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‘Next step’ in focus for Arizona Coyotes as training camp starts

Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes reacts during the third period of the NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at Gila River Arena on December 22, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Avalanche 6-4. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet pointed out what day it was: Thursday, Sept. 12, the day of the team’s media day at Gila River Arena.

It’s the start of training camp, a good ways away from the start of the regular season and seemingly an eternity away from the playoffs. Every team is undefeated, and Tocchet knows it.

“Everybody likes to talk about playoffs. Thirty-two teams talk about that. It’s Sept. 12,” he said. “That’s the wishlist of everybody. But unless you … do the right things, the end result doesn’t matter. So that’s why I keep saying, we’re just going to commit to our process.”

But as much as he might not be wanting to talk about an end result that’s months away when he’s in charge of the day-to-day, there’s a growing hope within the Coyotes’ fanbase and even the team itself that the playoffs are the next step. It blossomed toward the end of last season when the team finished four points shy of a playoff spot.

“We want to take the next step,” captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “Yeah, we had a pretty good year last year. But I think we all know that we need to be better and take the next step. How do we do that? It’s hard work.”

If the Coyotes qualify for the postseason, it would be the first time they’ve done so since the 2011-12 season. It would also be the first time they’ve done so under general manager John Chayka, along with Tocchet. But Chayka and the rest of the group have the benefit of several years behind them to rebuild the roster. This offseason was less about turnover and more about tweaking.

Maybe that will help.

“Obviously it’s different from two years ago when I first got here,” Tocchet said. “Had to teach a whole new system, the way we practice and things like that. Now everybody kind of knows what I want. So that’s huge. From day one, I don’t have to go the A, B, C’s. We can move ahead of the process here. Which is good.

“Any good coach will tell you and any good team will tell you your leadership group is the heart beat of your team, and we’ve developed a really good leadership team here where they can handle a lot of stuff I don’t have to do. And that really means a lot. Two years ago, it was different. Now, it’s like I kind of stay out of the way because they’ve got it handled.”

Just three days after the official start of camp, the Coyotes will play a preseason game at the Vegas Golden Knights on NHL Network on Sunday. From there, they have two home preseason games — one on Tuesday and one on the following Saturday — before a three-game road trip to finish the preseason.

The opener is on Oct. 3 at Anaheim, followed by the home opener on Oct. 5 against Boston.

TRAINING CAMP ROSTER SET

The roster the Coyotes will carry in training camp was formally announced on Thursday. In total, 61 players are in camp — seven goaltenders, 21 defensemen and 33 forwards.

It includes, of course, all of the regulars from the NHL roster, along with 25 players who were invited from rookie camp, which concluded this week.

The camp invites include defensemen Brady Lyle and Connor Hall and forwards Jeremy Gregoire, Jonathan Martin, David Levin, Keeghan Howdeshell and Kelly Klima.

Among those not on the training camp roster: John Farinacci, the Coyotes’ third-round selection from this past draft and the second player the Coyotes took, after Victor Soderstrom. NCAA rules prevent Farinacci, who plays for Harvard, from participating.

USA HOCKEY NUMBERS UP

The Coyotes announced on Tuesday that participation numbers from USA Hockey showed that Arizona is second among all U.S. NHL markets in total growth percentage over the past five years. Arizona is first for growth percentage for female players and first in growth percentage for players 8 years old and under.


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