Can Phil Kessel be a go-to player?
Kessel had some terrific years in Toronto – scoring 33 goals and 72 points per 82 regular-season games over six seasons – but he’s been at his best when he doesn’t have to be the man. Playing in the shadow of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh the past four seasons, Kessel won two Stanley Cups, had a career-high 92 points two years ago and even raised his performance in the playoffs. In Arizona, he’s back to being the man on a team of hard workers, veteran defensemen and rising stars. Will that take him out of his comfort zone, or, on the cusp of 32, is he mature enough now to take that bullhorn and skate with it? Maybe the desert in Coyote country is an ideal compromise between the two divergent playing situations.
Can Rick Tocchet coach the Coyotes to the next level?
In Tocchet’s first season behind the Arizona bench in 2017-18, the 29th-place Coyotes finished with the eighth most wins (16) in the final eight weeks of the season. That impressive close had hopeful fans thinking the team would pick up in 2018-19 where it left off. But injuries to key players Antti Raanta, Jakob Chychrun, Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak held the Coyotes back. Arizona finished with the second-most man games lost to injuries behind Anaheim. Yet the team finished just four points out of a playoff spot. Huge credit for that again has to go to coach Tocchet, who finished sixth in voting for the Jack Adams Award. Tocchet is an astute tactician and an outstanding communicator who relates well to young players.
Who is the man between the pipes?
Don't be so certain Raanta is the slam-dunk starter. While it’s true the 30-year-old has an impressive .925 save percentage in 58 starts over two seasons with the Coyotes, he’s also been fragile, missing large chunks of time with injuries. In his place last season, 29-year-old Darcy Kuemper also had a .925 SP, in 55 starts. Kuemper tied for fifth in Vezina Trophy voting. Raanta was signed two years ago to be the workhorse, but the Coyotes aren’t in a position to be selective. They’ll pick the stopper who gives them the best chance to make the playoffs, regardless of contract size.
Stanley Cup Odds: 50/1
The list of teenagers the Coyotes have rushed to the NHL is long, so there is apprehension about whether 19-year-old Barrett Hayton stays. On one hand, the fifth-overall pick in 2018 is ready for a greater challenge than the OHL. However, Arizona can’t let his development stagnate on the fourth line.