Barring injury, when the Phoenix Coyotes play their 12th game this season, Olli Jokinen will officially pass Guy Charron as the player with the most regular season games without playing a playoff game. And for all anyone knows, Jokinen could not have positioned himself better to absolutely blow Charron’s record out of the water.
In fact, by the time he finishes his current contract with the Coyotes, Jokinen might not even be able to spell the word playoffs.
The Coyotes hardly made themselves a lock for the post-season in 2009, but you have to like what they did to their roster at NHL draft weekend. Those who know a lot more about young prospects than I do maintain the Coyotes kicked ass and took names when they drafted Mikkel Boedker of the Kitchener Rangers eighth overall, then traded the 35th and 39th pick to get Anaheim’s pick at 28, which they used to select Viktor Tikhonov.
Not content to come away with two potential star players for the future, the Coyotes got one for the present when they gave up a third of their blueline corps to get Jokinen from the Florida Panthers. Assuming GM Don Maloney will do everything to shore up his team’s back end through unrestricted free agency, it was a great move.
The trade finally gives the Coyotes a bona fide No. 1 center and someone who will be able to help Shane Doan be more productive. In fact, a first line of Jokinen between Doan and Peter Mueller has the potential to be one of the best in the Western Conference.
More importantly, it will do wonders for the development of rookie Kyle Turris, who will now be where he belongs at No. 3 on the depth chart at center behind Jokinen and Martin Hanzal. Not only will it take the pressure off Turris to be the centerpiece of the Coyotes’ offensive game, it will also take the opponents’ top checking forwards away from him and put him in a better position to succeed.
Certainly, Maloney has come to the conclusion there’s a pretty good chance he’s not going to be able to build a foundation on unrestricted free agency. Let’s face it, all the Coyotes can offer a UFA at the moment is nice weather and a chance to play for Wayne Gretzky.
They certainly can’t outbid other teams, nor can they offer an opportunity to win now or in the near future. Hell, Blake Wheeler hasn’t even played a game in the league yet and he took less money to become a UFA than he would have received had he decided to stay in Phoenix.
So Maloney knows he’ll have to build through trades and the draft and on those fronts, he was hugely successful on draft weekend. Some scouts feel Boedker could be the second most talented player in the draft after Steven Stamkos and has the speed and talent to be an impact player at the NHL level.
Tikhonov, the grandson of former Soviet taskmaster Viktor Tikhonov, is more of a wildcard. He grew up in California, but played last season in Cherepovets and caught the eyes of many scouts with his performance at the World Junior Championship. Maloney said both Boedker and Tikhonov will have a legitimate chance to make the Coyotes next season and looking at the depth chart on the wings, you have to think he’s telling the truth.
The Coyotes can’t afford to spend $3-4 million on a second-line veteran, so players such as Boedker, Tikhonov, Brett MacLean and Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter will have every opportunity to show they belong in the NHL. The Coyotes earned a grade of A-minus, which was good for third, in THN’s Future Watch edition this season, so there is some young quality there.
“Looking at our holes in our roster, we have roster spots for those players,” Maloney said. “It’s not like they have to beat out a 28-year-old. Here’s another 20-year-old, because that’s what we’re all about and that’s what we’re going to do.”
At least it should make the Coyotes, a team that was both bad and boring this season, a little more compelling. And for a team that scored just 43 goals in its last 20 games (2.2 per game) after averaging 2.8 goals per game in its first 62, the potential for more offense will help, too.
But with the loss of Keith Ballard, and to a much lesser extent Nick Boynton, Maloney will now have to address the holes he has on defense. Going into July 1, the Coyotes have only Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek as legitimate, full-time NHLers on their roster, with Matt Jones and Keith Yandle waiting to be handed more responsibility.
Is all of this enough to end both the Coyotes’ and Jokinen’s misery when it comes to the post-season? Perhaps not right away, but last weekend might be the moment in time they look back at and point to as the turning point in their franchise.
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