After a three-year run when the Phoenix Coyotes consistently outperformed preseason expectations, including the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference Final in 2012, they missed the postseason in 2012-13.
Even during all of the success, scoring goals was the biggest weakness for the defensive-minded Coyotes. Adding Mike Ribeiro, the highest-scoring NHL player from 2012-13 who was an unrestricted free agent, could help in that department.
He's one of the best passers in the League, but figuring out who will be on the end of his setups is on the to-do list during training camp. If the Coyotes can fill out the top two lines without needing either Martin Hanzal or Antoine Vermette to shift to the wing, Phoenix will be strong up the middle.
Ribeiro essentially replaces Boyd Gordon on the roster, which is an obvious offensive upgrade, but the Coyotes could miss Gordon's defense. Phoenix lost a couple of other depth forwards but added Brandon Yip from the Nashville Predators, and there will be an opportunity at training camp for one of the team's prospects to earn a significant role.
The defense returns intact, and goaltender Mike Smith is back and sporting a new long-term contract. Phoenix will rely on its ability to prevent goals to be a Stanley Cup Playoff contender, but the Coyotes will need to score more of them to make a return to the postseason.
Here is projected 2013-14 lineup for the Coyotes:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zybnek Michalek
NOTES: There is an obvious opening in the top six up front. Brown is one candidate, as are 2013 first-round pick Max Domi, young forwards Henrik Samuelsson and Brendan Shinnimin, and maybe veteran Korpikoski. A fallback plan would be to shift one of the top three centers to wing. If that were the case, Domi or Shinnimin could fit as the No. 3 center.
The defense could look exactly the same, but younger players Stone, David Rundblad and Brandon Gormley will be pushing for permanent and/or more significant roles. Smith appeared in 67 games two seasons ago, but addition Thomas Greiss might be able to give him a little more time off in net.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: COYOTESUnder-valued: Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- His first full season in 2011-12 resulted in 13 goals and 32 points (0.39 points per game). He followed that by increasing his points per game to 0.50 last season while posting a plus-5 rating with 26 penalty minutes. A continued increase in PP ice time will result in Ekman-Larsson turning into a top-10 fantasy defenseman this season.
Over-valued: Antoine Vermette -- After posting 65 points in 2009-10 with Columbus, many expected the forward to develop into a top-tier player. However, his production has declined significantly and he finished with 21 points in 48 games last season; 40-50 points are likely his expectation in 2013-14.
Sleeper: Mikkel Boedker -- The forward had 15 points in his first 20 games last season, but cooled in March and April. If given first-line duties alongside Mike Ribeiro, the eighth pick from 2008 has the skill to develop into a 25-goal player.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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