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Stepan, Coyotes can't wait to get going

Optimism high in Arizona after Galchenyuk trade, Ekman-Larsson extension

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Derek Stepan is excited about the upcoming season for the Arizona Coyotes, and he's not alone.

"Guys can't wait to get started," Stepan said Wednesday at the Da Beauty League, a 4-on-4 summer tournament featuring NHL players with ties to Minnesota.

The 28-year-old forward mentioned the Coyotes' second half of last season as a reason for optimism. Arizona started 0-10-1 but went 17-12-3 after the NHL All-Star Game to finish 29-41-12, 25 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

"Our second half of the season, regardless of how everyone says there was no pressure, we started to come together and have an identity," Stepan said.

That identity changed this offseason.

The Coyotes acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for forward Max Domi on June 15. They signed unrestricted free agent forward Michael Grabner to a three-year contract July 1. They acquired forward Vinnie Hinostroza, defenseman Jordan Oesterle, a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and forward Marian Hossa in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forwards Marcus Kruger, Jordan Maletta and Mackenzie Entwistle, defenseman Andrew Campbell, and the Coyotes' fifth-round pick in 2019 on July 12.

Arizona also signed defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson (eight years) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (two years) to contract extensions July 1.

All that movement with a dose of familiarity has the Coyotes feeling great about themselves.

Video: Grabner on his three-year deal with the Coyotes

"There's a lot more buzz around the team when you have some additions and something to build off from the year before," defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "We played well at the end of last season and it's exciting to keep some of those guys who helped get us there then.

"This year we have that comfort level, which brings confidence from everybody."

Stepan said the addition of Galchenyuk, who had 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games last season, could be key for the Coyotes, who scored 206 goals, second-fewest in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres (198).

"I think you look at stats and stuff like that with our group, and we had a tough time scoring goals," said Stepan, who scored an NHL career-low 14 goals last season. "And [Galchenyuk] scores goals. He scored 30 goals in this league (in 2015-16), he's 24, he's played six seasons, that's a lot of experience, and in order to score that many goals you have to be elite.

"There aren't many guys that can beat goaltenders when goaltenders are square … and this guy's able to do it. I think he'll bring a lot of that element to us. He's flexible, he can play wing, center, he can do a lot of things, so I think he's a great piece."

In addition to the new players, Stepan and Goligoski agreed that having Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson committed to Arizona is important.

"I can't say enough about how much that means for [Ekman-Larsson] and a guy like [Hjalmarsson], who has three (Stanley) Cups, to believe in what we're doing there," Goligoski said. "That's huge. It starts there."

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