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Pacific Division Overview: Arizona Coyotes have a promising young roster

A summary of the best and worst performances of last season, the team’s offseason activity and projected 2017-2018 line combinations

Toronto Maple Leafs v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the regular season approaches, let’s take a look at each of the Golden Knights’ division opponents, starting with the Arizona Coyotes.

Arizona’s 2016-2017 Season

The Arizona Coyotes went 30-42-10 for a total of 70 points last season, finishing sixth in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference and 28th in the NHL. The team missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

Arizona finished the year with the 26th-ranked power play (16.2 percent) and 27th-ranked penalty kill (77.3 percent) and managed a 12-12-5 record against Pacific Division teams.

2016-2017 Roster Highlights

Defenseman Jakob Chychrun had an impressive rookie season, scoring seven goals and 20 points in 68 games, after being the only defenseman in his draft class to stay at the NHL level last year. Other players who had solid seasons include Christian Dvorak (15-18—33), Brendan Perlini (14-7—21), Jordan Martinook (11-14—25) and Tobias Rieder (16-18—34) . Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer impressed in their short stints with the big club, and all three could make the team out of training camp.

But there were many disappointing performances. After scoring 20 goals and 44 points as a rookie, Anthony Duclair stumbled through his sophomore season, contributing just five goals and 15 points in 68 games, and was sent down to the AHL. Another massive letdown was Jamie McGinn, who scored just 17 points after signing a three-year, $10 million contract last summer. Max Domi had a down year with nine goals and 38 points after scoring 18 and 52 as a rookie.

Even franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had a tough year. His 12 goals and 39 points were especially disappointing after he recorded 21 goals and a career-high 55 points in 2015-2016. He finished with a team-worst and career-worst minus-25 rating and just wasn’t the same OEL from years past. His mother died from a long battle with cancer late last season, so that may have been weighing heavily on his mind.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

General manager John Chayka made two major trades on draft day, acquiring a first-line center, a starting goalie and a top-four defenseman. All in a day’s work.

Chayka sent defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the Coyotes’ 2017 first-round pick (7) to the New York Rangers in exchange for center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta.

Stepan immediately steps in as the team’s first-line center, and he’s the best center this team has had in years. Stepan, who could play with Domi and Duclair on the top line, brings a level of consistency this team needs, as he has scored 53 points or more in each of the past four years and at least 44 points and 15 goals in all seven seasons of his career.

Raanta will replace Mike Smith (traded to the Flames) as the team’s starting goalie; this will be his first chance as a starter after four solid seasons as a backup in Chicago and New York. He has one year remaining on his deal at $1 million, so this season will be his audition for the future.

Chayka then sent defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin to the Blackhawks in exchange for the underrated shutdown defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson brings tremendous leadership, poise and success to the table, playing a large role in all three of Chicago’s Stanley Cup victories. He should help lighten the load for Ekman-Larsson this year.

Previewing Arizona’s 2017-2018 Lineup

Arizona has experienced a lot of turnover since last season, losing 20-year veteran Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal, Smith and Michael Stone, among others. Aside from Stepan, Raanta and Hjalmarsson, Nick Cousins and Adam Clendening are also new to the organization.

Many decisions will be made during training camp, especially considering there could be eight or nine players under 22 years old in the starting lineup. That being said, there are spots for the taking. Someone like defenseman Kyle Wood could make a real push in camp. Here are two possibilities of what Arizona’s lines could look like this year:

Forwards

Domi—Stepan—Duclair
Keller—Strome—Rieder
Perlini—Dvorak—McGinn
Crouse—Cousins—Martinook

—OR—

Domi—Stepan—Duclair
Perlini—Dvorak—Keller
Rieder—Strome—Fischer
Martinook—Richardson—McGinn

Defensemen

Ekman-Larsson—Hjalmarsson
Goligoski—Chychrun
Connauton—Schenn

—OR—

Ekman-Larsson—Hjalmarsson
Goligoski—Schenn
Chychrun—Clendening

Goalies

Raanta
Domingue

Bottom Line

Though Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Stepan and Hjalmarsson will be looked to as leaders on this team, make no mistake: this Coyotes team is all about the kids. The future is bright in Glendale. Of course, it will take time for the Coyotes to get there. As such, there are no expectations for the playoffs this year. But can Raanta handle the load as a starter? How will the young guys fare this season, and what role will newly-appointed head coach Rick Tocchet play in their development? Only time will tell.