The Coyotes have been stocking up on young talent for years, and by the 2019-20 season they may finally be ready to break out.
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
Assuming everyone develops at the rate expected, the Coyotes are going to have a very exciting forward corps in a couple years. Right now, the group is still in its incubatory stage, though the addition of Derek Stepan will help immensely. Long-term, Stepan is an excellent second-line center who can be used in a two-way capacity, while Clayton Keller uses his offensive magic to propel a fast first line to greatness. When it comes to the bottom six, we’re looking at a big, heavy group that can still contribute offensively. In a perfect world, Strome gets faster and jumps Stepan on the depth chart, but the new NHL reality is that you need more than two lines to score, so perhaps it’s a moot point in the grand scheme of things. While left winger Jamie McGinn is under contract for another two years, look for him to test the open market, since Lawson Crouse and Christian Fischer offer similar size and more youthful upside.
On the back end, Arizona has a No. 1 in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and hopefully the recently-acquired Niklas Hjalmarsson is still at full capacity in 2019-20. The biggest X-factors will be Jakob Chychrun and Kyle Wood, who have lots of potential thanks to their size. Wood still needs to sort out his defensive play and if that doesn’t happen, 2017 first-rounder Pierre-Olivier Joseph can slide in, though one more season of pro would be optimal for him. The most important aspect of this corps is that it’s mobile and has a nice dose of offense.
Antti Raanta is Arizona’s No. 1 goalie, coming off a great campaign with the New York Rangers. But Raanta only had to do the heavy lifting for 30 games. That 30 games, by the way, represented a career NHL high for the Finnish goalie. Does he have the mettle to be a starter for, say, 60 games or more?
GOT IT: There is tons of potential up front thanks to the high ceiling of skill possessed by players such as Keller, Max Domi and Strome. Not only that, but there are a lot of kids, so the failing of one just makes room for an opportunity of another (we didn’t even have room for Nick Merkley).
NEED IT: Goaltending. That’s the acid test here. Should Raanta fail, Arizona will have to look at other options on the open market before 2019-20 even arrives. And while goalies are the easiest key roster spot to fill these days, that axiom can only go so far.
CAP WATCH: The Coyotes pretty much always have a ton of cap space – they’re a budget team – and they will certainly have a lot of room in the summer of 2019. Ekman-Larsson will be the largest ticket and given that he will likely be the captain and chief minute-muncher, Arizona will pay him what he deserves. Hjalmarsson is also up for a new deal and getting him back for at least one more season seems prudent. Raanta will also be unrestricted and as mentioned in the previous section, he’ll need to prove himself.
BOTTOM LINE: If the Coyotes’ kids can grow together, they will be a formidable opponent capable of throwing different looks at opponents. As long as they get the right guidance along the way, this could be one of the most dangerous Arizona outfits ever.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks
Up next: Boston Bruins