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Coyotes Reached 'Another Level' in 2018-19

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

GLENDALE -- The Coyotes scattered for the off-season on Monday morning, just a few days after being eliminated from the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Arizona earned 86 points this season, 16 more than last season and just four behind Colorado, which earned the second wildcard berth in the Western Conference.

"I think this team would have been a good playoff team had they been able to get in," General Manager John Chayka said. "But that's just the next step for us ... I'm proud of the guys. This is the first year we felt like there was a real team environment and everyone was pulling in the same direction (with) similar goals. That's the start of something that you can really build a foundation off of, so I thought they did a real good job in that regard."

Video: Chayka Discusses 2018-19 And Team's Future

Head Coach Rick Tocchet, too, was pleased by the way the players competed in 2018-19. The team is on the right path, he said. 

"For me, it was another level for this organization, another level where we brought ourselves to," Tocchet said of the season. "We squeezed a lot from some players. That's one thing I'm proud of about the staff and the organization, we squeezed a lot from some guys, and some guys found themselves this year, which is really something that they should be proud of."

Video: Tocchet: Coyotes Reached 'Another Level' In 2018-19

Clayton Keller led the team with 47 points, Brad Richardson and Alex Galchenyuk tied for first in goals with 19, and the Coyotes co-led the League in penalty killing with an 85.0 percent success rate and ranked tied for fifth in the NHL in fewest goals against (220).

And then there's Darcy Kuemper, whom the media voted the team's Most Valuable Player. Kuemper played a career-high 55 games in place of injured Antti Raanta and made 22 straight starts at the end of the season. His primary stats ranked among League leaders.

"I prepared to play as much as I could," Kuemper said. "I've always said that I want to earn as much playing time as I can every year, and the way the dominoes fell, I got to play a lot and it was a lot of fun."

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who said he learned a lot during his first season as team captain, led his teammates with passionate play during the team's push to make the playoffs. He notched 14 goals and 44 points overall, and led the team in ice time per game at 23:38, nearly three minutes more than runner-up Alex Goligoski. 

"We took some steps forward in the right direction this year, just from last year," Ekman-Larsson said. "'Toc' has done a really good job building a good culture ... We were in every game and we worked really hard every night, and that gave us a chance to be in games. That's' what we need around here. We need everybody to work hard."

The Coyotes head into the off-season optimistic about the future because they came so close to making the playoffs despite a rash of serious injuries to key players; they lost 380 man games to injury. And only three players are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer: Richard Panik, Calvin Pickard and Mario Kempe.

Although the Coyotes didn't have a 20-goal scorer, they did have 11 players who scored at least 10 goals. That balance keyed team chemistry.

"This group came and worked hard every single day," said Derek Stepan, who finished with 15 goals despite missing time late in the season because of a torn medial collateral ligament in one of his knees. "That's something that you can hang your hat on, and I think it's a real silver lining. The energy that this group brought, and the work ethic, and how we played as a team, you look at our production as a group, each time we won it was a team win."

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