In this week’s final edition of the Arizona Coyotes 2021-22 offseason player reviews, we’ll take a look a trio of players, the Coyotes’ big three. The final three players are forwards Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz along with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. After a couple underperforming seasons, Keller bounced back in a huge way this season for the team, establishing himself as the team’s star and potential future captain in the process. Gostisbehere who came to Arizona for practically nothing from Philadelphia, saw a career resurgence this past year. Finally, Schmaltz who’s play has been questionable since coming to the desert had himself a record-breaking season full of memorable moments and new career highs.
The trio’s play this past season is, without a doubt, the reason the Coyotes were able to string together some wins, thus establishing themselves as the team’s big three. Without the leadership and accomplishments from these individuals, who knows where the Coyotes would’ve been. With the upcoming season right around the corner, and all three players expected to be healthy when the team kicks off the 2022-23 season, expect them to continue to make an impact and set the path for the Coyotes through their rebuild.
2021-22 Season in Review
This past season was quite the spectacle for the trio. For starters, Keller set new career highs in goals, time on ice, and shooting percentage. He was eight assists and three points shy of setting new career highs in both categories, before unfortunately suffering a lower-body, season-ending injury in the last few weeks of the season. Overall, he recorded 63 points on 28 goals and 35 assists in 67 games while also representing the Coyotes in the All-Star Game for the second time in his career. With a full offseason to rest and get healthy, Keller comes into the season as the team’s star player, looking to pick up where he left off and build on his success from last year.
The biggest headline for the Coyotes this past season was not just Keller establishing himself as the team’s future captain and star player. Nor was it Schmaltz having a breakout season. It was also the arrival of a former Calder Trophy runner-up defenseman from the Flyers. Gostisbehere came to the desert after three poor statistical seasons, where he recorded 37, 12, and 20 points. He had been written off in Philadelphia and came to a rebuilding Coyotes team looking for a fresh start to prove himself. He did just that. In a surprise turn of events, he exceeded expectations, registering 51 points on 14 goals and 37 assists in 82 games. He set a new career high in time on ice and took on a veteran leadership role in the locker room.
Speaking of guys who proved people wrong this season, Schmaltz did just that. In 63 games he registered 59 points on 23 goals and 36 assists. He set new career highs in goals, assists, points, time on ice, and shooting percentage. For fans it was a pleasant surprise to see him break out, after consistency struggles plagued the majority of his time in Arizona so far. He continued to build chemistry with linemate Keller, and set a few milestones along the way, including his franchise-record seven-point performance against the Ottawa Senators.
What the Trio Can Improve On, Build off Of
Despite the contributions the Coyotes got from their big three, there were some areas of focus that will need to be addressed by the trio if they plan to keep up their hot play. For starters, Keller’s biggest area of focus this season needs to be his discipline. For the fourth time in his career, he registered over 20 penalty minutes, recording 28 this past year. He will need to limit those if he wants to continue to progress in his game.
For Gostisbehere his biggest area of focus this season is puck control. Last season he turned the puck over a staggering 78 times and registered a plus/minus rating of minus-23. If he can cut down on the turnovers and manage the puck better, expect a bigger increase in production.
Lastly is Schmaltz. His biggest area of focus for this season is consistency. Too many times since he arrived in Arizona have fans seen stretches in which he’s a very productive player, and many stretches in which he disappears and is nonexistent on the ice. For athletes, consistency is key, and if he can continue to produce at the pace he was in the last half of the season, expect him to be one of the team’s top producers yet again.
While there’s certain areas of focus for each of the three, there’s no denying what they did well and can continue to build off of. Keller continues to prove he’s a star in the league, and he’s just getting started. He moves the puck well, and has a great hockey IQ. He’s a phenomenal two-way player, and that progression showed this past season when he recorded 61 takeaways.
Gostisbehere, on the other hand, is a well-rounded veteran defenseman that has impeccable skill and great hockey awareness. He blocked a whopping 115 shots this past season and laid the body an additional 60 times. His ability to command the blue line is unprecedented. Expect him to take on the veteran role for the Coyotes this upcoming year.
Lastly Schmaltz is a guy who, when on a roll, is unstoppable. He’s a bona fide centerman. His playmaking ability and focus is sharp, taking the puck away 52 times last season, and he has the ability to make others around him better. If he can stay consistent this season, the Coyotes will benefit graciously from it.
Going forward, all eyes will be on Arizona next season in their tank for the highly coveted Connor Bedard. The Coyotes hope to see continued growth from their trio this season. Keller and Schmaltz are both viewed as pieces of the team’s core throughout their lengthy rebuild, and it’s no secret the team wants them both here. The duo have an unbreakable chemistry and bring the best out of each other. Staying healthy for the full season will be the biggest thing for the two this season. They’re both experienced players, with multiple seasons under their belts, and they’ll be tasked with teaching the next generation of Coyotes players like Logan Cooley, Dylan Guenther, and Conor Geekie.
Gostisbehere is a role player on this team but with the lingering possibility of the team moving him and Jakob Chychrun either at or before the trade deadline, he’s not viewed as a piece of the team’s core. Nevertheless, he will be tasked with molding and shaping the next wave of Coyotes defensemen in guys such as J.J. Moser, Victor Söderström, and Maveric Lamoureux. Regardless, this season is an important one for the team. It will mark the end of ”tanking” and mark the beginning of competing for the Central Division in the 2023-24 season. Buckle up, fans, the season is just days away, and begins next Thursday in Pittsburgh.
What do you think of Keller, Gostisbehere, and Schmaltz? Let us know in the comments section below. This concludes the 2022 offseason player review series. We hope y’all enjoyed! Now it’s time to play some hockey!
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Mr. Evans is originally from Greenville, SC where he currently resides. Mr. Evans has been involved in hockey for the past 18 years now, following the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues. During his free time, Mr. Evans enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend as well as being up in the mountains or taking pictures. Prior to joining The Hockey Writers, Mr. Evans previously worked for The Puck Authority, covering the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and FanSided’s Bleedin’ Blue, covering the St. Louis Blues. You can find Mr. Evans on Twitter at @HaynesPEvans.