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Coyotes must fortify offense, will consider trades, free agents, GM says

Chayka discusses healthy Schmaltz, development of top prospects, status of Raanta with NHL.com

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

The Arizona Coyotes improved by 10 wins and 16 points in the standings this season from last season, going 39-35-8, and their 86 points are the most they had in a season since they had 89 in 2013-14.

"We're a resilient group, play hard consistently," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "Defended well; we were a top-five goals-against team (2.68 goals-against per game, tied for fifth). I think when you're trying to build a foundation those are the things you're hoping to generate, build that culture that people are taking about a lot."

The Coyotes failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, largely because they were tied for 28th in the NHL with 209 goals scored.

They did not have a 20-goal scorer -- forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Brad Richardson each had 19 -- and forward Clayton Keller led Arizona with 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists). Forward Nick Schmaltz, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade on Nov. 25, had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games with the Coyotes but he didn't play after Dec. 30 because of a lower-body injury.

"Lot of injuries, a young amount of forwards who need to produce more offensively, but we've got a good base to build from and I'm excited to build off that," Chayka said.

In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com, Chayka discussed his offseason wish list, what young players potentially could play for the Coyotes next season and the status of goalie Antti Raanta.

 

How active do you plan on being this offseason? Do you envision action in free agency or the trade market?

"It's my nature to explore everything, every avenue, in terms of what we feel really adds value to the group. I'm not going to pursue things that are redundant or create negative value. I've looked at everything, namely the trade route at this stage, and we know about the free agent pool potentially and we'll see where that gets to as we evolve through the offseason. But I can't say there's one area or another that we'll be shopping in."

 

Do you have an offseason wish list of areas you need to improve?

"We need to score more goals. How much of that is going to be internal, how much of that we're going to have to go out and find, still working through that. What's the impact of some of our injuries? What's the impact of some of our kids growing and evolving? Those are the big questions. I think obviously if we can add to our forward group that would be something we'd be looking to do. But at the same time the right opportunity has to present itself and we'll execute on it."

 

How much better will you be offensively having a healthy Nick Schmaltz for a full season?

"Nick's a centerman that can skate, make plays through the middle of the ice, carry pucks, transport pucks, elite at gaining zones, on the power play on the half wall, those are all areas that basically, if you look at our deficiencies, he directly addresses them. To have him healthy for a full season, training camp with our staff, all those things, I think it could be a big year for him."

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

 

What's the status of goalie Antti Raanta?

"He's back to being a goalie. By the end of the season there he was practicing, taking shots, being a goalie, which is important because now he has a full offseason to not rehab but move forward. He's in a good place. I think that first year in terms of learning to be a starter and the load it takes was important for him and keep building off of that, keep building up his endurance and strength. When he's in the net he's an elite goalie. We need him in the net. When he's in the net he is as good as there is in the League in terms of stopping the puck. That's the backbone of your team."

 

Is one of the offseason goals determining the right load management for Raanta to keep him available for more than the 12 games he played this season, and the 47 games he played in 2017-18?

"We got Darcy Kuemper who finished the season at an unbelievable rate. He was our MVP down the stretch and proved he could carry a load, play a number of games in a row and still practice hard and be that durable guy you'd like to have. We're in a fortunate position where we feel we have two No. 1's and that allows us to really manage a player's load, put them in position to have success. One of the things we know through tracking some of the biometrics that we do is you add the goalie's load not only in games but in practices and it's exponential compared to a player. It's something that we're cognizant of as we build out our team and excited that we have two guys that can keep each other fresh, healthy and put each other in position to have success."

 

The Coyotes have drafted nine players each of the past two seasons. Have you seen your prospects grow and develop the right way this season, to the point where you could consider them for the NHL roster next season?

"Barrett (Hayton, No. 5 pick of 2018 NHL Draft) is the easy one in terms of taking a big step offensively. Played well at the [2019 IIHF World Junior Championship], mature, smart, 200-foot centerman. Hopefully has a big summer. The nice part of our group is in the past maybe we'd have holes we'd need to fill, and if we weren't able to fill them through free agency or trades we'd have to put a young player in that position. Now for our players to get in and take that next step they've got to take someone's spot and that's good internal competition.

"(Defenseman) Kevin Bahl (No. 55 pick of 2018 NHL Draft) had a good year, went to the (Ontario Hockey League) finals with Ottawa, big part of that team. (Defenseman Pierre-Olivier) Joseph (No. 23 pick of 2017 NHL Draft) continued to grow and evolve and he'll be a pro next year, so excited to see him take that next step. Those are the ones that stood out for us."

 

At No. 14 in the first round of the draft, how big is the pool of players you think could be available for you? And do you have a position in mind to target?

"(Player pool is) pretty large. I think it's tough to predict. We're in a spot where we'll see how it unfolds in front of us. We're confident we'll get a core player; that's our goal, get a core player who can play with us and be part of our group for a long time. If we can accomplish that, we know we've got a lot of good young players already and getting another one at that 14th hole will help us be that sustainable contender for year to come.

"The first round feels like there's some really good forwards up front, some guys that can score, some guys that play with pace. Those are things that are interesting for us. Having said that, we've taken nine defensemen the past two years, if there's a defenseman there it's not like we're averse to doing that. We'll see how it falls in front of us. ... It's one of those things, all things equally, you're going to take the premium position player. Rarely is that the case. We feel good about our center position now with Barrett in the pipeline, Nate Schnarr is turning pro, so we got centers, which is a good position to be in. You want the premium position, but if there's a winger there that can score goals, we just came off a season where we didn't score enough, that's a valuable piece for what we want to do."

 

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