For a fleeting moment, in one game buried deep in its schedule, there was a glimpse into the future of the Arizona Coyotes. For a team struggling to gain victories, to play a full 200 feet and 60 minutes of disciplined hockey and show hope for the long-term, this season has been a clear challenge.
Like a revolving door, the Coyotes shuffled players between the Gila River Arena and their AHL Tucson affiliate two hours south on Interstate 10. There seems to be no right formula for success and no players fitting into roles or line combinations.
Still, decision-makers continued to experiment with younger players and now in late January, management and fans peeked into the future.
What they saw was a combination of speed and grit, tenacity and determination. That force blew into Gila River Arena Saturday and provided a semblance of what the future could hold for this franchise.
True, one player does not grind the fortunes of a franchise, but the play and demeanor of 19-year-old
Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, served as an important window in the Coyotes’ transition to respectability.
At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Fischer, whose physical stature was obvious during his presence on the ice, is considered a solid two-way player. That was the assessment of coach Dave Tippett, who told The Hockey Writers after the Coyotes’ 5-3 win over the Bolts Saturday, Fischer “is a good fit here.”
Scoring his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot, Fischer put the puck in the net in his style of play. Crashing down the slot, and parked just to the left of goalie Ben Bishop, Fischer redirected Jamie McGinn’s pass into his initial tally at 16:25 of the second period and then raised his stick in triumph.
“(Fischer) goes hard to the net and you’ll see many goals from him in a similar manner,” Tippett said. “He’s a smart, hard player, and playing that way is not a determent to him.”
A Dynamic Force
Though he led Windsor of the OHL in scoring last season, Fischer was eligible to turn pro. That’s because he spent two seasons with the USA Under-17 team. During training camp, the Coyotes spoke with Fischer at length about his future and decided he would, at some point during the season, find his way on to the Arizona roster.
For that reason, the team decided to send Fischer to Tucson for two essential reasons. First, this would serve as a vital introduction into the pro-game, and also give Fischer an opportunity to improve his skill level.
With Anthony Duclair not performing anywhere close to his 20-goal season of a year ago, the decision was made to send him to the minors and call up Fischer.
“My game is getting to the net,” Fischer said after Saturday’s game with Tampa Bay. “I have confidence and it was great to be thrown into the mix right away. By the end of camp, it’s pretty much full NHL teams playing there and I felt like I was right in the mix there for obviously competing for a spot. I thought I was making good plays and that I could contribute.”
Window into Coyotes’ Future
When Fischer stepped on the ice for his first shift, he was the seventh Arizona player to make his NHL debut this season. If Fischer represents a window into the future, he was not the only player on displayed Saturday.
Tippett had Fischer skating on the right wing with Alexander Burmistrov, a former number one pick of Atlanta in the 2010 draft, and McGinn. Brendan Perlini, at 20-years-old, stepped into the Arizona line-up and contributed seven goals in his first 21 games. 19-year-old Lawson Crouse has been an important contributor on the fourth line and Tippett paired 23-year-old Connor Murphy with 18-year-old Jakob Chychrun as one-third of the Coyotes’ contingent on defense.
While victories have been difficult and Tippett continuously reminds listeners “it is so hard to win in this league,” pundits did see a look on Saturday into the Coyotes’ transition to younger and productive players.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.