The Big Four
Only two defensemen made it through the season without the stain of a minus-rating, and the Coyotes allowed 284 goals, the most of any Western Conference team a year ago. There is much to improve in their own end and the Coyotes will look to remedy their defensive zone play with veteran holdovers like Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard.
Jovanovski is the unquestioned leader of the group and can be a force for the Coyotes if he can stay healthy this season. He played in only 54 games last season, but still checked in with 29 points, fourth on the team in scoring.
The real strength of this unit though, might come from a trio of 24-year-olds in Ballard, Brendan Bell and Zbynek Michalek with the Coyotes looking to get as young as possible, as fast as possible. All three could one day anchor the unit, with youngsters like Keith Yandle expected to get a long look again this fall.
Get the point
Jovanovski is the power-play ace of the group, checking in with six extra-man goals last season. He’s been a quality quarterback for most of his career and that’s not going to change any time soon. Boynton also is an offensive defenseman, though keeping with the youth movement, slick puck movers like Michalek and Yandle could also be running a power-play unit before long.
In the Wings
Keith Yandle -- The 21-year-old got a taste of the NHL game in a seven-game cameo last season, but spent the majority of his first pro season with AHL San Antonio where he scored 28 points in 69 games. Still has a lot to learn, evidenced by his minus-15 rating.
Logan Stephenson -- Another 21-year-old who the Coyotes drafted in the second round in 2004. He’s got decent size at 6-foot-3 and seemed to fare better than Yandle, a first-round pick, did in the AHL last year when he posted a steady eight points and finished the year a plus-2 after 73 games in San Antonio.
David Schlemko -- Undrafted free agent, the 20-year-old will battle for a roster spot in training camp this fall. Not monstrous at 6-foot-1, but had a successful run with Medicine Hat of the Western League, posting 58 points in 64 games last year with a plus-12 rating.
Nick Ross -- First-round selection this summer, the 18-year-old will be in training camp and could be a sleeper pick to earn a job in his first pro season.
Ed Jovanovski -- He’s clearly the best defenseman the Coyotes have, but after battling injuries the last few years, particularly an abdominal deal, there’s no telling how many games he’ll play in this season as a 31-year-old. But if he can stay healthy, the Phoenix defense will be a lot more stable than it would be without him. Basically, if Jovo doesn’t dress, a younger guy will, and that younger guy is not going to have as much experience of NHL street smarts as the veteran. No one player may be as important on the blue line as Jovanovski is, and being that he hasn’t played a full season in three years, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.