared to the players for whom he was traded — as unfair as that may be.
The Coyotes dealt Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago to get Schmaltz on Nov. 25. In 17 games for the Coyotes after that, Schmaltz put up five goals and nine assists for 14 points. He showed a proficiency for puck-handling and evading oncoming defenders, as well as generating offense on the power play.
The Coyotes didn’t get much of a sample size with Schmaltz, who suffered a season-ending injury and didn’t play after Dec. 30. But that didn’t stop Arizona from giving him a seven-year contract extension at the end of March. It’s worth a reported $5.85 million AAV.
“Nick’s a very, very talented offensive player,” Chayka said at the time of the extension. “The stuff he does with the puck and his mind, the creativity, those are very valuable assets and they’re tough to find. And excited to lock that up long term.
“We had a large sample size in terms of scouting him in his draft year, through college, his transition to pro. Obviously saw him in Chicago, what he did there, and then, again just part of evaluation, as part of it, you look at what he did here in Arizona. The success our power play had with him on it versus without him, just his impact on some of the players he played with.”
Schmaltz’s career high in goals came in 2017-18, when he scored 21. In a small sample size with the Coyotes, he had the highest shooting percentage of any player on the team this year that took as many or more shots than he did. On-ice team shooting percentage, which measures the shooting percentage of the team with that player on the ice, was higher for Schmaltz than any other player.
“I thought every night when I was in the lineup, I thought we were creating a lot and generating scoring chances quite often,” Schmaltz said. “It’s exciting. I think our power play can be really good. We’ve got a lot of threats and some good options out there. I feel like I can be a major contributor on the offensive end.
“Just got to make sure I’m playing reliable defensively, because we like to defend well, and I think if we keep defending like that and just add a little bit more offense next year, I think we could be a dangerous team.”
Schmaltz added that Keller is a fun player to play with. Of the 14 goals in Arizona on which Schmaltz factored, Keller recorded a goal or assist on nine of them.
As for his injury, Schmaltz has been skating and rehabbing and expects to be back to 100% by early or mid May.
We’ll see what the next year brings for three Coyotes that the team will be counting on.