With twenty-nine rookies ready to hit the ice Saturday for the start of the Arizona Coyotes rookie camp, decision makers hope several of these players will be game-changers.
The rookies precede the veteran camp, which is scheduled to begin next Friday, Sept. 18. For now, the advent of rookie camp could represent a significant change in the way the Coyotes play hockey and their persona.
With the second-to-worst record last season in the NHL behind, the team is ready to embark on a fresh approach. The key here, said coach Dave Tippett, is how the rookies’ speed and flash will act as catalyst to overall team improvement. Emphasizing the essential off-season objective was the need to increase team speed and skate with flash, daring and elan, Tippett is the first to recognize ways of the past must change.
“We want to grow as fast as possible,” Tippett said. “We know we’ll get lots of tempo from these guys. To be successful in the NHL, you have to play well in small places. If not, you’re behind. We think the younger players with speed can do this.”
Here at the start, the feeling is Tippett and general manager Don Maloney are putting the rookies on a fast track to succeed. Already, the speed from players like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak was evident in the development camp.
One player who may be behind is Dylan Strome, the Coyotes number one pick in this summer’s draft, and the third selection overall. On draft night, Maloney said the Coyotes were somewhat concerned abut Strome’s lack of speed and the fact he was not a skilled, power skater. That became evident during the rookie development camp in July, and could be accentuated here in training camp.
For all practical purposes, Strome will have a difficult time to gain a full-time job as a center for Arizona. Already penciled in place for the center position is Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Boyd Gordon and either Kyle Chipchura or Domi. Given the Coyotes penchant for player development, Strome, in all likelihood, will return to junior hockey and hone skating skills.
By most counts, there could two to four possible final roster openings and the competition should be aggressive. Not only do Domi and his friends have to compete among one another, the Coyotes also made significant, off-season moves which Maloney hopes will impact their fortunes.
For now, there could be a good bet that Tippett will put Domi between Duclair veteran enforcer Steve Downie. The objective here is protect Domi and Duclair with Downie, but that decision is still weeks away, if this is made at all.
Within the next week, Tippett, Maloney and other decision-makers should get a pretty good idea of the speed and swiftness they sought in the off-season.
An Even Deal
In what appeared a deal with players of like abilities, the Coyotes dealt defenseman Brandon Gormely to Colorado for defenseman Stefan Elliot.
Selected as the 13th pick overall in the 2010 draft, Gormley battled injuries and lack of roster spots for quality playing time. Since drafted, he appeared in only 32 NHL games with Arizona, and 27 came last season.
“I spent a lot of time mulling this trade over,” Maloney told the Coyotes web site. “Elliot and Gormley are very similar in that they’ve yet to establish themselves as an NHL player. We just thought a change of scenery would be good for both and looking at our second power-play unit we thought we could use somebody with Stefan’s playmaking abilities. We’ve all watched video of him and defending in his own end has always been the area that he has to get better in. But I think his puck skill and his ability to move the puck up the ice are strengths of his and that’s why we felt this was a good move for us.”
Elliot, who appears locked in a revolving door simply replacing Gormley, would be the Coyotes seventh defenseman on the roster. He is now listed behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, Klas Dalhbeck, Nicklas Grossmann and Zbynek Michalek.
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.