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Chayka: Coyotes have balance of playoff experience, motivated youth

Jakob Chychrun #6 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Phil Kessel #81, Clayton Keller #9 and Nick Schmaltz #8 after Chychrun scored against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes only have the 15th-youngest team among the 24 that will be resuming play in hub cities at the beginning of August, according to CapFriendly.

While they have young players like Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and Barrett Hayton, there are also experienced veterans like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Phil Kessel and Brad Richardson, to name a few. By most accounts, taking playoff experience into this postseason is valuable.

“I think it’s huge,” general manager John Chayka told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Friday. “I think we’ve got both angles on it. We’ve got the young guys that are coming up that have a lot to prove, want to prove it, they’re going to get a stage to show what they can do. They’re hungry and they’re motivated, but they also have a bit of the unknown.

“And then we’ve got guys that realize that, obviously with the way things have gone this year, too, it gives you perspective. And you realize how many chances do you have to play in playoff hockey to win a cup. So we’ve got guys that want to step up their games and they’re veteran guys that have been there. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, they’ve won it, they’ve gone deep, they know what it takes. And I think that kind of diversity of experience would be important and also having guys that have been there is going to be important for everyone, including our head coach Rick Tocchet.”

Starting with Tocchet, the 18-year NHL veteran won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1992. He won two more as an assistant coach for the same franchise in 2016 and 2017. Kessel was on both of those teams.

Richardson, Hjalmarsson and Alex Goligoski also have five cups between the three of them. And others have played a large number of playoff games, like Derek Stepan, who has 97 postseason games under his belt.

“I think it matters,” Kessel said of having playoff experience. “I think guys that have been there in those spots, they know what to expect and what to do. And I think to be honest, it’s a different level of hockey, and it’s a faster, more crisp game. It’s a fun time of year.

“We’re going to have to get into it right away. I think it’s going to be a different playoff than ever before, obviously. I think without fans and everything, it’s going to be strange. But I think guys know what they’re playing for. And we all want the chance to win.”

As Kessel noted, the lack of fans takes a key element out of what makes playoff hockey unique from the regular season.

“Obviously the game’s going to be a little bit different for everyone right now,” goaltender Antti Raanta said. “It’s not the normal playoff feeling. But you just have to be ready, whatever happens. If there is a bad bounce or something like that, you just can’t think about it too much, you just have to forget it and know that there’s going to be [another shot] coming straight away. So you have to forget everything really fast. If it’s a game or one situation in a game or something like that, you just have to forget it and go for the next one.”


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