On display during the Arizona Coyotes’ inter-squad game Thursday night in the Gila River Arena was a healthy dose of energy and speed.
Coming from top prospects Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, the pair enthralled the nearly 2,000 hockey die-hards in the desert with tempo, production and promise. The pair combined on two goals in the first 2:28 of the opening period and then settled in to create numerous scoring chances.
If the Coyotes are looking for increased team speed and a penchant for putting the puck in the net, decision-makers can look no further than Domi and Duclair. Then again, that was perceived in the inter-squad contest, but their overall contribution to this team reaches much deeper.
While coach Dave Tippett said afterward that Duclair’s effort of flying around the ice and helping to manufacture scoring opportunities “did not hurt his chances” of making the final cut, he went a bit further. Tippett took time to compare Duclair’s élan around the rink with prospect Jordan Martinook, whom he described as a player with “good structure.” There’s no question that players like Duclair, with their speed and play-making ability get noticed, but there is also another side to development, education and structure.
“Younger players need to think like an NHL player,” Tippett said after the inter-squad game. “What do you do when the puck comes around the wall with two minutes remaining in the game and you have to get the puck out? These are things younger players need to learn.”
For his part, Duclair admits, “I’m an offensive guy,” and that’s the portion of his game which flashes. His on-ice presence with Domi is impressive and the pair complements one another like fish take to water.
“We’re best friends off the ice and the chemistry, when we’re on the ice, is building,” Domi said. “We like to use our speed.”
In the inter-squad game, Domi and Duclair, skating for the Red Team, found themselves deep in the offensive end on many occasions. Early in the game and with the puck in the left face-off circle, Duclair slid the disc through traffic and Domi, positioned to the right of the net, buried a wrist shot over goalie Mike Smith’s left shoulder. About two minutes earlier, Duclair beat Smith in the slot with a blistering shot from 20 feet. These represented the only goals from the White Team in this scrimmage.
Overall, Tippett said the evaluation of these, and others, depends on play during the exhibition games. Pointing out that Duclair and Domi will be linemates Friday night for a preseason game in San Jose, Tippett would not commit on eventual line combinations, nor on Domi and Duclair as future linemates.
While Duclair provided fireworks in the inter-squad game, Tippett said his play during a preseason game earlier in the week against the Kings in Bakersfield, Calif. was not strong. Identifying a few players who stood out in that contest, Tippett said, “Duclair was not one of them.”
For now, the 20-year old from Pointe-Claire, Que. says while his offensive game is strong, he realizes there are other parts which needs to be refined. If Duclair is to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff and solidify a roster spot, improvements are vital.
“I need to play better without the puck,” he said after the inter-squad game. “I have to be better in my end and work on my defensive game. Everything starts in your own end.”
Winger Mikkel Boedker returned to the ice in competition for the first time since he missed the second half of last season due to a spleen injury.
Coach Dave Tippett, experimenting the left-winger with different line combinations, also had Boedker play the right point on the power play. Working with assistant coach Newell Brown and complementing the play of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who will patrol the left point, Boedker said he’s looking forward to a new challenge.
“The biggest thing for me is learning how to get the puck through to the net,” he said after Thursday night’s inter-squad game. “This will take time and it’s a learning process for me. I’m excited about this new part of my game and look forward to helping my teammates.”
Last season, Boedker broke out to a strong start and pumped in five goals in his first three games. When he was injured during a game in Winnipeg on Jan. 18 and lost for the remainder of the season, Boedker scored 14 goals, including three on the power play, in 45 games. With play now at the point and on the wing with the man advantage, his production should increase.
In the inter-squad game, Boedker scored the first time he touched the puck. Converting a pass from Ryan MacInnis into a goal, he scored just 1:09 into the game.
Regardless of the final score in the inter-squad game, coach Dave Tippett wanted to test the new NHL overtime format of three-on-three. As things turned out, he divided the squad into the Red Team and White Team, and the affair ended in a 2-2 tie.
Still, Tippett was able to interchange players and said afterward he is undecided on which way to proceed. Here, Tippett and all NHL coaches, are faced with going with two forwards and one defenseman or one forward and two defensemen.
“For the majority of the time, I think you’ll see two forwards and one defenseman,” he said. “I’ve watched a few games where coaches have used both. For me, that depends on your personnel. I could use different players on different nights.”
When the three-on-three overtime session began, Tippett put out forwards Duclair and Antoine Vermette along with defenseman Ekman-Larsson on one team and forwards Martin Hanzal and Tobias Rieder along with defenseman Zbynek Michalek on the other team.
Players thought the new format was a welcomed change.
“It’s fun, really great,” was the way Boedker described the arrangement. “There’s much more room and it’s exciting. Exciting for us because of more opportunities and exciting for the fans.”
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.