New Coyotes signings ready to make impact

Sep 16, 2023, 7:08 AM

General manager Bill Armstrong of the Arizona Coyotes during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL D...

General manager Bill Armstrong of the Arizona Coyotes during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE — There’s not an argument when it comes to how poorly the Arizona Coyotes have played in recent years, posting a 110-145 over general manager Bill Armstrong’s tenure.

Ever since Armstrong took over the team in 2019, he’s made it clear that the team has been in rebuild mode.

However, this offseason looked a little different. Armstrong made a plethora of moves, signing key veterans in Jason Zucker, Alexander Kerfoot and Matt Dumba.

Rookie forward Logan Cooley is also entering the mix. The 19-year-old, who was selected third overall by the Coyotes in 2022, signed a three-year entry level deal with the Coyotes in July and is expected to be a pivotal piece in the rebuild.

With all of these pieces, Armstrong is content with the talent that’s on the squad ahead of the 2023 campaign.

“I think there’s an excitement level and you can feel it in the air when you’re around our players,” Armstrong said. “They’re excited to come together. … They truly are, and you can see it on the ice.”

Here’s a look into three key Coyotes offseason additions and what they bring to the table:

Jason Zucker

The Coyotes signed Zucker to a one-year, $5.3 million contract just hours into free agency this summer. Many expected the 31-year-old to sign a multi-year deal, but a history of injuries might’ve prevented that.

Prior to his resurgent 2022 campaign, where he had 27 goals and 21 assists in 78 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Zucker had played just 79 games over the two previous seasons.

Nonetheless, Zucker was the first of many veteran signings to a young, rebuilding Coyotes team.

“It’s a little weird being the old guy on the team, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Zucker said. “It’s a great group of guys and a ton of talent on this team, so I’m just hoping to come in and play the game that I’ve made a career out of and not change that.”

Prior to his time with Pittsburgh, Zucker played some of his best seasons with the Minnesota Wild, scoring 132 goals and 111 assists in nine seasons with the club.

For Zucker, playing with stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang helped him grow and become the player he is today.

“I mean, guys that have been around for a long time and won and done everything you can possibly do in the game,” Zucker said. “It’s just fun to learn not only the leadership aspect but the professionalism in the media, off the ice, anything that it is. It’s just the epitome of what it means to be a pro.”

The transition from a Stanley Cup or bust enviornment to a rebuilding atmosphere provides a fun, yet “bizarre” challenge for Zucker, exciting him for what’s to come.

“I think the youthful energy is definitely noticeable within the locker room and that makes it a lot of fun,” Zucker said. “It’s a little bit different lifestyles. I’m talking to guys about kids. I think my daughter is not that much younger than a few of these guys, so it’s a little bizarre in that sense.”

Alexander Kerfoot

In addition to adding Zucker, the Coyotes stayed busy on the first day of free agency, inking veteran forward Alexander Kerfoot to a two-year, $7 million contract.

Kerfoot has spent the last four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, providing a versatile asset for the Leafs during his tenure. The 29-year-old had 10 goals and 22 assists in 82 games last season and bounced around all four lines.

With the Coyotes, Kerfoot is expected to fill the needs of the team, adjusting to different roles if needed.

“I think that my role throughout the year is going to fluctuate, and I’m aware of that,” Kerfoot said. “I’ve dealt with that in the past, so I’m pretty open minded in terms of what I can do for the team and how I can help and however the coach sees me fitting in. I’m happy to do that.”

Kerfoot is transitioning from the center of the hockey world in Toronto to a less-popular hockey town in Tempe, where the Coyotes play in the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena and continue their search for a permanent home.

It may seem like an underwhelming transition, but with all these headlines currently surrounding the team, a bit of pressure can be amounted onto the young Coyotes squad. And that’s where Kerfoot’s experience in Toronto comes in.

“I think that pressure can be a good thing at times … There’s always pressure in this league, and there’s always pressure wherever you are, so I think that we know that we can do well,” Kerfoot said. “The pressure, whether it’s from (the reporters), whether it’s from around the hockey world. It’s going to be from within the room, no matter what, and we’re still going to be pushing every day to get better.”

Matt Dumba

Dumba, who’s spent his entire 10-year career with the Minnesota Wild up to this point, signed a one-year contract worth $3.9 million in August. The former 2012 seventh overall pick provides an experienced, top-four caliber defenseman to help lead this young Coyotes team.

“I think (leadership) plays a big part and it’s just kind of finding our team identity and believing in that and just pushing guys to also reach their full potential,” Dumba said. “It’s just part of that team cohesiveness. And I think what I see so far, it is a tight knit group and that’s awesome because I know when you have that and you build that culture, you can be very successful in this league.”

Last season, Dumba tallied four goals and 10 assists in 79 games. In 598 career games played, he has recorded 79 goals and 157 assists.

Along with numerous other veterans on the team, Dumba acknowledges his contract situation. The 29-year-old was one of the Wild’s most vocal leaders and brings the leadership quality to a young Coyotes locker room.

“This team, a lot of guys in similar positions on one year contracts (with) something to prove. I feel if we can all carry that energy and really hone in on that team atmosphere and doing it together, comes team success.”

“I hope I can be a great sounding board, but also a great mentor for someone.”

The Coyotes aren’t expected to make a push for the Stanley Cup this season, but with these offseason signings, a step in the right direction is foreseen.

“I feel like we were further ahead now than I thought we would be. Do I think we’re a playoff team? No, but I do think we’re a competitive team that can push to play meaningful games and I think that’s where we’re at right now,” Armstrong said.

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