Combination of youth, veterans and players in their prime has the Coyotes thinking playoffs
The Arizona Coyotes continue to exceed expectations, with 48 points in 42 games currently placing them second in the Pacific division and in the playoffs.
Arizona has done this by having a lot of pieces naturally fall into the right places and that has created a great dynamic surrounding the team, something head coach Dave Tippett talked about on the Bickley & Marotta show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
“There’s a good atmosphere around our group,” Tippett said.
“(Martin) Hanzal and (Mikkel) Boedker both being healthy has helped, but the veteran players, led by (Shane Doan). With such a miserable year last year they weren’t going to let that happen again and so the attitude has been unbelievable, and then you mix in this crop of new young players we have in Max (Domi) and (Anthony) Duclair and (Jordan) Martinook and (Klas) Dahlbeck and it’s led to a good atmosphere around here.”
The veterans’ response to last season’s 56 points — the lowest for an 82-game season in franchise history — has been the stability it looks like the Coyotes needed to rise up the standings.
Doan has 15 goals at age 39, Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Kyle Chipchura and Brad Richardson have supplied depth down the middle and Nicklas Grossmann and Zbynek Michalek are a combined +3 this season for a team that is 28th in goals allowed.
That veteran foundation would be nowhere though without the play of Boedker, Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who have all improved in different ways this season and are all on pace for career years.
Speaking about the power play, Tippett started the praise for the unit with Boedker.
“We’ve changed some people,” Tippett said. “If you look at Boedker making the switch to playing the point on the power play, adding young players like Max and Duclair.”
Boedker has 32 points this season with 12 goals and 20 assists, which is on pace to destroy his previous goal, assist and point highs of 19, 32 and 51, respectively. Fourteen of those 32 points have come from that point position on the power play, with 12 of them being assists.
Hanzal has always been a “what if?” among Coyotes fans with his potential to be the strong two-way center a playoff team desperately needs. Now at age 28 and in his ninth season for the franchise, that potential has come together.
“He could be one of the most underrated players in the NHL,” Domi said on Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “He does everything right. There’s not a single hole in his game. “
Like Boedker, that improvement also shows in a career-high pace for goals, assists and points this season as well.
Ekman-Larsson has taken the hole left by Keith Yandle and used it to take another leap towards stardom. He is well on his way to smashing his previous career-high of 44 points, with 32 already this season. Ekman-Larsson is currently tied for fourth in most points among defensemen and should be his second straight year representing the franchise in the All-Star game.
Domi, Tobias Rieder, Duclair, Connor Murphy, Dahlbeck, Martinook and Louis Domingue have turned into a well-rounded bunch that contribute in many different ways.
“Our young guys; they’ve been so good,” Doan said on Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “They’re even better people, they’re just good guys. “
Of course, it’s not fair to just gloss over Domi, Rieder and Duclair, who combine for 81 points this season. In the points leaderboard for rookies, Domi trails only Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin, who has the benefit of playing on the same line as Patrick Kane. Duclair is fifth on that list and Rieder has 26 points at the age of 23.
Rieder (26) and Domi (31) could become the first duo of players under the age of 25 to score at least 50 points in a season since the inaugural Coyotes season in 1996-97, when a 24-year-old Keith Tkachuk (86) and a 20-year-old Oleg Tverdovsky (55) did it. One could argue that Duclair’s 24 points have a chance of reaching 50, which would easily make it the first time a trio has reached those qualifications.
In fact, a player under the age of 25 has scored at least 50 points in a season only 10 times, with Ladislav Nagy and Doan as the only players doing it twice.
That level of production from their youth, a core group of veterans and the trio of their best overall players in their primes has the Coyotes well on their way to a playoff berth.