As training camp draws near, a number of Coyotes players have begun to assemble for informal skates at Gila River Arena, many taking the ice together for the first time since April. With the offseason coming to a close, we touch base with a few names to catch up on the preceding months and the season ahead.
They're Back: Summer Q&A Series
Derek Stepan is entering his third season with Arizona. The 29-year-old forward appeared in 72 games during the 2018-19 campaign, totaling 35 points with 15 goals and 20 assists, highlighted by his overtime game-winning goal on December 14 against his former team, the New York Rangers.
You're back in Arizona for the upcoming season, how was your summer?
It was good, me and my family go back to Minnesota, we're able to escape the winter by living here during the season and escape the heat by going back during the summer. We have family up in Minnesota too, so the kids are able to see their grandparents, uncles and aunts. My wife and I were able to go on a couple of trips, get back down here for the kids' school, and away we go.
What was the highlight of your time spent away from the rink?
My wife and I had our five-year anniversary, so we went to California for a few days and enjoyed the beaches there, that would definitely be it.
Did you keep in touch or train with any of your teammates during the offseason?
I skated with [Alex] Goligoski a lot, but I trained with a different group. [Goligoski] is a Minnesota Gopher, so he trains at the University of Minnesota, and I'm a [University of Wisconsin] Badger, so I'm not really allowed in those buildings. I trained somewhere else, but I skated with Goligoski all summer.
As far as the upcoming season, what excites you the most?
I think that we're building something here, and we continue to build, last year was a big step. Moving forward, as you build, there are more expectations, and I hope our group can see those expectations and be ready to meet them.
Fighting for a playoff spot up until the second-to-last game in 2018-19, what did you learn from that experience, how is the team looking to build on that?
It was definitely a learning experience, but those games don't mean anything at this point. You can't start the year and say 'we did some good things last year', it doesn't matter anymore, it doesn't carry over. You learn some things, sure, but it's a new year, a clean slate, and you've got to be ready to go.
How do you feel the roster has been improved and rejuvenated with the acquisitions of forwards Phil Kessel and Carl Soderberg?
The big name, Phil Kessel, we need some goal scoring and that's what he does best, I think he's really going to help in that department. I've heard some unbelievable things about what a great teammate [Phil] is and he's got a great relationship with [Rick Tocchet], which always makes things easier. I've played against Soderberg a lot, I don't really know him, I haven't really met him yet, but I know he's a hard guy to play against, he's a good two-way guy, he's been a guy that's been around and knows how to have success, and I think he'll fit into our 'Swedish Mafia' group pretty well.
What is driving your motivation for the coming season?
I think if any season you don't have something that can drive you or motivate you, you don't really last very long. Every year you always have something that sparks you, and I'm most motivated and most excited about what we're building, I've been here since we started the build with [Tocchet] and this is the first year that the ship has continued to grow. We saw improvements from year one to two, and I'm excited to see the improvements from year two to three.
Your goals for the 2019-20 campaign, personal and for the team, what are they?
Your first goal, always as a team, is to make the playoffs. Actually, you probably start further back. Your first goal is to get off to a good start to the season and be in the playoff hunt, the second goal is to make the playoffs, and the third goal is to win round one, round two, round three, and win the Stanley Cup. That, as a group, is always the mindset, and you have to keep in mind that it's not a sprint it's a marathon, so you've got to make sure you chunk it off and make sure that you're doing your job early on.