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Coyotes retain ‘unique skillset’ by re-signing Lawson Crouse

Lawson Crouse #67 of the Arizona Coyotes during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the KeyBank Center on December 13, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka said he feels forward Lawson Crouse has progressed at a good rate in the three years since he came over in a trade from Florida. The Coyotes signed him for three more years on Tuesday, retaining what they feel is another piece to their core.

“He’s obviously got a rare blend of size, skating, skill, physicality,” Chayka said. “He’s a unique player, he’s a rare player, hard to find. That was a big part of the reason why we traded for him. We think as our team grows here, we’re going to need players of his ability and his role to continue to help our group. We don’t have a lot of them in our organization, so having Law signed long-term is a good thing for us.”

Crouse, a junior player at the time, was traded along with the contract of Dave Bolland to Arizona in August of 2016 for a third-round pick and a conditional second-round pick. Since then, the now-22-year-old has gone on to three seasons in the NHL. Last year, he set a career-high in games played along with just about every other statistic.

“We thought he took a big step last year,” Chayka said. “We think this just sets him up to continue to grow and develop and when he’s on a team, he’s a horse out there. 

“I think as the season progressed, he got more and more opportunity. I think he’s a hard, heavy player to play against and not a lot of teams want to go back for pucks when he’s out on the ice. I think he can play up and down your lineup, he was good on penalty kill. We hope there’s potential for him to evolve into more of a power play player as well, as he develops a skillset.”

The Ontario native scored 11 goals with 14 assists, averaged 12:57 time on ice and led the Coyotes in both penalty minutes and hits. His 288 hits were second in the NHL behind only Vegas’ Ryan Reaves.

He found a larger role last year, three years after going 11th overall in the draft.

“He was a high pick because if you don’t draft those types of players, they’re extremely difficult to find,” Chayka said. “Typically, as they get to free agency, they’ve been tied up for a long period of time and then maybe they’re on the wrong side of their careers. If you want to find a player that can skate, be physical and have the skillset that Law does, you have to pick him and typically, you have to pick him pretty high.

“These guys are tough to find and he progressed at a good rate, and I hope he continues to progress, because then he’s going to be an impact player for us. And we view him as a core player. Just the ability to bring an element that some of our other players don’t have, I think fits in very well and he’s still very young.”

Crouse said that the biggest part of his game that stood out to him from last season was his ability to hold pucks, make more plays and play with more confidence. He said he played with the confidence that he “deserves to be there” and things come easier that way.

So now, he’s got more confidence, a new contract, some new teammates (see also: Phil Kessel) and a team that was in the playoff hunt last year looking to build on that.

“I’m in a big believer in the energy you put out is what you get in return,” Crouse said. “For me, like I said, it is just staying positive and staying confident. And there’s a difference between confident and cocky. There’s kind of that even-keeled swagger that you have to have, and you probably heard it from a million players — when you feel good and you feel confident, that’s when you’re playing at your best.

“For me, why not try and attack that mentally each and every day? I feel like if I do that, my chances at success go up much more.”

SCOTT ALLEN WON’T RETURN

As other outlets have reported, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station has also learned that assistant coach Scott Allen will not return to the Coyotes.

Allen coached the defense and penalty kill last season, the latter of which tied for first in the NHL with an 85% success rate. His departure from the organization comes on the heels of the team hiring Phil Housley, who was the head coach of the Sabres last year but was let go at the end of the season.

Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman as a player from 1982 to 2003, was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17.

Still among the Coyotes’ coaches are head coach Rick Tocchet, assistant John MacLean, goaltending coach Corey Schwab and video coach Steve Peters.

TWO-WAY DEPTH

The Coyotes didn’t make a big splash on the first day of free agency — they did that by trading for Kessel over the weekend — but they did sign three players to two-way contracts: forwards Andy Miele and Beau Bennett and defenseman Aaron Ness.

Chayka said the idea behind that is adding depth to the organization, citing the injuries the team had last year but also the knowledge that successful teams typically have lots of depth as part of the winning formula.

“We’ve had a number of people come through — the [Michael] Bunting’s and the [Mario] Kempe’s and these types of guys — that are pushing for creating that internal competition and ultimately found some NHL games, we’re hoping an expecting that these guys come in ready to compete for a spot at the NHL level, have a great training camp and push everybody and make us make some toughs decisions.

“We think highly of all the guys we signed, obviously, and think they have a chance to come in and make their impacts and create that depth for us that we’re going to need to have success.”

DONE FOR NOW?

One might reason that the Coyotes don’t seem to have too many roster spots left, perhaps as few as one that’s wide-open after signing Crouse. Chayka offered a similar feeling but cautioned that his work is never truly complete.

“When I look at our group, I don’t see glaring deficiencies,” he said. “Having said that, you’re always looking to improve your team. There’s still some things going on out there, we’re still making calls and receiving calls and having those discussions. I think we’ve got some flexibility to do some things and we want to look to continue to improve. But we feel strongly about the group and there’s certain players that we thing can take that step, and as it’s currently constructed, will have the ability to grow their game in those roles. We’re excited to see how they can do, but if there’s a better alternative that makes sense, we won’t hesitate.”

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