Duclair & Rookies Lead Roadrunners past Checkers

The Tucson Roadrunners played the first game of their much-anticipated weekend visit to Gila River Arena in Glendale on Friday night and treated a rowdy crowd of both Roadrunners and Arizona Coyotes fans to an outstanding performance as they used two goals from Kyle Wood, solid goaltending from Adin Hill, and a third-period assist from Anthony Duclair to pick up a 3-2 victory over the visiting Charlotte Checkers. With their victory, the Roadrunners improved their record to 21-13-5 on the season and closed to within six points of the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign.

Friday’s game was Tucson’s first in what has been a busy week for the team — the Roadrunners have made multiple roster moves over the past few days, but the biggest storyline of the week in Tucson was the trade of veteran goaltender Justin Peters and defenseman Justin Hache to the Dallas Stars in exchange for AHL forwards Brendan Ranford and Branden Troock. However, the players that Tucson received in return weren’t the aspect of the transaction that stood out. The fact that the Roadrunners traded away the only veteran goaltender on their roster can be looked at as a sign that the organization has a high level of faith in rookie netminder Adin Hill.

Hill, a 20-year-old rookie who was selected by the Coyotes in the third round of the 2015 draft, has been outstanding this season in Tucson during his first full campaign as a professional. Prior to Friday’s game, he had racked up a record of 11-4-5, a goals-against average of 2.65, and a save percentage of .923 through 20 games this season. After playing well during a four-game stint with the organization last season, Hill has made the most of his opportunity in 2016-17 and appears to have earned the full-time starting gig after just a half-season in Tucson.

The Kids are All Right

In the first game of Tucson’s two-night homestand at Gila River Arena, both Hill and AHL All-Star defenseman Kyle Wood showed why they’ve been garnering so much attention in the Old Pueblo this season. In the Roadrunners’ win over the Checkers, Hill stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced, while fellow rookie Wood scored the game’s first two goals. He opened the scoring with a power-play goal with just 44.4 seconds remaining in the first period and doubled Tucson’s lead 7:08 into the second period when he walked in from the point and ripped a wrist shot past veteran goaltender Michael Leighton from the top of the right circle for his 10th tally of the season.

The Roadrunners then allowed Charlotte to tie the game in the third period with two unanswered goals, but 21-year-old center Laurent Dauphin put the game away with just 21 seconds remaining in regulation after Tyler Gaudet found him wide-open on the right side of the ice. However, although Dauphin will go in the books as the man who put home the game-winning goal, the play likely wouldn’t have happened without an outstanding individual effort from Anthony Duclair.

The second-year pro, who was sent down to Tucson after struggling to score all season with the Arizona Coyotes, danced his way through the Charlotte defense and picked up the secondary assist on Dauphin’s game-winner after making a few slick moves. With three points in six games in Tucson, Duclair has gotten his AHL stint off to a nice start. If he’s able to continue contributing offensively for the Roadrunners, the youngster likely will find himself back in the NHL before too long.

Overall, Coyotes fans that had not yet seen the Roadrunners play this season likely left the arena feeling optimistic about the future of the team. A strong performance in goal from rookie netminder Adin Hill was arguably the catalyst for the team’s victory, while first-year defenseman Kyle Wood stayed in the top-five in AHL defenseman scoring with two more goals on the night. The Roadrunners are already one of the top teams in the AHL’s Pacific Division and should continue to get better as the team’s younger players gain more experience. That’s a scary proposition for the rest of the AHL, and it’s a sign that the Arizona Coyotes’ future is extremely bright as well.