The off-season is over and it's time to get to work.
Fifty-six players hoping to make the 2008-09 Coyotes roster took the ice Saturday morning for the team’s first official on-ice workouts for the upcoming NHL season. Less than half of them, of course, will make the roster, and judging by Saturday's intense practices and scrimmages, the competition for those jobs will be fierce.
“It’s been a long wait so it was good to get out and get started,” new center Olli Jokinen said. “…You can feel it. There’s definitely a buzz around this team and I think it’s good to have a camp like this where there are a lot of spots open. There’s good competition out there.“
Jokinen, of course, doesn’t have to worry about winning a job. He and captain Shane Doan
and Peter Mueller played on a line together for the first time Saturday and teamed to score two goals during a scrimmage.
“They’re going to get a lot of ice time, there’s no question,” Head Coach Wayne Gretzky said. “As a line, we’re going to rely on them and count on them. …this is a step (up) for us and we need that line to play at the level they’re capable of each and every night.”
Another trio that looked comfortable together on the first day was the line with rookie center Kyle Turris and newcomers Todd Fedoruk and Mikkel Boedker
“I think we found chemistry right away and we worked really well together,” said Boedker, the team’s first pick (eighth overall) in this year’s NHL Draft. “Fedoruk is a phenomenal player and he makes a lot of room and that creates good chances for me and Kyle. I think we did a really good job together.“
Other new forwards likely to challenge for roster spots include Chad Kolarik, Kevin Porter and Viktor Tikhonov
Defensively, the Coyotes are solid with All-Star Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris
, Zbynek Michalek and newcomer Kurt Sauer forming a solid base. The other two spots are up for grabs between newcomer David Hale, Matt Jones and Keith Yandle
. Rookies Jonas Ahnelov
and Nick Ross
also likely will get long looks during this camp.
Six goaltenders are in camp, but barring a surprising twist of events Ilya Bryzgalov and Mikael Tellqvist likely will emerge as the No. 1 and No. 2 goalies, respectively.
The 56 players were divided into three teams on Saturday and two scrimmages were played. All in all, the mood within the building was extremely positive.
“It’s fun,” Mueller said. “...it’s a good atmosphere around the rink right now and everyone is just excited to get going. There’s a lot more confidence and a lot more expectations for us this year, and we have them as well."
Gretzky agreed and said it was good to see all the players show up ready to play.
“It was really positive,” Gretzky said. “ It's almost asinine now for a guy to come into camp and not be physically ready to play, in any sport... Our guys are ready to go. The leadership of our team - the older guys - are always focused and always in great shape, and they set a great example for the young guys.” YOTES NOTES
Center Martin Hanzal
skated for about 45 minutes with teammates on Saturday but he was restricted from contact and will continue to be for at least another week as he fully recovers from back surgery in July.
“I felt pretty good,” Hanzal said. “I was really excited to be out there because the last few months were really bad for me what with surgery so now I’m really happy to be back on the ice. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
•It didn’t take long for Fedoruk, whom the Coyotes added via free agency this summer to provide toughness, to show he can throw and take a punch. Fedoruk and rookie Adam Keefe dropped the gloves during the first scrimmage of the camp, and Fedoruk landed several decent shots.
•The Coyotes next practice Sunday at 9 a.m. at Jobing.com Arena. The practice is open to the public.