Vancouver Canucks Division Preview: Arizona Coyotes

Apr 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Arizona Coyotes left wing Anthony Duclair (10) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Arizona Coyotes left wing Anthony Duclair (10) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Vancouver Canucks finish 2016-17 behind the Arizona Coyotes, they probably won’t have anything to do with the playoffs.

Remember those years when the Arizona Coyotes were regulars in the NHL playoffs? No? Well, it’s been a while — it was back in the day, when the Vancouver Canucks were still in contention for the Stanley Cup.

Today, the Coyotes are not only going into season five since their last playoff appearance, but they are also in a full-on rebuild. The kind that Canucks ownership really doesn’t want but that seems to work out extremely well in Arizona.

The Coyotes are still a work in progress, but they are developing a great young core around players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder. Going into the 2016-17 campaign, it seems like the team is getting younger and younger, as they are likely to add more blue-chip prospects to the lineup. That youth movement is not only happening in the lineup, but also in management, as the Coyotes hired 26-year-old general manager John Chayka (now 27) — the youngest in the NHL.

Projected Lineup


Max Domi — Martin Hanzal — Anthony Duclair
Jamie McGinn — Dylan Strome — Radim Vrbata
Tobias Rieder — Brad Richardson — Shane Doan
Lawson Crouse — Dave Bolland — Christian Dvorak
Jordan Martinook, Craig Cunningham, Ryan White

The Arizona Coyotes have a ton of new faces on their roster, so it is almost impossible to make any lineup prediction prior to training camp. What you see above is nothing more than a guess, and it should also be treated as such. It does show what we can expect from the team this season, though.

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On the top line, we have Martin Hanzal with Domi and Duclair. The latter duo had a great start into their NHL careers, as Domi’s 52 points ranked second on the team and Duclair’s 20 goals were third-best. They are Arizona’s most dangerous forwards and will most likely build the top line; the only question mark is between them.

Behind that, it’s just a wild mix of youth and veterans. The Coyotes gave up on veteran center Antoine Vermette, but brought 35-year-old Radim Vrbata back after two years with the Canucks. Shane Doan is still one of the club’s top players and the team captain, so he will be relied on just as much as always. Brad Richardson, another ex-Canuck, and Jamie McGinn are the remaining two players providing leadership, as McGinn is one of the oldest players in the offensive group — at 28.

It will certainly be interesting to see whether guys like Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Lawson Crouse can make an immediate impact. If they can, Arizona may compete for sixth in the division. If not, they will likely finish at the bottom.


Oliver Ekman-Larsson — Connor Murphy
Alex Goligoski — Michael Stone
Zbynek Michalek — Luke Schenn
Kevin Connauton, Klas Dahlbeck

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In 2015-16, the Coyotes ranked 28th in goals against. Trading long-time No. 2 Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers at the deadline certainly didn’t help. So, they made sure to improve the position as much as they could this summer.

Arizona signed veteran Alex Goligoski to a five-year contract, and he is expected to make the team better immediately. They also added Luke Schenn and Jamie McBain for depth and re-signed Kevin Connauton, Klas Dahlbeck and Jared Tinordi.

The brightest spot on the ‘Yotes blue line remains Ekman-Larsson, one of the top defensemen in the league. Like last season, his partner will likely be 23-year-old Connor Murphy, who looks ready for a top-pairing job. The defensive group is still far from elite, but having a solid No. 1 and good depth is a nice start. Arizona also used four of their five 2016 draft picks on defensemen.


Mike Smith
Louis Domingue
Justin Peters

Mike Smith has been the No. 1 in the Coyotes’ net for many years. He was never the most consistent goalie, as he had a Vezina-caliber season in 2011-12 and looked like an AHL goalie in other years. But, he was always solid overall; so of course it hurt when he missed around three months after core muscle surgery.

In Smith’s absence, Louis Domingue appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes and looked like an NHL starter in at least half of them. If Smith ever goes down again, Domingue is ready to make an impact. For now, Smith is still the starter, and rightfully so, but that could change very soon.

At No. 3, the Coyotes let go of Swedish goalie Anders Lindback and replaced him with career AHLer Justin Peters. That should be fine unless Smith and Domingue miss significant time simultaneously — which is thankfully unlikely.

Key Players

1. Mike Smith

Smith is now 34 years old with a rookie battling him for the starting job. If that doesn’t push him back to elite performances, who knows what will. The Coyotes improved their defense but will probably spend enough time in their D-zone nonetheless. It will be up to Smith (or Domingue?) to improve last season’s total for goals against.

2. Radim Vrbata

Good ol’ Vrbata wasn’t good enough to earn a new contract with the Canucks, so he returned to Arizona instead. Vrbata’s production took a massive dip in 2015-16, as he recorded just 13 goals and 27 points — his worst numbers since 2004. Will the Coyotes get the Vrbata they know or the one Canucks fans learned to hate?

3. The Young Guns

Domi, Duclair, Rieder, Strome, Dvorak, Crouse. That’s an impressive list of young, NHL-ready talent. However, Strome, Dvorak and Crouse combine for zero NHL games played, Domi and Duclair just played their rookie seasons, and Rieder has two seasons under his belt. Considering that these six could be relied on to carry the team in scoring department, Coyotes fans can only hope they are up to the task.


The Arizona Coyotes have a great group of youngsters in the NHL already, and their prospect pool is one of the best in the NHL. They just added Clayton Keller and Jacob Chychrun to a group that includes Anthony DeAngelo, Brendan Perlini, Nick Merkley, Ryan MacInnis, Christian Fischer and Conor Garland. If you haven’t heard of those names by now, you will likely find out who they are very soon.

Next: Pacific Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the club right now. If everything goes as expected, the Coyotes should finish the season seventh in the Pacific Division. We have to keep in mind that Arizona has several rookies that can make an immediate impact and could lift them a bit higher in the standings. But as long as none of them have ever played in the NHL, we cannot expect more than last place.

All seven Pacific teams want to make the playoffs this season. All seven have a chance, mostly because the division is still rather weak overall, but the Vancouver Canucks shouldn’t have too much trouble with the Coyotes. Shouldn’t.