It is only one week into the 2015-16 NHL season, but the Arizona Coyotes have already been a surprise team. After turning in their worst performance as the Coyotes last season, they have begun this year with their best start in 12 years. While it is far too early to begin making postseason plans in the desert, there have been several encouraging signs that Arizona is making strides in the right direction.
The Coyotes desperately needed an offensive boost after last year and their young prospects have provided that in a big way to begin this season. The trio of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder have led the way with a combined 16 points in the first four games. Domi and Duclair have not been in the desert for long but they have already carved their names into the franchise’s record books. Domi became the first rookie to have a multi-point game in his debut since the team moved from Winnipeg, while Duclair became the first Arizona rookie to record a hat trick since the 2007-08 season. Meanwhile, Rieder has notched two goals and two assists to begin his sophomore season, proving that his strong showing as a rookie was no fluke. These young players have made Arizona a fun team to watch in the early stages of this season.
The first week has also seen goaltender Mike Smith return to the form he showed in 2012. Smith won his first three starts in net and allowed one goal or fewer in all three games, including one shutout. By comparison, Smith allowed one goal or fewer in only nine of his 62 appearances last year and did not record a shutout. In addition, Smith has allowed just six goals through four games this season, the same number of goals he gave up in his first game of the 2014-15 campaign against the Winnipeg Jets. If Smith can keep turning in strong performances on a regular basis, the Coyotes will continue to shock the league this season.
While the first week has been an overall success, there is still a long season ahead for the Coyotes. The young Arizona squad got their first taste of adversity on Thursday night in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Smith was pulled after giving up three goals on 17 shots and the comeback effort led by Duclair and Domi fell short against former Arizona netminder Devan Dubnyk. There will be some more bumps along the way as the rookies will likely hit a dry spell and Smith will have some off nights in net. However, the Coyotes have served notice to the rest of the league that they are not a team to overlook this year.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.