This is the first of the Short and Sweet Season Previews from Chicago Hockey Now. Thanks to PHNX Sports’ Craig Morgan who provided insights as CHN starts with the Central Division, looking at the Arizona Coyotes.
Last Season: 28–40–14; 70 points
Division Standing: 7th (out of 8)
2023 First Round Picks: Dmitri Simashev (6th overall); Daniil But (12th overall)
The Arizona Coyotes surely look poised to take a step forward this season. Active in free agency, the Coyotes really looked to improve their blue line while also signing Logan Cooley to an entry-level deal to help on the front end. It gives Clayton Keller some help to boot. Upping head coach Andre Tourigny for another three years gives the Coyotes some stability, too.
Everyone is on the same page in Arizona.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 25, 2023
“Tourigny connects with his players and staff on a personal level that extends well beyond superficial talk,” Morgan said. “Nick Bjugstad and Troy Stecher both cited it in their reasons for returning to Arizona this summer in free agency. And when Clayton Keller walked into the Ice Den Scottsdale at the start of development camp, a wide grin crossed his face and he gave his coach a big bear hug that was as genuine as it was telling.”
Player’s Coach? Check. Genuine buy-in? Another check for the box.
There will be some improvement but don’t expect mountains moved. Cooley adds some excitement, similar to Bedard, but this is still a team figuring things out.
Checking in on Former Blackhawks Forward Nick Schmaltz
Schmaltz has been quietly good in the Desert, posting consecutive 50-point seasons while still having three seasons remaining on his deal. Schmaltz has been on the wing more in Arizona due but the real struggle has been staying healthy. If he does, Morgan sees good things for the former Blackhawks center.
“He has the ability to be an 80-point player,” Morgan said. “His stick skills, his speed through the neutral zone and his ability to find soft spots in the offensive zone make him a dynamic and elite offensive player. He could use a little more strength to help him in battles, and to help him withstand the rigors of an 82-game schedule.”
Postseason Chances: Not Quite There
The Coyotes are still a step or two away from making a postseason appearance but they’re still in a strange spot in the rebuild process. Morgan said that the best case scenario is they register 80 points or more while chasing the playoffs close to the conclusion of the season.
“The worst case won’t sit well with the coaching staff or players,” Morgan said. “But it could land them another high pick in the first round. That said, if they backslide, the lack of progress could also precipitate trade-deadline trades of players such as Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker, Travis Kerfoot, Nick Bjugstad, Nick Schmaltz and even goalie Karel Vejmelka.”
If both teams continue to load up on prospects and they hit, it might be quite the tussle in the Central for years to come.