For the Arizona Coyotes, the upcoming NHL season presents a clean slate following their worst campaign in the desert. The Coyotes have a lot of work to do if they want to snap their three-year postseason drought, including finding a way to generate some more offense. Arizona finished near the bottom of the league in offense last year, with no forward scoring more than 15 goals and only one forward reaching the 40-point mark. The Coyotes have been lacking a true offensive threat since 2012, when Ray Whitney (77 points) and Radim Vrbata (35 goals) played key roles in getting Arizona to the Conference Final.
Here is a look at the top-five scoring forwards for the Coyotes last year:
- Sam Gagner (15 goals, 41 points)
- Shane Doan (14 goals, 36 points)
- Antoine Vermette (13 goals, 35 points)
- Martin Erat (9 goals, 32 points)
- Mikkel Boedker (14 goals, 28 points)
Of those five, two of them are not in Arizona anymore. Gagner was traded at the start of free agency to the Philadelphia Flyers and Erat is headed to the KHL. In addition, neither Boedker (injured) nor Vermette (traded) finished last season playing with the Coyotes, yet they were still among their leading scorers. Doan failed to score at least 20 goals in a full season last year for just the second time since the 1999-2000 campaign and time will tell how much scoring Arizona’s captain has left in him. Doan turns 39 on Oct. 10, the same date that the Coyotes open their home schedule against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The returning veterans will still play a key role in the offense this season, especially with a roster that will be filled with bright young stars. Doan provides two decades of NHL experience and can still be a physical presence on the ice, Vermette is skilled in the faceoff circle and is fresh off a Stanley Cup championship in Chicago, where he scored two of the four game-winning goals in the Cup Final, and Boedker is a speedy forward who was developing into a real offensive threat up front prior to his season-ending injury.
Youth of the Pack
While Arizona’s seasoned forwards have plenty of tricks to teach the rookies, the prospects enter this season already armed with a high talent level. This has already been shown through the first couple of preseason games as Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome have each picked up a goal, while Christian Dvorak had an assist on Jordan Martinook’s shorthanded goal on Tuesday. Max Domi has yet to score in preseason play, although he did score during the first rookie game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 15. Strome, Dvorak and Domi were all in the OHL’s top 10 scorers last season, so there is no doubting their skill and ability to find the back of the net. The question remains: how much of the offensive load will the rookies be expected to carry? Arizona has been exercising patience with their prospects as Domi was kept in juniors last year and Strome could be held back this season. However, if the young forwards can find the scoring touch at the NHL level early, Arizona fans can expect an exciting season ahead.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.