Great One Has Coyotes Howling

The Phoenix Coyotes are one of the many franchises in financial trouble in the NHL. However that has not stopped them from building a quality hockey team soon ready to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

While having Wayne Gretzky as part owner and coach brings the team notoriety, many in the hockey world are taking notice of the team’s young core and how quickly the team has shifted from laughingstock to playoff contender.

GM Don Maloney has continued the building from within approach the team started just before he was hired and he has continued to add quality young assets to the organization. But he also managed to find that elusive player to play nets and in the off season added a star forward as perhaps the final big piece to the puzzle to turn the Coyotes into a playoff team.

Now its up to coach Gretzky to continue improving this young squad. The team took major strides last year cutting off over half a goal a game from their goals against in 2007, improving special teams and just molding the team as a more efficient smart unit. Indeed, the acquisition of Bryzgalov as a trustworthy goaltender has brought confidence to the team, but Gretzky has really passionately led this team and been a fine teacher behind the bench.

Now, with the youngsters having a bit of experience, mixed in with some real quality veterans, the Yotes are a team on the rise. Will it be enough?

Lineup

The Yotes are buying into a defensive system and if the kids improve and Jokinen can boost the offence, good times are ahead in Phoenix.

C: Olli Jokinen, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal, Joel Perrault,
RW: Shane Doan, Peter Mueller, Brian McGrattan,
LW: Steven Reinprecht, Daniel Winnik, Dan Carillo, Todd Fedoruk,

Jokinen may be the longest serving veteran player to not play a playoff game, but he brings offence and that should help boost the Yotes who have been rather middle of the road the last few years. He is a point per game player and he gives Phoenix a legitimate number 1 centre.

His presence should help boost the team’s young core. Turris, a highly touted rookie, should fit in nicely as the number 2 centre without the pressure of carrying the team immediately. Hanzal also will face less pressure as a sophmore as he continues to hon his all around game. Him at 6’5 and Jokinen equally as big should provide quality muscle up the middle. Mueller stands to benefit the most from Jokinen as they will likely play together on the top line. Mueller is perhaps their most talented sniper and looks to build on a solid rookie season.

Captain Doan as well will benefit from Jokinen being around. He will finally have some help offensively plus will benefit from the additional leadership Jokinen will bring. Doan has been terrific leading the Coyotes and getting them to buy into Gretzky’s plan. Invigorated by the success of the team, Doan enjoyed his best season and may surpass that this year with more talent around him.

The Yotes are one of the league’s biggest teams up front but the 5’11 Carcillo is their physical leader. With McGrattan and Fedoruk around, Carcillo will be asked to fight less, but still agitate and be aggressive. With him, Doan, Mueller, Jokinen, Winnik, there are plenty of players willing to throw their weight around making Phoenix that much more difficult to play against.

D: Ed Jovanovski, Zbeynek Michalek, Derek Morris, Kurt Sauer, Keith Yandle, David Hale, Matt Jones

Jovanovski had a great comeback season last year after a bad beginning to his career as a Coyote. He showed the grit, heart and offensive ability that made him a multi time All Star in Vancouver. Along with Morris, the team has two quality veteran players to lead the top two pairs. Morris is adept at moving the puck and is a great skater but is asked mostly to play a defensive role.

Sauer should help replace some of the minutes lost with Ballard gone and provide a big stabilizing influence on defence. His size and reach should help the team on the PK which was average last season. Hale also offers a bit of size and decent defensive play.

Michalek and Yandle along with Jovanovski give thet team 3 good offensemen. There are high hopes Yandle can be a solid point producer. If he can shore up his defensive game, he should get the kind of playing time he needs to produce.

G: Ilya Bryzgalov, Mikael Tellqvist

The turnaround of the Coyotes coincided with the arrival of Bryzgalov. A steal off waivers, Ilya provided the kind of steady, reliable goaltending this young team needed. Armed with a long term extension and the assurances of being a number 1 netminder, Bryzgalov should continue to florish. Tellqvist provides a reliable backup who can handle a short workload but isnt quite up to the task of being a top number 1 netminder.

Depth

F: Alex Bourret, Steve Goertzen, Chad Kolarik, Olivier Latendresse, Alex Leavitt, Francis Lessard, Derek Nesbitt, Jeff Hoggan, Garth Murray, Mike Zigomanis
D: Drew Fata, Dylan Reese, Sean Sullivan, Ryan Lannon
G: Josh Tordjman

Prospects

After being a franchise that was perennially weak at the draft, the turnaround has been significant and now the Coyotes are armed with very solid young talent.

F: Mikael Boedker, Brett MacLean, Victor Tikhonov, Kevin Porter, Jarred Staal, Envir Lisin, Benn Ferriero
D: Chris Summers, Nick Ross, Michael Stone, Jonas Ahnelov
G: Al Montoya, Joel Gistedt

Their two recent top picks, Boedker and Tikhonov are already on the verge of cracking the Coyote’s lineup. Boedker is only 18 but is a highly skilled offensive winger and with the Yotes looking for some help on the left side, Boedker could fill the bill. He showed more playmaking prowess in junior but has the ability to be a top sniper. Tikhonov is a late bloomer. At age 20, he is probably NHL ready after some time spent in the Russian Pro league. He brings size and skill and is a smart all around player.

Here are some of the Coyotes other prospects:

Al Montoya – knocking on the door. Very big, athletic netminder
Brett McLean – junior scoring star proved he could do it without Tavares
Envir Lisin – Tremendous speed, still needs extensive work defensively
Chris Summers – Solid defensive blueliner in 3rd year in College
Kevin Porter – Hobey Baker winner is smart offensive minded forward

There’s lots of depth in the system and if the team is close, they could perhaps use this depth to acquire some immediate help rather than be sellers come Trade Deadline time.

Prediction – 8th in the West, 17th overall

There is plenty of good happening in Phoenix and the Yotes have emerged as one of the best up and coming teams in the league. Unfortunately not many care to notice and if they dont want to get interested, its their loss. This is an exciting group that could do some really good things for years to come. Gretzky has proven superstars can coach and he is a huge reason for the turnaround. But the commitment of the team to turn to youth, get younger and more skilled and slowly but surely build towards something great is starting to reap some rewards. Those rewards could be their 1st playoff since 2002.


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