The long-awaited return of hockey ends tonight, as the 2021-22 NHL season kicked off yesterday with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural game, a road test against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Arizona Coyotes are just two days away from the start of the season, where they will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. As we inch closer to the season opener, the Coyotes opening night roster has been announced, and speculation on the upcoming season officially begins.
The biggest question this season for the Coyotes is who has a breakout or bounce-back season. One player, in particular, looking to bounce back that everyone should be keeping their eye on this season is forward Lawson Crouse, who’s hoping to have a breakout season after a poor 2020-21 campaign. All signs and early indications predict that he can be a top goal scorer and point leader for the Coyotes this season as they embark on the beginning of their rebuild.
Crouse’s Struggles Last Seasons
To say Crouse was just unlucky last season would be a stretch. After back-to-back 25 point seasons in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the big 6-foot-4 Canadian winger had a significant drop in production this past season, registering four goals and nine assists for a measly 13 points in 51 games. He also struggled to find the back of the net, converting on only 5.7 percent of his 70 shots despite averaging a career-high 14:18 in his 51 games.
As if the lack of production wasn’t already concerning enough, Crouse also couldn’t seem to stay out of the penalty box last season, registering a whopping 46 penalty minutes after totaling 33 the prior season, all while adding a plus/minus of -10 last season, compared to zero the previous season. The Coyotes will need him to limit that number if he intends to be one of the leaders and top point players on the team.
Reasons for Optimism
Despite a poor 2020-21 season for Crouse, statistics and analytics suggest he’s due for a big breakout this season. After a hot preseason, registering four goals and an assist, experts believe he can be a bigger part of a struggling/rebuilding Coyotes team this season. In addition, he showcased solid line chemistry with Barrett Hayton and Clayton Keller before he went down with an injury.
Crouse, so far, has shown improvement during a stellar preseason. He shot only 5.7 percent last year, and though his current clip of 44.4 percent is impossible to sustain, it’s clear the adjustments and effort he put into the offseason have, so far, been very effective. Even at a fraction of that percentage, he would prove to be one of the top goal scorers on the Coyotes this season.
The Coyotes have an interesting case here. Viewed as a big-bodied power winger with the ability to physically dominate and contribute offensively, as well as create space for teammates, Crouse’s career has never fully panned out since drafted 11th overall in 2015 by the Florida Panthers. While many believe this year could be a make-or-break season in determining his future with the team, Crouse is set to prove that he can take the next step in his game.
The stats and early preseason showings are in Crouse’s favor, as he’s showcased his early playmaking and scoring abilities so far. While many may not be expecting him to register a 30-40 goal season, the Coyotes are set to prove a lot of people wrong this season, so don’t be the least bit surprised if he finds the back of the net at least 20-25 times this season, especially if he can continue to shoot the puck like he has in preseason.
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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.