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Kessel can fuel Coyotes run for Stanley Cup, Stepan says

Acquisition of high-scoring forward 'monstrous' for Arizona

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Derek Stepan couldn't hold back his enthusiasm about the Arizona Coyotes trading for forward Phil Kessel and said the Coyotes' quest to win the Stanley Cup has been accelerated as a result.

"It's monstrous to get a guy like [Kessel]," the 29-year-old center said Wednesday during Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 set of offseason games featuring NHL players with ties to Minnesota. "It's big. Our management and our coaching staff is pushing the ship in the right direction, and our goal is to compete for the Cup [this] year.

"We went out and got a guy that our team needs; we need some scoring. I don't know if there's a more elite goal-scorer than Phil Kessel in his time in the NHL. You add something like that, it's definitely going to add something to your team."


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Arizona acquired Kessel, defenseman Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph on June 29.

The Coyotes tied for the third-fewest goals in the NHL (209) last season; Kessel had 27 goals in 2018-19 and has scored at least 20 goals in 11 straight seasons and at least 30 six times in that span. The 31-year-old has 823 points (357 goals, 466 assists) in 996 NHL games through 13 seasons with the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Penguins.

Stepan also said the addition of center Carl Soderberg will help improve the Coyotes offense. The 33-year-old center was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Kevin Connauton and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on June 25. Soderberg scored an NHL career-high 23 goals in 82 games last season.

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"Carl Soderberg is a guy I've played a lot of time against and he's a guy that's going to fit right into what we want to do, I think," Stepan said. "Whatever the line combos may be, I think that you can't really go wrong now. We finally got some wingers that everyone's played with or ones that have scored 35 times every season since they came in. I try to work through the chemistry and I hope we can mold together."

The new faces are helping to build excitement in Arizona, but the Coyotes must also stay healthy; they lost 380 man-games because of injury last season and finished four points behind the Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. If their roster can escape injury, Stepan is optimistic they can make a big push.

"Next year will be my 10th [NHL] season and I've never gone through quite what we've gone through in the sense of injuries," he said. "We were right there in the hunt, and internally everyone has to step up their game. Guys that were there last year need to step up a bit and need to produce more, but I love our group's work ethic. I love our group's mindset.

"Since I've been [in Arizona], we've always been trying to push forward and we've been adding piece by piece each year, and I think we kind of developed the identity that [general manager] John Chayka and [coach] Rick Tocchet have been pushing. They want everyone pulling the same rope, and I think once we get these new guys in and get everyone on the same page, we'll be able to do just that."

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