It’s finally here – the 2017-18 NHL season is officially underway, and, after being off on Wednesday, the Arizona Coyotes will begin their year against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at the Honda Center.
During the preseason, the spotlight was, deservedly so, on rookies such as Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, and Christian Fischer. The trio of youngsters recorded a total of 16 points in a combined 13 preseason tilts, and their emergence has caused some of Arizona’s veteran players to fly a bit under the radar.
At Home on the Wing?
One such player is forward Jordan Martinook. A month into the 2016-17 season, it looked as if Martinook would be the Coyotes’ breakout player of the year. Martinook had recorded five goals and four assists through his first 16 games and was on pace to easily surpass his previous career-highs in every offensive category.
However, when Brad Richardson suffered a season-ending leg fracture on Nov. 17, the Coyotes were left with serious depth issues at center. As a result, Martinook was pressed into duty as one of the team’s four pivots. He filled in admirably in this capacity, but it was clear that the 25-year-old was far less effective offensively in his new role.
In the 61 games that followed Richardson’s injury, Martinook recorded just six goals and 10 assists and won only 45% of the 849 draws he took. Despite his struggles on the offensive end of the ice, Martinook was still a valuable player for the Coyotes – he finished second among all forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game and led all Coyotes forwards with 68 blocked shots.
Now, with Strome, Richardson, Christian Dvorak, Derek Stepan, and Nick Cousins ready for the start of the 2017-18 season, it appears as if the Coyotes are set at center. With vastly improved organizational depth at the position, Martinook should be able to once again play left wing to start the 2017-18 season. Look for the third-year forward to have a big year in the desert.
Will Rieder Score 20?
Like Martinook, fourth-year forward Tobias Rieder has also flown under the radar in the leadup to the start of the regular season. Since breaking into the league three years ago, Rieder has been a model of consistency, dependability, and versatility in Arizona.
He’s missed just two games due to injury during his career and has also proven to be adept at staying out of the penalty box, as he’s taken just 15 minor penalties in 234 career games. Rieder has also been a consistent offensive weapon for the Coyotes – he’s recorded at least 13 goals in each of his three NHL campaigns and has surpassed the 30-point plateau in both of his two full seasons in Arizona.
In addition to his durability and offensive contributions, Rieder has also been a fixture on Arizona’s penalty kill. He’s averaged nearly two minutes per game of shorthanded time on ice during his career and also leads the team with four shorthanded goals and six shorthanded points since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Rieder suffered an ankle injury over the offseason while playing at the IIHF World Championship in Europe, but is now fully healthy and ready for the season after spending the summer on crutches. Could this be the year that he breaks out and reaches the 20-goal plateau? Rieder, who is a free agent after the season, should benefit from Rick Tocchet’s desire to play a faster style of hockey. He’s arguably one of the Coyotes’ fastest skaters, and could emerge as a dangerous scorer in Tocchet’s new system this year. Keep an eye on the 24-year-old – he could make some noise in Glendale in 2017-18.