From the very first day of preseason, Arizona Coyotes general manager and President of Hockey Operations John Chayka has been vocal about the mentality and mindset he envisions for the team this season. This offseason has been a critical time for the team and, now with the preseason behind them and with a finalized roster, the Coyotes feel confident moving into the 2019-20 season. Head coach Rick Tocchet has voiced his expectations for the team and wants everyone to buy into this mindset.
I feel like we’ve got a group that has something to prove, some guys with chips on their shoulders, and they’re looking to take that next step.John Chayka
He believes the answer to the team’s success this season is “taking a day-to-day approach” and “committing to the process.” This will play a key role in the team’s performance this season and has been present throughout the offseason and preseason. It seems like the Coyotes have struggled to find their team identity, but with the addition of Phil Kessel, this will give the team a boost.
Chayka has every reason to be confident in Kessel and values his ability to be a leader, “A big part of us acquiring him was knowing we’re getting that guy and those big moments. He’s had a lot of success. We’re trying to embrace those expectations and some of that buzz.”
Kessel will absolutely be a key contributor and change the chemistry of the offense. With his veteran presence comes some incredible numbers. the winger ranks fifth among active NHL players in goals (327) and eighth in points (757). He adds an undeniable star factor to the organization, and team president Ahron Cohen said there was a 600% spike in season ticket sales after the trade. Kessel’s presence in Arizona is felt beyond the ice and his leadership will be critical.
Looking into the Future
Kessel was a huge piece in solidifying the Coyotes roster. Having him for three years will impact the team now and in the future. He is committed to helping the team grow and this should give fans something to be excited about.
Chayka refers to the renewed and focused mindset that he hopes will fuel the team this year, “We feel good, this has been a build-up for a number of years now to get to this point, where we feel like we’ve got a strong team, a team that has high expectations… I feel like we’ve got a group that has something to prove, some guys with chips on their shoulders, and they’re looking to take that next step.”
The Coyotes overall record last season was 39-35-8 with 86 points, eliminating them from playoff contention. They have a chip on their shoulder and the team’s motivation couldn’t be higher. With a strong veteran presence from players like Kessel, Brad Richardson, and Nick Schmaltz, there is confidence in these players to step up as leaders and contribute in big ways.
Depth on the Roster
One thing is for sure, the Coyotes are well prepared if they need to fill any holes in the roster. Notable players sent to the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League during this preseason include Michael Bunting, Lane Pederson, and Michael Chaput. With all of these options, the Coyotes are prepared for the season and have depth in their system, which is a luxury not every NHL team has.
One player to watch is Aaron Ness who signed a two-year, two-way contract as a free agent this offseason. This was an absolute win for the Coyotes because it allows Ness time to develop his game and have the opportunity to prove he’s ready for the permanent move to the NHL. He had an impressive preseason and could earn himself a call up at some point this season. Ness was originally drafted by the New York Islanders in the second round (40th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft.
The 29-year-old, 5-foot-10 Minnesota native recorded 5 goals, 50 points, and 40 penalty minutes in 71 games last season with the Hershey Bears (AHL). Ness has played in 47 career NHL games with the Washington Capitals and Islanders. He’s thrived in the Coyotes system and has prior experience playing at the NHL level which is critical.
Ready for the Call-Up
Having a pool of young, talented players is a testament to the Coyotes’ strong draft picks and trade deals, and the Roadrunner’s training and development of their players, preparing them for a potential future in the NHL. It’s easy to get excited about the Coyotes future. This week, Adin Hill was recalled from Tucson and Antti Raanta was sent Tucson on a conditioning assignment.
Last season with the Coyotes, Hill registered a 7-5-0 record with a 2.76 goals-against average, a .901 save percentage, and a shutout in 13 games with the Coyotes. With this call-up before the season opener, the Coyotes have shown their confidence in the young goalie who is projected to be the Coyotes’ future No. 1 netminder. He’s proven himself worthy this preseason and played a big role in last Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers. In that game, Hill posted 38 saves, which was key to their win.
Leaving the Past Behind
The Coyotes have everything they need to be a standout team in the Western Conference in 2019-20. Capping off the preseason with a 4-3 record will fuel the team and motivate them moving into the regular season. Chayka spoke earlier this week on 98.7 Arizona’s Sports Stations Bickley and Marrota,and when asked about the team’s ceiling stated, “The ceiling, the way the team has been built, is we’re trying to win a championship.”
One thing is for sure, the Coyotes have a dynamic and talented roster, and while narrowly missing the playoffs last season, they are determined to leave 2018-19 behind them. They have a group of strong, talented, and motivated young players and a veteran core that can help lead the team and break that ceiling. This season the Coyotes have a chance to get what they deserve and be standouts in the Pacific Division.
I am a sports marketing professional with a solid work history at the ECHL, AHL and NHL level. My experience includes coordinating sponsored promotions and facilitating community outreach events, game day programming, and fundraising initiatives for major and minor league hockey teams and Division 1 college athletics.