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ARIZONA COYOTES

Armstrong on new season for Coyotes: ‘We’ve got to take a step forward’

UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 27, 2022 AT 6:48 PM
BY
Arizona Sports

The Arizona Coyotes are in the first weekend of their preseason schedule. Before it started, Bill Armstrong was asked to explain his expectations for the 2022-23 season.

It’s a tricky question for the general manager of a team that’s admittedly entering just the second season of a major rebuild. With that in mind, what would success even look like for the Coyotes?

“For us to have a successful season, it looks different than the Colorado Avalanche and going far and deep into the playoffs,” Armstrong said at Media Day. “For us, we want to be competitive in every single game. We want to make sure our guys bring their ‘A’ game every single night.”

The Coyotes are coming off a season in which they notched a 25-50-7 record. The 57 points they earned were second fewest in the NHL.

But Armstrong saw some positives.

“We took a step with our culture, with our process,” Armstrong said. “And you saw it as a fan. (If) you went to the games, you saw how hard we played, the grit we played with and our relentlessness not to give up.”

Armstrong is eager for the team’s core of young players to evolve into leaders. There’s an urgent need in that department with the offseason departures of veterans Phil Kessel, Antoine Roussel, Anton Stralman, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson. Specifically, he’s looking for Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Lawson Crouse “to step up and take part and own that leadership and drive the team.”

It’s worth noting that Armstrong did not mention Jakob Chychrun in the leadership conversation. That’s because the young defenseman made his desire to be traded from the rebuilding team public at the start of training camp.

Armstrong is excited about newcomers Zack Kassian and Josh Brown joining the team. Both will bring grit to the lineup, he said.

“We’re slowly changing our identity into a gritty, hard-nosed, competitive team with some size,” Armstrong said.

Sophomore goalie Karel Vejmelka is being asked to build on an impressive rookie season.

“We’re excited about Vejmelka coming back,” Armstrong said. “He had a great season for us last year. He really stepped up … It’s an exciting time for us – to see if he can take that next step. He’s going to have a lot of work this year. Hopefully, he’s a little more comfortable in the league. It takes some time to adjust to the size of the (NHL) rink, but he’s going to be our guy that we’re going to run with.”

The Coyotes will begin the regular season on Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh. Because their new arena on the Arizona State University campus is still under construction, they will begin the season by playing six consecutive road games. It’s a built-in excuse for a bad start to the season, Armstrong said, but he’s told his players to ignore it.

On the first day of training camp, Armstrong said he told the players:

“The odds are stacked against us. The media, the league, looks at us like we’re going to take a step back. That’s not the case. We’ve got to take a step forward. That was my message to the group.”