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5 Questions: Arizona Coyotes

Production of Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata could be major factors in making Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Arizona Coyotes:

 
Can Mike Smith remain the No. 1 goaltender?

Smith is healthy after missing three months recovering from abdominal core surgery in December, but the Coyotes will need the goalie who had a .944 save percentage in his final 10 games of 2015-16 while establishing the consistency that's eluded him the past few seasons. If Smith starts slowly, backup Louis Domingue could see an increased role. Domingue, 24, arrived from the American Hockey League last season and went 7-2-0 in his first 11 games. His 15 wins were the most by a rookie goalie since the franchise relocated to Arizona.

 

Can Shane Doan continue to produce in a lesser role? 

Doan turns 40 on Oct. 10, five days before the Coyotes open their season against the Philadelphia Flyers at Gila River Arena. His 28 goals last season were his most since he had 31 in 2008-09. He's back for a 21st season after signing a one-year contract July 12. He was second among Coyotes forwards with an average ice time of 17:44, but he'll be playing more of a depth role behind younger players this season. More of them could be on the way in 2016-17, which could further eat into Doan's ice time.

Video: ARI@NSH: Doan blasts one-timer into the twine

 
Will the third time be a charm for Radim Vrbata?  

Vrbata is back for his third stint with the Coyotes. The right wing scored 27 goals in 2007-08, his first season with the Coyotes, and his personal NHL best of 35 goals with them in 2011-12. He spent the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, but his production tailed off last season, with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 63 games after he had an NHL career-high 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists) in 79 games the prior season playing with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Vrbata, 35, signed a one-year contract Aug. 16 to return to the Coyotes. Whether he's reunited with center Martin Hanzal or plays somewhere else within the top six, the Coyotes are hoping familiarity helps jolt an offense that was 24th in the League at 2.54 goals per game last season.

 

Will Michael Stone be ready to start the season? 

Stone, who signed a one-year contract July 28 that is reportedly worth $4 million, had surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his left knee April 1 after the defenseman was injured during a game against the Flyers on March 26. He skated with Oliver Ekman-Larsson on Arizona's top defense pair last season and is hoping to be ready for the Oct. 15 opener.

Video: PHI@ARI: Stone scores a buzzer beater in the 2nd

 
Will the young players play at or near their potential? 

The door is open for forwards Dylan Strome, 19, and Christian Dvorak, 20, to make the Coyotes out of training camp and have an immediate impact. Strome, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had 37 goals and 111 points in 56 games with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League last season, and four goals and two assists in five games for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Dvorak, playing with London, led the OHL with 52 goals and was second with 121 points in 59 games. He helped the United States win the bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with eight points in seven games, and capped his junior career by helping London win the Memorial Cup. Strome, Dvorak and forward Lawson Crouse, acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers on Aug. 25, had great success as junior players but will have to prove they're ready for an NHL roster spot sooner rather than later if the Coyotes are to contend for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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