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Coyotes training camp preview

Hall, Kessel, special teams among keys to watch

by Mike. G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, is taking a closer look at each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Today, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Arizona Coyotes were 33-29-8 (.529 points percentage) in the regular season and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference. They will play the No. 6 seed, the Nashville Predators (35-26-8, .565), in one of eight best-of-5 series.

The Coyotes finished with their highest points percentage in six seasons (.543 in 2013-14) and hope to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight. They went 5-5-0 in their final 10 games; 12 games were not played after the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

"You just want a chance any year to get in because you never know," center Brad Richardson said. "Any team -- there's a lot of parity -- any team can beat any team. I think if we get ready, get in great shape, and get the jump, I don't think there are many teams that would really want to play us."

The Coyotes acquired forward Taylor Hall, who was voted the winner of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2018, in a trade from the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 16. Since the trade, he was Arizona's leading scorer with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 35 games. Goalie Darcy Kuemper was an early candidate for the Vezina Trophy as best goalie in the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his first 24 games, but he sustained a lower-body injury Dec. 19 that kept him out more than two months. He returned Feb. 25 and had a 2.54 GAA and .924 save percentage in four games.


Player to watch

Phil Kessel was acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 29, 2019, and scored 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 70 games for the Coyotes. The 32-year-old forward, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh (2016, 2017), could find his scoring touch in the qualifier series. He has scored 77 points (33 goals, 44 assists) in 87 NHL playoff games, his average of 0.89 points per game sixth among active NHL players with at least 70 postseason games.

Video: BUF@ARI: Kessel cleans up Goligoski shot on doorstep


Biggest question

Can the Coyotes gain the advantage on special teams? If the regular season is any indication, the answer is yes. The Coyotes ranked 18th in the NHL on the power play (19.2 percent), and the Predators were 25th (17.3 percent). Arizona's edge was even more pronounced on the penalty kill, finishing fifth in the NHL (82.7 percent) compared to 29th for Nashville (76.1 percent). Additionally, the Coyotes averaged 6:29 penalty minutes per game, fewest in the League; the Predators were 22nd (8:57).


Injury updates

Brad Richardson, F -- Underwent groin and hip surgery two days after the season was paused and said on June 16 he should be ready for the qualifier series.

Jakob Chychrun, D -- Healthy after missing the last seven games before the pause because of a lower-body injury sustained against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 19.

Conor Garland, F -- Has recovered from a knee injury sustained in a collision with Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot on March 6.

Fresh face

A sleeper offensive contributor could be rookie center Barrett Hayton. The No. 5 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft was limited to 20 NHL games this season, in part because he injured his shoulder playing for Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in January. The 20-year-old scored four points (one goal, three assists) for the Coyotes and led Canada with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in seven games at the WJC.


Telling stat

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored four points (one goal, three assists) in 16 games during the 2012 playoffs, including the winning goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks to give the Coyotes their first series victory since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. Ekman-Larsson is the only defenseman in Arizona/Winnipeg Jets history to score a series-winning goal; the others to do it are forwards Ron Wilson (1985), Gilles Hamel (1987) and Martin Hanzal (2012). 


They said it

"You get out there for the first time in a couple months, you kind of have to reteach yourself how to play goalie. But it comes back quick. By the end of the first ice time, I was feeling pretty normal. ... My goal right now is just to get to the point where I can go all out in training camp and get up to full game speed, and from a couple weeks of that, I'll be ready to go." -- goalie Darcy Kuemper


Projected lineup

Taylor Hall -- Christian Dvorak -- Clayton Keller

Lawson Crouse -- Derek Stepan -- Nick Schmaltz

Conor Garland -- Barrett Hayton -- Phil Kessel

Carl Soderberg -- Brad Richardson -- Vinnie Hinostroza

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Ilya Lyubushkin

Jakob Chychrun -- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Alex Goligoski -- Jason Demers

Darcy Kuemper

Antti Raanta

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