5. The Hip Check
is back with Keith Ballard
who has mastered the old school move! “KB2, The Destroyer” has been leaving a trail of sore bodies all over the NHL this season with highlight reel clean hits which have SportsCenter Top 10 written all over them. Ballard is more than just a marksman with the hip; he is arguably one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. This is a guy who will do anything for his teammates and may someday wear the captain’s “C” on his chest. All you need to know about Keith Ballard is that when he drops the gloves, he immediately removes his helmet and visor. This throwback plays with honor.
|The Great One |
4. Before this season started, people asked the question of why Wayne Gretzky
would be coming back to coach a team with such low expectations? The answer has been very simple, since the greatest player ever cannot compete as a player; the next best thing is coaching. With the youngest team in the NHL, and a team that has no bonafide superstar, Coach Gretzky has looked like a magician at times. If the team continues its current progress, the same people who picked the Coyotes to be one of the worst teams in the league, and wondered why he is coaching, may be putting a check next to his name for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.
3. Another major positive for the Phoenix Coyotes surprising start has been the Veteran Leadership
on this young team. That starts with Captain Shane Doan
who has been with this franchise from day one when it moved to the Valley of the Sun from Winnipeg. Doan is once again the leading scorer for the Coyotes and they need his production more than ever. We can only hope that his work ethic is contagious for all the young players as Doan is almost always the last man off the ice at practice.
His assistant captains have also helped carry the load. Ed Jovanovski has cranked up the offense from the blueline and is third on the team with 21 points. Derek Morris
has also been a force on the backline leading the team with a plus 9 rating. This trio, and other veterans like Steven Reinprecht and Nick Boynton have given this team a solid balance of youth and experience.
2. During an interview with GM Don Maloney this offseason he said, “There is not a day that goes by that we do not look at our Goaltending
and say that we have to be the best in the league at that position. Until we are there, we have to keep looking.” That search may have ended on November 17th when Ilya Bryzgalov was claimed on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. Since joining the Coyotes,
Bryzgalov has been sensational with a 9-6 record. His stingy 2.18 goals against average and .928 save percentage has put the Coyotes in a position to steal games they would otherwise have lost. The 6’3” goalie is a big time competitor who hates to give up goals at practice almost as much as during games. Mikael Tellqvist has also been rock solid in net with a 5-3 record, and a 2.47 goals against average. Since assuming the back-up role, “Telly” has been a great leader on the bench and in the room, while staying sharp and waiting for his chance. That came this past Saturday in New Jersey when he led the Coyotes to a 4-1 with 30 saves.
1. Rookies, Rookies, Rookies
!!! No team in the NHL has gotten more production from a variety of first year players than the Phoenix Coyotes. 19 year old Peter Mueller is showing why he was drafted 8th overall in the 2006 entry draft. With each game you can see his confidence growing on a
|Peter Mueller |
line with Doan and Reinprecht. His 9 goals put him in 2nd place behind Jonathan Toews (12) of the Chicago Blackhawks in terms of rookie snipers. Martin Hanzal
is also a former #1 draft pick of the Coyotes, coming with the 17th overall pick in 2005. The 6’5” 20 year old Czech center has been a force all season. He is getting minutes on special teams and has really excelled on offense since the formation of the “VHS Line” with Radim Vrbata
and Fredrik Sjostrom. With 18 points, he is in 5th place among rookie scorers.
The 3rd member of the Coyotes impact rookies is Dan Carcillo who leads the NHL with 172 penalty minutes, including 10 fighting majors. The former Penguins draft pick is much more than a fighter; he is a player in the mold of Sean Avery and Darcy Tucker. If he is on your team, you love him, but if he is your opponent you probably hate him. With 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points, he ranks tied for 9th in rookie scoring.
The final piece to the rookie puzzle is quite possibly the best story of them all. Daniel Winnik arrived at training camp as a 9th round draft choice (265th overall) in 2004 and seemingly had very little chance to make the team. His versatility and work ethic won over Coach Gretzky and his staff as he earned a roster spot. Winnik has been way more of an asset than anyone could have expected. He does a lot of things that do not show up on the score sheet. A relentless forechecker who can play in the middle or on the wing, the former standout at the University of New Hampshire has proved to be one of the most versatile assets the Coyotes have. “Plug and Play”, put Winnik anywhere and he looks comfortable. Needless to say, this is a special crop of rookies which does not come around very often.
Coyotes fans should be smiling as we head to the conclusion of 2007 because the future looks very bright. If you have not made a trip to Jobing.com Arena this year, it is time to get in the car and step on the gas this Saturday night when the Vancouver Canucks come to town. Hockey Night in Canada will be here and so should you! These guys have earned the right to play in front of a packed building.