Is it time for the Arizona Coyotes to finally take that leap and become a good hockey club?
There are reasons to believe 2019-2020 could be a very good year for Arizona, not the least of which involves the acquisition of forward Phil Kessel and all the obligatory goal-scoring that comes with it.
It’s not hard to bet against the Coyotes. They are, after all, favourites for the league’s cellar almost every single season. In 2018-2019, they exceeded some expectations and landed ninth in the Western Conference – just outside the post-season cut.
Goal-scoring was the biggest of Arizona’s issues, but Kessel was brought in to counter that and that should kick the likes of Clayton Keller into a higher gear. He led the team in scoring last season with just 47 points, but those numbers should increase thanks to Kessel. And not for nothing, but Keller’s in a contract year.
Nick Schmaltz will also benefit. He was cultivating good chemistry with Keller before a season-ending injury shut things down.
It may seem at first that the arrival of the former Pittsburgh Penguin is jolting expectations a fair bit in the desert, but there’s every reason to believe his arrival could make a massive difference. Kessel had a mountain of points on the power play last season, another area in which the club is in dire need of assistance.
The acquisition of Carl Soderberg, a veteran forward who came up with 23 goals last season in Colorado, will also help.
From this standpoint, Arizona really does boast an impressive top six. With Kessel and Soderberg in the mix and Lawson Crouse due a promotion, the Coyotes can roll two hot top lines and balance it out with gritty, hard-working third and fourth units.
After all, defensively the Coyotes were fine. They finished sixth in goals against last season, thanks in large part to the play of goalie Darcy Kuemper. Having Antti Raanta back in the fold will help, as he was limited to just a dozen games in 2018-2019 and pushed Kuemper into the starting post by necessity.
The Coyotes are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and they’re one of the most exciting. With 2019-2020 fast approaching, they’re also in position to take a leap forward and finally find themselves playoff-bound.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin