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Coyotes season preview: Need Kuemper healthy, replacement for Stepan

Hayton development, tenacity of new forwards also could determine success

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

The 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps underway, is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Arizona Coyotes, who will play in the West Division.


Coach: Rick Tocchet (fourth season)

Last season: 33-29-8 (.529 points percentage); 11th place in Western Conference, lost to Colorado Avalanche in Western Conference First Round



1. Health of goalies

Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta are a strong combination when they are healthy. Kuemper's 1.97 goals-against average was second in the NHL behind Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins (1.85; minimum 10 games) when he sustained a lower-body injury during an 8-5 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 19, 2019. Raanta was 9-9-1 with a 2.61 GAA, a .922 save percentage and one shutout in 19 games (19 starts) with Kuemper sidelined but was unfit to play during most of a four-game win against the Nashville Predators in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Raanta also has dealt with injury issues, playing more than 33 games in a season once: 47 games in 2017-18, his first season in Arizona. Over the past three seasons, Kuemper and Raanta are tied for first in the NHL in save percentage (.924; minimum 50 games), but Kuemper has played 113 games, Raanta 92. Kuemper is expected to start the season as the No. 1 goalie, but Raanta's importance can't be understated in a 56-game season.

2. Replacing Stepan  

The trade of Derek Stepan to the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 26 for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft leaves a void in the leadership group and an opening at center. The Coyotes signed Derick Brassard (Dec. 30) and Drake Caggiula (Dec. 21) to one-year contracts; each can play center or wing and should vie for time on the second or third line. Barrett Hayton, the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, could be elevated to the second line after scoring four points (one goal, three assists) in 20 NHL games last season. Johan Larsson will get a chance to step up as a leader and be the center on one of the bottom two lines during his first season with Arizona after signing a two-year contract Oct. 10.

3. Fourth line

Larsson, Tyler Pitlick (Oct. 9) and John Hayden (Oct. 9) signed during the offseason to give the Coyotes what Tocchet called "sticky players" and "puzzle guys." They're projected to play on the fourth line and bring tenacity to a skilled team.

Video: 31 in 31: Arizona Coyotes 2020-21 season preview



Making the cut

Dryden Hunt, who has scored 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 63 NHL games, all with the Florida Panthers, signed a one-year, two-way contract Oct. 10. He's a forward with a fast and physical style, the profile that appears to fit what general manager Bill Armstrong said was a desire "to become more prickly." Hunt will be evaluated for a depth role that could help with a condensed schedule.

Most intriguing addition

Brassard has played in three conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers in 2014. He brings postseason experience to a team with only three-time Cup winner Niklas Hjalmarsson and two-time champion Phil Kessel having played beyond the first round. 

Biggest potential surprise

Caggiula will start his fifth NHL season with his third team since signing with the Edmonton Oilers as an undrafted free agent May 7, 2016. Last season he scored 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 40 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he's been limited to 95 games the past two seasons with the Blackhawks and Oilers in part because of injuries. In Arizona he'll be reunited with forward Nick Schmaltz, who led the Coyotes with 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) in 70 games last season. Caggiula and Schmaltz were teammates with the Blackhawks in 2018-19 and at the University of North Dakota from 2014-16. They helped North Dakota win the 2016 NCAA Tournament, with Caggiula named the Most Outstanding Player at the Frozen Four after he scored five points (four goals, one assist) in two games.

Ready to break through

The Coyotes will be thrilled if Hayton can emerge as their first-line center. He had four assists in eight games this season while on loan with Ilves in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, and is healthy after injuring his shoulder while playing for Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Fantasy sleeper

Forward Conor Garland (LW/RW; undrafted on average in fantasy) led the Coyotes with 22 goals in 68 games last season and had 158 shots on goal, tied with Stepan for their second-most behind Clayton Keller's 184. Garland is likely to maintain his top-six role and could increase his goal and power-play point totals with a consistent spot on the first unit (10 PPP last season). Garland could return value in deeper leagues or off the fantasy waiver wire playing for Arizona, which is an overlooked team in fantasy. -- Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Nick Schmaltz -- Christian Dvorak -- Conor Garland

Clayton Keller -- Barrett Hayron -- Phil Kessel

Lawson Crouse -- Derick Brassard -- Christian Fischer

Tyler Pitlick -- Johan Larsson -- John Hayden

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Jason Demers

Alex Goligoski -- Jakob Chychrun

Niklas Hjalmarsson -- Jordan Oesterle

Darcy Kuemper

Antti Raanta

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