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Coyotes Exercising Patience with Youth

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Arizona Coyotes

NEW YORK -- The quote, by itself, is what you might expect to hear from John Chayka. The Arizona Coyotes promoted him to general manager May 5 at age 26, making him the youngest GM ever in major professional sports. He's 27 now.

When the Coyotes open training camp in September, Chayka won't be biased against players like 20-year-old left wing Christian Dvorak and 19-year-old center Dylan Strome.

"We're not going around looking at birth certificates making decisions," Chayka said. "If they're ready to play, they're ready to play."

Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome. Photo by Norm Hall.

But let's put the quote into context: Chayka is young and will consider young players, but that doesn't mean he will go young for the sake of it either.

Since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Final, the Coyotes have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs four straight seasons. Amid the pain, they have stockpiled an impressive amount of young players and prospects.

The key now is developing them, and a key to that is bringing them into the NHL at the right time. Not too fast, not too slow.

"We put ourselves in a good position with a good group of young players, and you don't want to rush anything," Chayka said. "You want to do it right.

"I do think there is, obviously, a fine line between overbaking your prospects. I think there's some detriments that can occur if you do that as well. But at the same time, there's no rush for these players. They're going to be part of our organization for a long, long time."

The dynamic between Chayka and coach Dave Tippett will be important. At the same time Chayka received his promotion, Tippett added the title of executive vice president of hockey operations and will be involved in personnel decisions.

GMs tend to focus on the long term and coaches on the short term. Some coaches, worried about making the playoffs and keeping their jobs, might favor veterans over young players who need ice time to develop, or push for young players to fill immediate needs when they might be better off at a lower level.

Dylan Strome. Photo by Norm Hall.

But Tippett, entering his 14th season as an NHL coach and eighth with the Coyotes, has long-term perspective and security. He signed a five-year contract the same day Chayka was promoted.

"Every player's different in terms of how Tipp [Tippett] thinks the best approach is to develop a player's game," Chayka said. "If he thinks it's good for a player to start at a lower level or a different position and work their way up, then that's what he thinks.

"My job is to accumulate the assets and build a team, and it's Tipp's job to use them as he sees fit. And he's got a great track record of developing young players, and young players love playing for him. So I think he'll make the right call for our group."

Forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair made the Coyotes as 20-year-olds last season and excelled, combining for 38 goals and 58 assists.

The big question this season, especially after the Coyotes created opportunity up front by buying out the final season veteran center Antoine Vermette's contract, is whether Dvorak and Strome can do something similar.

Dvorak, 20, was a second-round pick (No. 58) in the 2014 NHL Draft. Last season he had 52 goals and 121 points in 59 regular-season games with London of the Ontario Hockey League, 14 goals and 21 assists in 18 OHL playoff games, and seven goals and five assists in four games to help London win the Memorial Cup. He will start in the NHL or with Tucson of the American Hockey League.

Strome, 19, was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. He had 37 goals and 111 points in 56 regular-season games with Erie of the OHL, and 10 goals and 11 assists in 13 OHL playoff games. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Strome has been working on filling out his body and becoming more explosive. Because of his age he has to play in the NHL or return to Erie, though he can play as many as nine games in the NHL without burning a season of his entry-level contract.

"Those are the two guys who have kind of separated themselves in terms of their junior careers," Chayka said. "But it's wide open, really. If the player comes in and shows well, they have an opportunity to make our team."

Christian Dvorak. Photo by Norm Hall.

Others Coyotes prospects to watch include defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, the No. 19 pick of the 2014 draft whom the Coyotes acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 25; forward Brendan Perlini, the No. 12 pick of the 2014 draft; and forward Christian Fischer, a second-round pick (No. 32) in 2015. DeAngelo played for Syracuse of the AHL last season. Perlini can play in the NHL or AHL this season. Fischer could play in the NHL, AHL or junior.

"Physically he's there, and he's doing everything in his power to maximize everything," Chayka said of Fischer. "When players do that and put in the work in the summer and you recognize it, then they're going to get the opportunities to make your team. He's a guy that we like a lot and are excited about."

The Coyotes selected two players in the first round of the 2016 draft, center Clayton Keller at No. 7 and defenseman Jakob Chychrun at No. 16 after acquiring the pick in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Keller will play at Boston University this season. Chychrun likely will return to his junior team, Sarnia of the OHL, but you never know.

"Chychrun's an interesting guy, because physically he's probably mature and ready," Chayka said. "Mentally I think he's got the mental capabilities to probably step in and play. But again, he's going to come into camp and he's going to play at another level that he hasn't played at before, and we're going to see how his game adapts."

Youth will be served in Arizona, but only for the right reasons.

"We think it's become a young man's game and we've got the best youth out there," Chayka said. "So if they're ready to play, there is a spot. We're not holding spots for anyone. We're looking to improve our group. We're not tied down to the old guard or anything like that. Let's get new. Let's get fresh. Let's improve."

That said, Chayka added: "We're not trying to create a movement or draw some interest in our group. We've got enough good young players that we don't have to infuse for the sake of doing so. We're doing it to grow our team. That's the goal. We need to grow our team to get better. I think these guys are a big part of that. We're trying to time it so it's the right time for both of us."

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