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Coyotes season preview: Kessel, Soderberg added to increase offense

Arizona hopes moves lead to scoring boost, return to playoffs

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

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Arizona Coyotes.

Coach: Rick Tocchet (third season)

Last season: 39-35-8; fourth place Pacific Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Kessel's linemates

One of the biggest questions of training camp will be determining whom right wing Phil Kessel fits best with. Kessel, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 29, scored 27 goals last season and is expected to add some explosiveness to an offense that averaged 2.55 goals per game last season, fourth worst in the NHL. 

Kessel has almost no history with any of the forwards on the Coyotes; he and center Derek Stepan were teammates with the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but Stepan played one game. He's an option, as are Nick Schmaltz and Carl Soderberg. Soderberg, acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on June 25, scored an NHL career-high 23 goals last season.

 

2. Goalie rotation

In Antti Raanta's first season with the Coyotes (2017-18), he was second in the NHL with a 2.24 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 47 games, finishing behind Carter Hutton of the St. Louis Blues in each category (2.09 GAA, .931 save percentage).

Last season, Raanta sustained a season-ending lower-body injury Nov. 27. Darcy Kuemper took over and was sixth in the NHL with a 2.33 GAA and seventh with a .925 save percentage in 55 games.

With each healthy entering camp, Tocchet said he wants to play each enough to keep them fresh.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Kuemper

 

3. Schmaltz's health

Schmaltz was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 25 and had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games before sustaining a season-ending lower-body injury against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 30.

With Schmaltz in the lineup, the Coyotes averaged 2.71 goals per game, 0.16 above their season average. If he remains healthy, the 23-year-old should join Kessel and forward Clayton Keller as the focal points of the Arizona offense.

Video: ARI@ANA: Schmaltz buries Keller's feed for OT winner

 

4. Center depth

The Coyotes have an abundance of natural centers: Stepan, Schmaltz, Brad Richardson, Christian Dvorak, Soderberg and top prospect Barrett Hayton.

Tocchet said his plan at the start of training camp will be to have Stepan and Richardson remain at center and the rest will be determined by line chemistry. General manager John Chayka said he likes the versatility and believes that in Tocchet's style of play, forward position isn't as important as knowing defense responsibilities.

 

5. Changes to penalty kill

The Coyotes tied for the NHL lead in penalty killing (85.0 percent) last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets and were second with 16 shorthanded goals, trailing the Calgary Flames (18). Assistant coach Scott Allen, who oversaw the penalty kill the past two seasons, was not retained; John MacLean now has that responsibility.

Most of the key penalty killers from last season remain, including forward Michael Grabner, who led the NHL with six shorthanded goals. Forwards Richardson, Stepan and Soderberg, and defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers should see increased shorthanded ice time.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Hayton, the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, had 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League last season, and his scoring and youthful energy are needed on a team that was tied for the third-fewest goals in the NHL last season (209). The 19-year-old has played center and wing and is reliable defensively. Among those competing for that spot could be 23-year-old Conor Garland, who had 18 points (13 goals, five assists) in 47 games last season, and 22-year-old Christian Fischer, who has played at least 70 games with the Coyotes each of the past two seasons.

Another rookie who could make an impact is defenseman Victor Soderstrom, the No. 11 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Soderstrom (5-foot-11, 179 pounds) needs to get stronger, but he looked comfortable against older players for Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League last season. The Coyotes have veterans Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun, Demers and Hjalmarsson and could ease in Soderstrom, or he could return to Sweden for another season of development.

 

Most intriguing addition

Kessel is the dynamic scoring threat the Coyotes haven't had since relocating to Arizona from Winnipeg for the 1996-97 season. He's averaged 29 goals the past six seasons; no Coyotes player has scored that many in a season since Radim Vrbata scored 35 in 2011-12.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Dvorak did not play until Feb. 26 last season because of surgery Oct. 19 to repair a torn pectoral muscle. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 20 games after scoring 15 goals in each of his two previous NHL seasons. The 23-year-old has talent that helped him become a big point producer as a junior player. If healthy, he could supply some much-needed secondary scoring.

Video: LAK@ARI: Dvorak deflects in power-play goal

 

Ready to break through

Forward Lawson Crouse was given his most extensive NHL ice time last season (12:57 per game) and responded with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 81 games. He could be in line for a promotion to the top six and possibly power-play time. With his size (6-4, 220) and skill, Crouse has the potential to be a standout.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Kuemper (average draft position: 144.2) was tied with Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL lead in save percentage (.925) among goalies to play at least 50 games and is more of a draft bargain than Raanta (ADP: 108.2). -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Clayton Keller -- Nick Schmaltz -- Phil Kessel

Carl Soderberg -- Derek Stepan -- Lawson Crouse

Michael Grabner -- Brad Richardson -- Vinnie Hinostroza

Barrett Hayton -- Christian Dvorak -- Connor Garland

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Jason Demers

Alex Goligoski -- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Jakob Chychrun -- Jordan Oesterle

Antti Raanta

Darcy Kuemper

Photos courtesy: Arizona Coyotes

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