GLENDALE – Over the summer, the Coyotes told defenseman Michael Stone they were expecting big things from him in the future as they signed him to a three-year contract extension.
Six weeks into this season, Stone is showing signs of having a breakout year. And on a team loaded with goal-scoring defensemen, Stone is suddenly the leader with six.
Stone, 23, scored a goal Saturday night to trigger a 6-3 Phoenix victory over Tampa Bay on home ice. It was his third goal in the past two games and his sixth of the season in 15 games. Before this season, Stone scored six goals in his first 53 NHL games and not more than five in an NHL season.
Among NHL defensemen, Stone now ranks tied for second with those six goals. Only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson has scored more (7).
“It’s mostly a confidence thing,” Stone said when asked to explain his scoring tear this season. “I’ve been able to be an offensive player mostly at every level I’ve played at, so I think it’s just continuing to build that.”
Lighting the lamp is nothing new for Stone. After the Coyotes selected him with the 69th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, he notched 40 goals over his final two seasons for Calgary in the Western Hockey League before turning pro for the 2010-11 season. In 70 American Hockey League games, Stone has scored 17 goals.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do in the defensive aspect but to be able to play the same offensive kind of role that I’ve been playing throughout my career helps a lot,” Stone said. “I’ve just got to continue to grow my defensive game.”
Head Coach Dave Tippett, who once said Stone reminds him of a young Adrian Aucoin, agrees.
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“He’s a guy that can get in there and get shots through, but we need him to be a good strong defender for us too, especially with the injury situation with (Derek) Morris and (Zbynek) Michalek,” Tippett said.
Stone played a career-high 26:09 in last Thursday’s game at Chicago, in which he scored two goals in a game for the first time in his NHL career.
That performance came just 48 hours after Stone struggled defensively against St. Louis.
“The way I played in St. Louis was disappointing to myself,” Stone said. “I needed to turn that around.”
He did vs. Chicago, and his head coach noticed.
“He continues to improve and defense is probably the hardest position to play for young players,” Tippett said. “Experience is a big part of the improvement, and he continues to get experience in all situations… We think he’s going to be a very good player.”
The Coyotes (14-4-3), who are off to their second best start in franchise history, have scored 73 goals this season. Eighteen have been scored by defensemen: Stone (6), Morris (4), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (4), Keith Yandle (1), David Schlemko (1), Rostislav Klesla (1) and Connor Murphy (1).