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Chychrun says Coyotes expect to make playoffs

Defenseman encouraged by healthy knee, additions of forwards Kessel, Soderberg

by Alan Robinson / independent correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jakob Chychrun said the Arizona Coyotes expect to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

"We're built for a playoff run, and we're excited," the defenseman said at the Coyotes' Fan Fest at Gila River Arena on Saturday. "It's tough not to look far ahead. … But we're excited to get the guys playing together and hopefully get some chemistry early.

"We, for sure, expect to be there (in the playoffs), and anything less than that, it's going to be short of our goal."

Last season, Arizona finished with 16 points more than it had in 2017-18 but missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, finishing four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card from the Western Conference.

The Coyotes acquired forwards Phil Kessel and Carl Soderberg this offseason in trades with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Avalanche, respectively.

Kessel, who has scored at least 30 goals six times in the NHL, is expected to upgrade a Coyotes power play that was 26th in the League (16.3 percent) last season; he scored 12 goals with the man-advantage in each of the past two seasons. Soderberg, who scored an NHL career-high 23 goals last season, will add depth at forward.

"We all believe we made some good moves here," Chychrun said. "When you bring in a guy like Kessel, it's huge for the power play. That's an area where we want to improve on. A guy like [Kessel], who's been so consistent on it for a number of years, hopefully it helps us a lot."

Video: 31 in 31: Arizona Coyotes 2019-20 season preview

What also will help Arizona when it opens training camp on Thursday is having a healthy roster after it lost 330 man-games because of injury last season. Among notable players with injuries were goalie Antti Raanta (lower body, 59 games) and forwards Nick Schmaltz (lower body, 40 games) and Michael Grabner (eye, 41 games).

Chychrun was another player who missed time for the Coyotes; he was sidelined for the first 15 games of the season after recovering from right knee surgery in April 2018. He also had knee surgery in August 2017, which caused him to the miss the first 29 games of 2017-18. 

Though Chychrun had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 53 games last season, he said he was severely restricted because of tendinitis that caused pain with every stride of his skates.

"Every time I was on the ice, it was sore. It was frustrating and tough to deal with," Chychrun said. "I just wanted to get through the season and have the summer to kind of let it recuperate and get it stronger for this season. So I'm happy with where I'm at."

Chychrun backed off his usual workout pace to rest for part of the offseason and said he feels rejuvenated entering the season healthy for the first time since he was a rookie in 2016-17. 

"I took a good amount of time off, let it kind of relax, and it was good," Chychrun said. "I mean, I've never done that before. But I think that my body needed it. Sometimes you just have to chill."

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