For the Arizona Coyotes, the second half of the 2015-16 NHL season has been frustrating. The Coyotes entered the All-Star break with the third seed in the Pacific Division and now they are in a deep hole in both the Pacific and the wild-card hunt. While it has been painful for Arizona fans to watch the Coyotes stumble this late in the season, there are still parts of this year that show the rebuild is well ahead of schedule. At this time last year, the Coyotes were gearing up for the tank battle to land either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. By comparison, this season has already been a successful one for Arizona, whether they make the postseason or not.
It has been a thrilling first season in the desert for both Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. The two have connected on quite a few memorable goals this season and both have recorded a hat trick in their rookie year. Domi and Duclair, along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, have Arizona’s offense on the verge of something they have not done in 13 years.
Ekman-Larsson currently has 18 goals, while Domi and Duclair are right behind with 17 and 16 goals respectively. If all three can reach the 20-goal plateau, like captain Shane Doan already has, it will be the first time that the Coyotes have had four 20-goal scorers since the 2002-03 season (Doan, Mike Johnson, Ladislav Nagy and Daymond Langkow). The Coyotes had just one 20-goal scorer last season in Ekman-Larsson, so to have a few players reaching or nearing that mark this year is encouraging for Arizona’s offense going forward.
Another impressive part of Arizona’s season is their resiliency. They showed a never-say-die attitude early on and it has persisted into the late months of this season. Despite their current four-game slide, the Coyotes battled four of the top 10 teams in the league and were in every game until the end. While being close does not earn any points in the standings, they are at least giving themselves an opportunity to gain points against the best teams. If the long-term development of this young team continues to be successful, it will not be long before Arizona is among those top teams in the NHL.
There will still be a sense of disappointment in the desert if the Coyotes fail to reach the postseason this year. However, considering how Arizona has fared compared to what was expected to begin the season, there should also be a sense of progress felt. The Coyotes have proven to be a competitive team for most of this season and they are only going to get better when their top prospects come up.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.