Boedker hitting a new NHL stride as wily Coyote veteran
The Arizona Coyotes are in the midst of a rebuilding project, with its centerpiece a group of very young forwards who will learn on the job in the NHL.
And when Mikkel Boedker takes the ice with Klas Dalhbeck, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder each night, watching the young Coyotes learn the ropes of the league sparks memories of his own.
Just shy of his 26th birthday, Boedker is now an established player, striving to reach his full potential as a star with the Coyotes. But eight years ago, it was an 18-year-old Boedker who joined a rebuilding Coyotes team as part of a group of “young guns” that included current teammate Martin Hanzal and fellow rookies Peter Mueller, Viktor Tikhonov and Kyle Turris with Wayne Gretzky behind the bench.
The 2008-09 Coyotes learned on the job, going 36-39-7, tying for last in the Pacific Division while Boedker had 11 goals and 28 points in 78 games. And while Mueller, Turris and Tikhonov have moved on, Boedker and Hanzal were key members of the 2011-12 Coyotes who won the first division title in franchise history and came within three wins of playing for the Stanley Cup.
“I think there is a little more focus on the players coming in now than there was on us (in 2008),” Boedker said. “They are already scoring important goals and helping us win games and they have a great attitude and mindset. They were a few years older than we were, a little more prepared for what they are experiencing.
“I was 18 and it was tough. You’re trying to find your way every day. They are little more mature and they play a more mature game so I think that helps a lot. With (current coach Dave Tippett), there’s a lot of structure and within our system.”
Boedker has thrived under Tippett’s system, never more so than in the 2012 playoffs when he scored back-to-back, game-winning overtime goals in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Coyotes beat Chicago in six games and didn’t stop until the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings stopped them in five games in the conference final.
“You grab the opportunities that lay at hand,” he said. “They weren’t the two prettiest goals I ever scored for sure. I guess they came at a good time. I’m extremely proud of being a part of that team.”
Tippett has watched Boedker blossom as a player and confidence is a big factor.
“He has gone from a young player that was hoping to be a good NHL player but wasn’t sure if he could do it yet to one that has reached that level,” Tippett said. “He’s now a confident player. He knows he can make a difference in every game. And that’s just progression. He’s a high skill player – not just stick skills and skating skills. He thinks the game very well. He’s progressed now to where he knows he could be a real good player in every game. All young players go through that, but the ones that have the ability to be top players the progression is more profound. You see that in him.”
Rebuilding projects are never fun. The Coyotes traded several key members when the team struggled last year and it could take time for a younger roster to gel over a long season. After going to the playoffs three years in a row, missing them for three seasons hasn’t been easy.
“We are trying to get back to our identity we had when we were a playoff contender every year,” Boedker said. “I think it’s showing on the ice and we are playing some pretty good hockey.”
— Matt Cooper