GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Arizona Coyotes have been reluctant to put young players into prominent roles in the past, preferring to allow them and their games to mature in the minors before bringing them up to the NHL.
That could change this season.
Coming off two playoff-less seasons and with several roster spots up for grabs, the Coyotes will be taking a hard look at their talented group of youngsters during training camp.
“This year there’s a lot more guys competing for spots and ultimately you hope that makes you a better team,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Thursday, reporting day for Arizona’s veteran players. “For you to be successful in this league, you have to develop your young players, they have to push for lineup spots, they have to work their way into the lineup.”
This won’t be a complete youth movement. More like a youthful infusion.
Arizona still has talented players on its roster, including goalie Mike Smith, defencemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, forwards Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker.
The Coyotes also tried to fill the hole left by top goal-scorer Radim Vrbata by trading for Sam Gagner, a skilled forward who battled through injuries with Edmonton.
But unlike some of the previous seasons, Arizona has fewer players under one-way NHL contracts, creating what could be more competition during training camp than the team’s had since moving to the desert.
And with that are opportunities for those young guys to shine.
“There’s been some talk the past few months that we’re in a youth movement. We’re in a winning movement—that’s what we want to get back to,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “If it’s an 18-year-old player or a 40-year-old, it doesn’t matter to us who helps us get back to the playoffs. That’s our goal.”
The Coyotes have several young players who could be up for the challenge.
Forward Max Domi, son of former NHL player Tie Domi, competed for one of the final roster spots last season and could give the Coyotes a much-needed scoring boost. Henrik Samuelsson, another former player’s son (Ulf), also has a high skill set and could give Arizona a lift up front.
Centre Tyler Gaudet, along with wingers Lucas Lessio and Tobias Rieder are expected to compete for roster spots as well and the Coyotes are high on Brendan Perlini, this year’s first-round pick who played well enough in rookie camp to get an invite to training camp.
“We’ve got some spots a lot of guys are competing for,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “That’s exciting when you have that. You’d love to have 20 returning All-Stars, but I don’t think anybody has that and we’re excited that we’ve got some guys who are really going to push.”
Regardless of whether the young players make the roster, they will create competition in training camp.
In past years, many of the roster spots were all but locked and the only shot at making the NHL team was to have a superb training camp and take a job from someone else.
This season, Arizona has several spots that will be up for grabs after losing Vrbata, Derek Morris, Mike Ribeiro, Jeff Halpern and Paul Bissonnette.
Few things raise a player’s level of effort than fighting for his job, especially if it’s a younger player nipping at the heels of a veteran.
“You hope guys can come in and push guys,” Yandle said. “It’s never a bad thing when a young guy can come in and help the team out. It brings energy, it brings youth and also, if you’re worried about a younger guy, you have to step your game up even more. It’s good for competition and I think this year, more than years past, we have guys who can come in here and make an impact, and that’s a really good thing.”
The Coyotes are about to see just what kind of impact those young players will have. Training camp starts on Friday.