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Camp Confidential: Shot of Confidence

A good day for the power play, Grabner's return, seeing gold, and Hayton's rookie adventure

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

The power play units were electric Wednesday afternoon.

Head coach Rick Tocchet felt a surge of confidence. 

"I liked the energy," Tocchet said. "We got a bunch of goals. What helps your confidence is that you keep doing the right things, I always say.

"It's amazing because early on, we were struggling. We weren't shooting the puck. Players were barking at each other, and I barked at a couple of guys just to tell them that if we don't shoot the puck, we're not going to open things up. And then all of a sudden Chychrun started shooting, and then Hall, and we started scoring goals. That's the whole mentality. Someone's got to be willing to take a shot to open things up. When we did that, I liked it."

The team practiced its two primary units Wednesday.

First Power Play Unit:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Taylor Hall

Phil Kessel - Christian Dvorak / Derek Stepan - Clayton Keller

Second Power Play Unit:

Jakob Chychrun - Alex Goligoski

Conor Garland - Carl Soderberg - Nick Schmaltz 

Both groups impressed Tocchet.

The units' communication generated chemistry. Tocchet addressed that topic a week prior to camp.

"If you score goals, then you're hearing your teammates," Tocchet said. "We've got to get a little bit better on that, the level of chatter. But I love when we score a goal, and I know it's bad for the goalies in practice, but I love guys yelling and screaming 'great shot' and chirping and stuff. That really helps your confidence, it really does. You make a nice shot, top shelf and it goes in. You hear the guys hootin' and hollerin'. 

"For me, if you're shooting the puck and shooting well, keep shooting it."

Tocchet further praised the shooting of defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun.

"I felt [Oliver] really shot the puck today," Tocchet said. "He was taking that slap shot. I liked that. I could tell with him right from the start of camp that he knows what he's got to do, and he's going to have to take that shot for us."

As for Chychrun?

"He's a shooter," Tocchet said. "Chychrun was bombing the puck today."

The Coyotes power play ranked number 18 in the NHL with a 19.2 percent conversion rate. Nashville's penalty kill ranked number 29 with a 76.1 percent kill rate.

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Michael Grabner joined the Coyotes on Wednesday.

The main group is now complete -- 24 players: 14 forwards, eight defensemen, two goalies. 

"The one thing I can tell you is that the guys love (Grabs)," Tocchet said. "He's a well-respected guy, whether he plays or not. He's well-loved in the room - that's first and foremost. When you have guys like that, they're invaluable. He's always in shape. You never have to worry about Grabs being in shape."

Grabner, 32, is known for his strength and condition. 

"Now, it's the pushing and shoving," Tocchet said. "That's what you have to emulate in practice. It's not just for Grabner, it's for everybody. It's a different game in practice until you're actually playing live. When there's pushing and shoving and you've got people in your face, that's when you know. But for me, Grabner was good today, in the sense that he's in shape. It was nice for the guys to see him back out there."

Derek Stepan has been a Grabner teammate for three years. They first played together in 2016-17 with the New York Rangers. 

"I've played with Grabs now for quite a few years," Stepan said. "He hasn't changed a bit. He's a big piece of our locker room. He loves being around the guys, and guys love being around him. I hope he doesn't hear this, but he's a smart dude. He's a really smart dude. He's got a really good sense for the game. He's just able to communicate well with the whole balance of our lineup, whether it's a young guy or an older guy."

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The Coyotes are getting nit-picky in their preparation. 

The coaching staff is using video to depict Nashville's tendencies, and it is pulling out a few tricks to adjust player senses to everything Predators.

That includes jersey color. Gold. Nashville's home color.  

If you were at Wednesday's practice, you would have seen four members of the Tucson Roadrunners -- Brayden Burke, Hudson Fasching, Kyle Capobianco and Aaron Ness - sporting gold practice jerseys while acting as Nashville's penalty kill against the Coyotes' power play.

It's the little things, Tocchet noted.

"We try to do as much as we can," he said.

"The Tucson guys were our scout team. They imitated the Nashville penalty kill for us, and they did a hell of a job. That's hard to do, because they had to come out on the ice cold. So, I want to acknowledge those guys. That's part of being a team, those guys did a nice job for us today."

Including sporting the enemy colors.

The Coyotes' penalty kill was covered today, as well. It ranked fifth in the NHL with a 82.7 percent kill rate this year; it ranked third last season with an 85 percent rate.

'If you take the average, we've been one of the top PK teams in the league," Tocchet said. "So, that's part of our identity. When you play the Coyotes, they usually have a really good PK, and we don't want to forget about that. That's a big strength of our team, of our identity." 

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Barrett Hayton is experiencing a unique hat trick.

He made his NHL debut October 10. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Now, he gets the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In addition, he suffered an injury that led to an AHL rehabilitation stint.

"It's been a crazy year for this kid," said Rick Tocchet. "We threw a lot at him. Gold medal at the World Junior Championship, he scored the big goal there -- he was hurt, and played hurt. I had him in and out of the lineup, he practiced when he was healthy with us. He stayed with a veteran in Jason Demers, he was traveling with us. I think this was a good year for him in the sense that he just saw what it takes to maintain that NHL lifestyle, and to be able to be consistent."

Tocchet praised the fifth-overall selection in the 2018 draft.

"You tell him what to do, and he does it," Tocchet said. "He's a character guy, and that's why we drafted him. His character and hockey IQ were number one for us. And obviously he's got the skill. Wherever we use him, and he might be in the lineup -- we still have two weeks. There's a lot of time left. I know one thing, you can put him on the power play, you can put him on the wing, you can put him at center, and I think that's just invaluable to have a guy that can wear different hats for you, especially a young kid like that." 

Hayton, 20, has had quite the rookie campaign.

"It's definitely been a unique season," he said. "Everything that went on for me personally, and then you throw in the past few months, it's been a lot. But, being able to kind of come full circle and get the opportunity to prepare and get ready for these playoffs, it's just a great opportunity. This is where you always want to be, you want to be in the mix, preparing for that playoff stretch. I'm very happy with where we're at."

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Well, not quite.

But the Coyotes are scheduled to hold an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday. It begins at noon.

Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Janelle Etzel - Arizona Coyotes // Third Photo Credit: Janelle Etzel - Arizona Coyotes // Fourth Photo Credit: Janelle Etzel - Arizona Coyotes // Fifth Photo Credit: Alex Kinkopf - Arizona Coyotes // Sixth Photo Credit: Janelle Etzel - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Janelle Etzel - Arizona Coyotes

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