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Camp Confidential: Stepan + Support

The morning group, Vegas on the docket, playoff start times, and training camp hair styles

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Derek Stepan joined the Coyotes Tuesday.

And head coach Rick Tocchet was predictably pleased.

"It was big," said Tocchet. "The center position for us is huge, and to have him there obviously fills a nice hole for us. And he's a very reliable guy, especially in our defensive scheme."

Stepan has 97 playoff games under his belt. His experience and leadership will be vital.

"He has a very big hockey IQ," Tocchet added. "So, when he's on the ice for practice with us and we introduce some kind of drill, when it comes to thinking, he usually goes first. We know he usually does it right, so a lot of guys watch him. That's the biggest thing for me is that he's like another coach for us out there."

Twenty-three players skated in Tuesday's main session -- 13 forwards, eight defensemen, two goalies. Stepan filled the center position on the third line.

Here is how the team aligned:

Forwards:

Taylor Hall - Christian Dvorak - Conor Garland

Carl Soderberg - Nick Schmaltz - Phil Kessel

Barrett Hayton / Lawson Crouse - Derek Stepan - Clayton Keller

Christian Fischer - Brad Richardson - Vinnie Hinostroza

Defensemen:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Jason Demers

Jakob Chychrun - Alex Goligoski

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Ilya Lyubushkin

Jordan Oesterle - Jordan Gross

The seven "support players" listed on the training camp roster have been skating in a separate morning session with Tucson Roadrunners head coach Jay Varady. The group comprises Brayden Burke, Kyle Capobianco, Hudson Fasching, Adin Hill, Aaron Ness, Ivan Prosvetov and Victor Soderstrom.

Burke, Capobianco, Fasching, Hill and Prosvetov were Roadrunners regulars. Ness appeared in 24 games with the Coyotes and Hill played in 13 games. Soderstrom, last year's first round selection, spent the 2019-20 season playing with Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League.

Tocchet understands their value.

"They're a big part," he said. "I had a meeting with those guys and told them my experience. I've been in the Stanley Cup final five times, and I've won three times - twice as a coach and once as a player. And I'm telling you, during those playoff runs, there was always somebody who was not in the lineup [at the start of the playoffs] that eventually helped our team. Especially with what's happening now. We're going to need everyone. We'll need all hands on deck to be ready to go. Jay Varady's doing a good job. I get a lot of reports from Jay. He's a really good coach. He lets me know how they're progressing."

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VEGAS, BABY

The NHL announced the exhibition schedule Tuesday. The Coyotes will play a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, July 30, scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. local start. It will be played at Rogers Place, the site of all Western Conference playoff games.

"I think this is only going to help us," Conor Garland said. "Vegas is a very strong team in the West. Just to get that compete level back, I think that would be the biggest advantage for that game. The timing, competing against another team, and getting the feeling of a game for the first time since March 9. So, to get a game in before you drop the puck for Game 1 of the playoffs, that's huge for us."

Start times for Games 1-3 of the Coyotes' qualifying round series against the Predators were also announced. All are local Arizona start times.

  • Game 1 - Sunday, August 2: 11:00 AM
  • Game 2 - Tuesday, August 4: 11:30 AM
  • Game 3 - Wednesday, August 5: 11:30 AM

Broadcast information will be released soon.

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FLOW CHART

Jakob Chychrun is one of a few Coyotes who returned to the rink a bit more hirsute.

"I haven't been to a barber in probably five months," Chychrun said. "I wasn't rushing it during the pandemic to go out in public. I'm just kind of letting it go. Honestly, I don't really care to get it cut right now. So, I'm probably going to let it go here for the playoffs and see how I look toward the end of it. Hopefully we have a long run and I look like a mess, but we'll see.

Rick Tocchet sported a mean mullet during his playing days, but he no longer has "mullet" follicles. He did provide extra incentive for a Stanley Cup run.

"Thank goodness they haven't asked me to grow my hair out," he said. "The only thing I can do for them is a wig. If we win, if we win it all, I'll wear a wig. Put it that way. It's good, they're growing it out, it looks scrappy, it looks good."

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YOUNG AND HEALTHY

Two primary members of the Coyotes young corps, Jakob Chychrun and Conor Garland, battled injuries at the onset time of the March 12 pause.

Chychrun, 22, was on the brink of returning and benefited from the layoff.

"I'm feeling good," Chychrun said. "Obviously, it was a long break. It was nice. I was actually going to play that night against Vancouver when the season was paused. I was getting ready to play. The break was nothing but good, just to get back to that normal. I'm feeling really good on the ice. So, I'm 100 percent."

Garland's outlook wasn't quite as promising.

"I was going to miss the remainder of the season," he said. "I stayed in Arizona for six to eight weeks, got my rehab and got back to 100 percent," Garland said. "Then I was able to return home. I kind of treated the pause as an offseason. I got ready and came back about a month ago, and I've just been getting ready like everybody else."

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FOCUS AND FRIENDS

Rick Tocchet knows the value of scouting. Tuesday's practice involved some video and discussion of the Predators' forecheck.

"I'm (still) 85 percent worried about us," he said. "The other 15 percent is where we can talk about Nashville."

Wednesday's practice will focus on skills and special teams.

"We have to execute the way we play," Tocchet said. "So, that's what we're really doing this week -- worrying about our skills and the way we approach things. We'll give little snippets of Nashville. So, there was a little bit about Nashville today, but mostly about us."

Tocchet recently talked with Arizona Diamondbacks head coach Torey Lovullo to discuss strategies, as both the MLB and NHL return to action.

While addressing Lovullo's wisdom, Tocchet elaborated on the guidance he receives from his own staff and other notables.

"As for experience, I've got Phil Housley and John MacLean," Tocchet said. "They've played a lot of NHL games, and they've played in some big games. So, they know how to deal with stuff going into the playoffs. You pick and choose your roundtable. I have friends like Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, guys like that that I bounce off. Chris Chelios. I bounce things off him. So, I've got some pretty, pretty Hall-of-Fame type guys' brains I can pick. At the end of the day, our roundtable is pretty good right here."

Photo Credit [All]: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes

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