2022-23 Arizona Coyotes: Reviewing the Centers

With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final kicking off last night between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, our staff at The Hockey Writers is diving into offseason player/position reviews for the remaining 30 teams who have moved onto the offseason. In the first of what will be a five-part offseason review series, we take a look at the center position for the Arizona Coyotes and how they fared this past year.

Karel Vejmelka, Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton and Nick Schmaltz Arizona Coyotes
Karel Vejmelka, Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton and Nick Schmaltz (The Hockey Writers)

The Coyotes ended the 2022-23 campaign with a total of six centers listed on the roster: Barrett Hayton, Nick Schmaltz, Jack McBain, Travis Boyd, Liam O’Brien, and Laurent Dauphin. With Dauphin leaving for Switzerland this past week and the Coyotes expected to add and potentially subtract from the center position this offseason, we break down each player’s past season and what to expect ahead of next season.

Barrett Hayton

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises late last season was the emergence of Hayton. After starting the season on a low note, registering one goal in the team’s first 33 games, a demotion yet again to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Tucson Roadrunners seemed like a realistic possibility. Instead, the opposite happened. Like a spark of lightning, he caught fire after the All-Star Break. Playing most nights on the top line with Schmaltz and Clayton Keller, he finally seemed to find his groove.

Related: Coyotes’ Hayton Not Done Developing

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He would go on to play his first full season since being drafted fifth overall, registering 43 points in 82 games on 19 goals and 24 assists while logging top line minutes most nights. His goal, assist, and point totals were all new career highs. His line would go on to score 32 goals along with a shooting percentage of 12.5 percent. They were arguably the team’s best line combination and one of the deadliest trios in the league late in the season, despite being a rebuilding team.

If last season was any indication of how next season will go, then expect Hayton to only get better. The days of being labeled a “bust” seem to be all but behind him. Now a core player for the future, he transitions his focus to building off last season while helping the next core of prospects transition to the NHL level. The future is ever so bright, and the Coyotes have themselves what seems to be a bona fide center in Hayton.

Nick Schmaltz

Perhaps the most interesting story to watch this summer will be that of Schmaltz. At 27 years of age, he doesn’t fit the team’s current core, as he’ll be 30 years old by the time the Coyotes are playing competitive and meaningful hockey. After registering 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points in 63 games this past season, which were two goals, one assist, and two points shy of setting new career highs, he may be a likely trade candidate. Add in the fact that he’s never once played a full season, constantly being plagued by the injury bug, and that leaves general manager Bill Armstrong with a tough decision to make surrounding the veteran center’s future with the organization ahead of this month’s 2023 NHL Draft.

Nick Schmaltz Arizona Coyotes
Nick Schmaltz, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While he’s struggled to stay healthy, there’s no denying his chemistry with Keller. His history of being a streaky player will ultimately play a factor if the team decides to move on from him this summer. The Coyotes hold the cards here and have the ability to move him while he’s productive for a fairly good return, or they could possibly keep him around in the desert to help mentor the upcoming wave of Coyotes prospects next season. Only time will tell.

Jack McBain

The player not many expected to stand out, McBain took a more than generous step forward in his development this past season. He established himself as a dominant penalty kill specialist this past season for the Coyotes. He added 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 82 games, all while maintaining a solid role on the team’s second and third lines, where he built solid chemistry with linemates Lawson Crouse and Matias Maccelli.

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Originally traded to the Coyotes from the Minnesota Wild at the 2022 Trade Deadline after declining to sign an entry-level contract with the Wild, McBain settled in quickly, registering three points in 10 games to end the season. Next season will be a big one for him if he wants to secure a permanent role as the team’s second line center. He will need to work on his discipline while also continuing to build on his game if wants to take an ever bigger leap next season.

Travis Boyd

Boyd was an interesting case during the 2022-23 campaign. Originally signed as a free agent after the 2020-21 season, not many expected him to be a contributor, rather a mentor as the team began the process of a lengthy rebuild. What they would get instead shocked everyone. A career high 17 goals, 18 assists, and 35 points in 74 games had heads in the desert turning. Many were interested to see if that would translate over into this season, and while he played a less significant role, he still found ways to deliver when needed.

Travis Boyd Arizona Coyotes
Travis Boyd, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He registered 15 goals and 19 assists in 82 games while cutting down on his penalty taking. He found himself bouncing between the second and third lines with McBain for half of the year. Signed through the end of the 2023-24 season, the Coyotes hope to see Boyd continue to help mentor the next generation while he’s in the Valley.

Liam O’Brien

Fourth line center O’Brien did everything asked of him this past season. He was physical, standing up for his teammates while amassing a staggering 114 penalty minutes. He added 11 points in 56 games on three goals and eight assists, an eight-point increase from the 2021-22 season. He will be tasked with manning the fourth line yet again next season. Slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, the aforementioned “Big Tuna” is coming to an end to his time in the Valley.

Laurent Dauphin

Dauphin is no stranger to the desert. Originally selected 39th overall in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, he played two years in the organization before being dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, only to be dealt back to Arizona less than a year later. He once again found himself on the move two years later, being sent to the Nashville Predators during the 2018-19 season. Four years passed before Dauphin returned for a third stint with the Coyotes, signing as a free agent. He went on to play 21 games this past year, registering one point, before departing North America for Switzerland this offseason, ending his NHL career for the time being.

Looking Ahead

This past season saw six centers suit up for the Coyotes, amassing a total of 174 points. With free agency approaching, trades happening, and the likelihood of some prospects making the 2023-24 opening night roster, next year’s Coyotes center depth could look a tad different perhaps. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you up to date at The Hockey Writers. Next week, we take a look at the left wing position.

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