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Tocchet Says Roster Not Set in Stone

The Coyotes submitted their list of 23 players to start the 2017-18 season to the NHL on Tuesday

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

GLENDALE -- The Coyotes submitted their 23-man roster to the NHL on Tuesday, two days before starting the 2017-18 season at Anaheim. 

Head Coach Rick Tocchet wants the players whose names are listed on it to realize nothing is set in stone.

"There's nothing set right now," Tocchet said. "There's no entitlement right now. Whoever's there on Opening Night, it doesn't mean they're going to be there the second game. The internal competition is something I like. I don't think anybody should feel comfortable. I don't want people to play stressed on the ice, but you've got to be able to have a comfort level to know that, hey, your job's on the line all the time."

Three rookie forwards - Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer - likely will be in the lineup in Anaheim on different lines. All three played a handful of games for the Coyotes last season.

Keller, whom Arizona drafted seventh overall in 2016, led the Coyotes with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the preseason. He wowed the staff from the first day of camp, and is expected to start at right wing on the top line. 

"Since rookie camp til now, he's gotten better every game," Tocchet said. "He commands the puck. He wants to be that guy. I like that about him, but he's doing that by playing good positional hockey. He's not just freelancing. That's what I like, when your skill players can still play a structured game but still do their thing. I think that's really a testament to his maturity."

Keller played three games for Arizona last season after an impressive freshman season at Boston University.

"I don't think I've surprised myself," Keller said of his eye-popping offensive stats in the preseason. "Every summer I've had a few goals that I wanted to reach. I've been pretty successful at that because if I put the work in then I know good things are ahead. So, I'll just continue to keep working hard and prove myself each day."

Video: Keller Eager for Opening Night

Strome, drafted third overall in 2015, is penciled in to center the third line. 

"He's progressed an inch at a time," Tocchet said. "Obviously he's still got work to do, but he's had some chances and produced some points for us ... I know it's exhibition (season), but I haven't seen him overmatched in his own end - a couple times here and there - but I think he's done a nice job and we'll see where it goes with him."

Strome played seven games for the Coyotes last season before returning to junior hockey where he captained Erie to the Ontario Hockey League championship and a runner-up finish at the Memorial Cup.

"I'm obviously staying in Arizona, whether it's in Tucson or here," Strome said. "So I'm hoping to stay here, and I'm hoping to just prove that I can play here. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get on both sides of the puck and be counted on. In this league, if you make one mistake it's in the back of your net. I found that out quick last year so I'm just going to try to play good defensively."

Fischer, who notched three goals in seven games with the Coyotes last season, skated at right wing on the fourth line at Tuesday's practice. 

"He's creating some energy," Tocchet said. "He's got to work on some skill stuff, but for energy and getting on the forecheck, he's done a nice job."

Fischer is thrilled to be on the Opening Night roster. 

"It feels really good," Fischer said. "Last year I didn't make it out of the gate so it's kind of been a goal of mine. It's an exciting day, but I've got to move on now ... I think what made me stick on this team is just my hard work and my versatile play, whether it be scoring goals or chipping out pucks, blocking shots, playing protection with the puck ... My goal is to help this team win in any way possible."

Forward Zac Rinaldo earned a spot on the roster, but he can't play until after he serves a five-game NHL suspension for a hit to the head he delivered in 2015-16, the last time he played in the League.

Rinaldo is known as a tough guy/pest around the League, but he and Tocchet are confident he can do more than just protect teammates and intimidate opponents.

"I'm a hockey player," Rinaldo said. "Fighting is part of the game, hitting is part of the game, (but) I'm not a one-dimensional player. I have a lot of tools in my bag."

Forward Mario Kempe was the last player cut from the roster. The three-year KHL veteran impressed coaches with his speed. Tocchet hinted that Kempe likely would be called up from the American Hockey League at some point soon. 

"I talked to him yesterday," Tocchet said. "As much as he's disappointed, he's a pro, he understands it. Like I've said, he's in the mix. There's nothing set in stone."

After the roster was announced, Tocchet told reporters he would not name a team captain any time soon.

"The process of the captaincy, I'm not ready for that yet," Tocchet said. "I think it's important that players just worry about hockey. That thing will sort itself out ... I think the process will dictate it. Maybe it's a month from now, maybe it's four months. I don't know."

Tocchet did say he plans to name multiple alternate captains before Thursday's game.  

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