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NHL.com 31 in 31: Three Questions Facing Arizona Coyotes

Rick Tocchet's ability to accelerate rebuild among main concerns

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Arizona Coyotes.

The Arizona Coyotes haven't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012, when they made it to the Western Conference Final. The past three seasons have been the most trying, finishing 29th, 24th and 28th in the NHL standings.

That's the bad news.

The good news is the Coyotes have been able to undertake a massive rebuild overseen by the youngest general manager in the NHL, John Chayka, who is 28. There is optimism now, hope that more of the prospects Arizona has acquired will become impact NHL players this season.

The optimism, though, isn't hiding the uncertainty. The Coyotes aren't sure who among their many young players -- potentially nine of whom, each 22 or younger, could be in the opening night lineup -- will be part of the core that is expected to eventually turn them into a winner.

1. Will Rick Tocchet get the most out of the young players?

Tocchet, hired as coach on July 11 to replace Dave Tippett, was brought in largely because of his ability to communicate with players. He had a successful run as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, helping them win the Stanley Cup the past two seasons mainly because he served as the conduit between the players and coach Mike Sullivan. It was common to hear Penguins players, particularly forwards Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, praise Tocchet. Now it's up to Tocchet to communicate with a younger group of players and get the most out of them. He doesn't have to promise a playoff berth this season, but the Coyotes need to show progress for proof that the rebuild is working.

2. Can Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer make an impact?

Strome, Keller and Fischer figure to be the Coyotes' top three rookies this season. Strome could be Arizona's No. 2 center behind Derek Stepan. Keller could be a top-six forward, and Fischer will at least be a top-nine forward with the potential to crack the top six. In many ways, the Coyotes' growth this season depends on the performance of these three forwards. If they make an impact, and other 22-and-under players -- forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Christian Dvorak and Lawson Crouse, and defenseman Jakob Chychrun -- take the next step, the Coyotes will make the strides they're hoping to make.

3. Will Antti Raanta prove to be a No. 1 goalie?

The Coyotes are banking on Raanta, a career NHL backup, to make the leap to being a full-time starter. Raanta, who takes over for Mike Smith (traded to the Calgary Flames), must stabilize the Coyotes. They want to be a team that possesses the puck, but they wanted to be that last season and finished with the worst shot-attempts percentage (45.5) and worst shot-differential (minus-6.3 per game) in the NHL. Raanta should expect to face a lot of shots this season, but that means he'll have a chance to be the difference-maker the Coyotes think he can be.

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