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31 in 31

Three questions facing Arizona Coyotes

Raanta-Kuemper goalie battle, Kessel impact areas of intrigue

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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

 

[Coyotes 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. Who starts in goal?

In 2017-18, Antti Raanta ranked second in goals-against average (2.24) and save percentage (.930) among NHL goalies with at least 20 games played. A lower-body injury limited him to 12 games last season, but backup Darcy Kuemper finished sixth in GAA (2.33) and tied for sixth in save percentage (.925) among qualified goalies.

With each goalie healthy entering training camp, who will get the bulk of the playing time? Or could it be an even split?

"We've got two really good goalies," general manager John Chayka said. "They're two guys that the last two years could have been in consideration for the Vezina voting. ... It's too important not to have two good guys. We've got two good guys that we think are really good. How much they play, injuries, performance, how the team is playing, I think a lot of those things will determine that. They're both capable of carrying a load, there's no doubt about that."

 

2. How much impact will Phil Kessel have?

Kessel, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 29, averaged 27 goals the previous five seasons; no Coyotes player has scored that many in a single season since Shane Doan had 28 in 2015-16.

As much as Kessel lifts the offense, he's lifted the expectations for what the Coyotes can accomplish. They were a top-five defensive team last season tying for the third-fewest goals scored (209) and finished four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. With an offensive upgrade in Kessel, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2012 seems realistic. 

"Right away when we did acquire [Kessel], I had numerous calls from players on our team, young guys, older guys, very excited," coach Rick Tocchet said. "Anytime you get your players excited on something, their energy level goes higher, their focus level goes higher. That's what I look at the most important part on the deal."

Video: 31 in 31: Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 season preview

 

3. Which center slides to the wing?

A healthy Nick Schmaltz and the acquisition of Carl Soderberg in a trade with the Avalanche on June 25 has created a logjam through the middle, along with Derek Stepan, Brad Richardson and Christian Dvorak, as well as top prospect Barrett Hayton.

Chayka said filling the roster with centers is part of his plan to give the coaching staff lots of options. The versatility of the forward group allows Tocchet to be creative when assembling lines, and that will go on throughout training camp.

"They all can play wing," Chayka said. "There's veteran guys who have established themselves as strong 200-foot centers and you typically keep them up the middle. Wouldn't surprise me if any of those guys spend time on the wing. They're going to take draws on their strong side and there's free flow play the way our system is set up, first guy back plays down low and things evolve from there. The one thing about that entire group is they're all very smart players and smart players adapt, learn to play in different situations."

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