THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Arizona Coyotes.
THN’s Prediction: 6th in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 65-1
Key additions: Jamie McGinn, LW; Alex Goligoski, D; Radim Vrbata, RW; Luke Schenn, D; Lawon Crouse, LW; Ryan White, RW; Jamie McBain, D
Key departures: Antoine Vermette, C; Boyd Gordon, C; Joe Vitale, C; Kyle Chipchura, C; Sergei Plotnikov, LW
– Will there be much of an NHL learning curve for Dylan Strome? Strome was the third-overall pick in 2015 and finished as the No. 1 prospect in Future Watch 2016. The crafty center has another season of junior eligibility, but don’t expect him to see the OHL unless he picks it up on satellite. He’s ready for the NHL.
Strome is the team’s future No. 1 center, perhaps as soon as next season. For now, expect to see him get sheltered time on Arizona’s second line behind Martin Hanzal, perhaps with Shane Doan and Jamie McGinn. It’s tempting to put Strome with young guns Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, but that won’t happen right away.
-Is Anthony Duclair a candidate for the sophomore slump? Playing with fellow rookie Domi, Duclair started off like gangbusters last season, scoring a hat trick in his third game and recording points in five of his first six games. But defenses started to hone in on the Arizona rookies and their production dipped.
Of Duclair’s 20 goals, only eight came in the second half, and he finished the year with just four goals in 26 games. Duclair will have to use his speed and smarts to find ways of beating tough defenses.
-Will we see the Mike Smith of old or old Mike Smith? After posting a .930 save percentage and finishing fourth in Vezina voting in 2011-12, Smith has been trending to below league-average numbers. He’s now 34 and has three years left at $5.67 million AAV.
Smith missed more than three months last season with a core muscle injury. But the good news is that in the 10 games he played after his return last March, he posted two shutouts and had a .944 save percentage. That sounds like the Mike Smith of old.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Arizona Coyotes are a team on the rise, but this season will likely be a developmental one. While they made a lot of interesting moves in the off-season at the helm of new numbers-savvy GM John Chayka, they’re still at least a year out from contending for a playoff spot. With the depth in their prospect pipeline, it won’t be long until this team is a real powerhouse in the West.
This season will be a showcase year of what’s to come in that regard. Dylan Strome likely starts the year as the team’s No. 2 center and it won’t be long until he’s the top dog and a legit number one center in the league. And this team needs one, or any first line forward for that matter. Wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have the potential to be just that, but they’ll need to take another step after a promising first season. The Coyotes lack top-end talent (they’re the only team without a first line forward) and have the worst top three forwards in the league at this juncture, but that likely changes during the season.
The bottom of the lineup isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. Chayka has shown he’s not afraid to cut the fat by buying out Antoine Vermette, so it’s likely that once the team is actually ready to compete their depth at forward will be addressed.
Defense is the biggest strength of the club thanks to Should-Be-A-Norris-Candidate-Someday Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The addition of Alex Goligoski was Chayka’s best move of the off-season and he should provide a lot of value on the back-end. The rest of the group is rather ordinary, although it is interesting that Connor Murphy was the guy to get term this off-season and not Michael Stone.
Goaltending is Arizona’s biggest problem as Mike Smith is overpaid and overrated. Since his herculean 2011-12 campaign he’s provided mostly replacement level goaltending for Arizona which is not ideal considering his paycheque. Louis Domingue was solid in limited starts last year, but unless Smith gets injured he’ll likely only be reduced to a backup role.
The Coyotes have a very promising future and while this season likely won’t be a winning one, it will allow the team to add another high-end piece at the draft to an already stacked cupboard.
Up next: Buffalo Sabres