One of the reasons Arizona Coyotes’ general manager John Chayka gave for trading Michael Stone was to create more opportunities for other defensemen.
When Stone was shipped to Calgary on Monday, opportunities opened for Anthony DeAngelo, whom Chayka said would be recalled shortly from the AHL Tucson Roadrunners, and an emerging Jakob Chychrun. The pair of Chychrun, who is 18-years-old, and 23-year-old Connor Murphy represent the core of the Coyotes’ pressing future on the blue line.
Through his rookie season, Chychrun’s speed and intelligent positioning along the boards elevated his play in his own end. Now with Stone moved, an opening to give Chychrun a more defined role developed.
Not that coach Dave Tippet dropped the checkered flag each time Chychrun hit the red line, but Chychurn’s ability to swing behind the defense could foreshadow a larger role in the future. Less than five minutes into Monday’s home game against the Anaheim Ducks, Chychrun slid behind Ducks’ defensemen Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa, took a perfect pass from Ryan White and neatly deposited his fourth goal of the season.
His tally was part of a three-goal, first-period burst by the Coyotes and help propel Arizona to a 3-2 victory over the Ducks before 14,554 in Gila River Arena. Despite the win, the Coyotes remain last in the Pacific Division, and could call for April tee times.
“We’re in a position no one in this organization wants to be,” Tippett told The Hockey Writers after Monday’s win. “That’s where we are at this point, and younger players will get opportunities. It’s up to them to take advantage.”
Heading Into Next Season
While the Coyotes are heading for an early summer, and their playoff hopes were dashed weeks ago, Chychrun represents what Tippett likes about the future. Watching his rookie season unfold, Chayka, Tippett and brass made the decision to elevate Chychurn’s offensive game.
From the Coyotes’ perspective, Chychurn is developing into a reliable and dependable NHL defenseman on both sides of the puck. Careful and measured in his approach, Chychrun’s ability to intelligently read plays is evident. That clearly happened on his goal.
“I saw that (Anaheim captain Ryan) Getzlaf was at the end of his shift,” Chychrun said. “I moved in where he was leaving and (teammate Ryan White) made a perfect pass. I like to use my speed and I was able to jump in where I saw an opening.”
Both Chychrun and Dvorak scored in the opening period and gave the Coyotes an early spark. That was absent from two players team officials hope would continue from strong rookie seasons. Clearly disappointed Anthony Duclair’s season and Max Domi’s slow start, the decision to open up Chychrun’s offensive game is important. Given this window into the future, the 2017-18 season may have already started.
“I’m feeling more confident than I was earlier in the season,” Dvorak said, who scored six goals in his last six games. “I don’t know if the goals are coming in bunches, but good things happen when you work hard.”
Quite an NHL debut
Less than five minutes into the third period and holding a 3-1 lead, Arizona goalie Mike Smith was slammed into the left post. Under the NHL concussion protocol, he was forced from the game. That brought Marek Langhamer into the game, who started the season in the Eastern Hockey League and was recalled from AHL Tucson on Feb. 16. Thrust into his NHL debut, Langhamer allowed a late goal but slammed the door on Sami Vatanen on the edge of the crease with four seconds left to preserve the win.
“It’s tough to come right in,” he said afterward. “I made one save and then fortunate (to stop Vatanen). I’ve worked hard all season, and now it’s paid off.”
Asked if he’ll take a souvenir from his initial NHL game, Langhamer smiled and pointed upward, “in my head, for sure.”
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.