NEW YORK -- Old school met new school last week when Coyotes captain Shane Doan had lunch with the team's new general manager John Chayka.
Doan, 39, is the grizzled NHL veteran who this season passed Dale Hawerchuk for the most goals (396), power-play goals (125) and points (945) in the history of the Coyotes/Jets franchise. Chayka, 26, is the fresh face in the desert, hired on May 5 as the youngest GM in major-league sports history. When the two met face-to-face, hockey worlds collided for an informal discussion about Doan's future and Chayka's analytical approach to the ongoing reconstruction of the Coyotes.
"He's a really bright kid that has an understanding of the game," Doan told NHL.com. "It's different than my understanding of the game and the fact that he understands the numbers and everything that goes with it. He's very, very eager. I enjoyed the conversation. He knows his stuff."
Chayka said during his introductory press conference the first order of business was bringing back Doan, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Coyotes are trending upwards despite missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. They have a franchise defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They have a core of young forwards including Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Jordan Martinook. Their list of highly regarded prospects include first-round draft picks Dylan Strome (No. 3, 2015) and Brendan Perlini (No. 12, 2014).
Before injuries and inexperience caught up with them, the Coyotes (35-39-8) were a fringe playoff team. They ascended to as high as second place in the Pacific Division and earned 22 more points than last season, but finished fourth, nine points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
"I think it was a little bit of the enthusiasm of playing in the NHL carried us a long ways," Doan said. "But then as the season wears on, the mental preparation of in order to be good, you mentally have to be in the right mindset. That mindset doesn't just naturally happen as the year goes on. It almost becomes harder because you kind of let your guard down a little bit … so it's easy to get yourself up in the beginning."
The Coyotes' evolution will continue when they pick seventh at the 2016 NHL Draft. Though Scottsdale, Ariz. native Auston Matthews is expected to be chosen first by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chayka could make a bold bid to move up and take the center, whose presence would be a boon for attendance and grassroots efforts in Arizona.
"It would legitimize the organization," Doan, who has skated with Matthews the past two summers, said. "If you talk with Auston he'll say the reason he played hockey is because of the Coyotes being in the (Gila River) Valley, so that gives you legitimacy just in the fact it shows you're having an influence on the community. The fact that he's from there … a huge part of playing is belief. And if kids believe in them they could be successful. If you give them somebody that can encourage them and that hope and that belief, it's big. So I think that'd be great for the Valley and for the organization.
"He's capable of being a really good player. Is he capable of being a great player? Time is the only thing that could tell. But he has all the tools. If everything lines up and everything works out well he has a chance to be great. But a lot of things have to line up for that. The coach has to like you, the players that you play with, you have to mix with them right, and you have to be in a situation where you can have success. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't."