Arizona Rubber

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Coyotes optimistic as 2019-20 NHL season underway

 

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As the 2019-20 season peaks through the NHL curtain, one of the telling stories of the Arizona Coyotes’ campaign may have been written late in training camp.

Coming into the preseason, one of the significant questions to resolve was goaltending. With Antti Raanta out for most of last season, Darcy Kuemper (pictured) emerged and made fans and management nearly forget the terrific second half of the 2017-18 season turned in by Raanta.

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With the new season here, coach Rick Tocchet and other club officials face the issue of allocating significant ice time for each. By the time camp ended in late September, that question seemed resolved.

Raanta lumbered through camp with nagging injuries and eventually placed on the injured reserve list. With his return uncertain, the Coyotes claimed netminder Eric Comrie off waivers from Winnipeg, recalled Adin Hill from the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners and anointed Kuemper as the starter.

Given the reality of losing Raanta for a significant period of time, general manager John Chayka reached out to Kuemper and signed the 29-year old to a two-year contract extension.

Kuemper comes off a stellar season in which he went 29-20-8 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. As the season progresses, the Coyotes will likely rely on Kuemper, whose team-oriented disposition and likable personality serve his teammates well.

Last season up front, the Coyotes were the lone NHL club without a 20-goal scorer and only the Los Angeles Kings (202), Minnesota Wild (211) and Dallas Stars (210) scored fewer goals than the Coyotes’ 213 tallies.

To address the lack of the scoring, Coyotes made two significant additions and one, forward Phil Kessel, has a strong history of producing on the power play. Throughout his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, Kessel’s impact with the man advantage was significant. Over the past three seasons, he produced 108 points on the power play and that represented 44 percent of his overall production.

At the same time, Chayka went out and secured center Carl Soderberg from the Colorado Avalanche. While Tocchet continues to mix and match his lines, the scoring issue remains outstanding.

While the first two games certainly do not forecast the season ahead, the Coyotes had a challenge right out of the gate, scoring only one goal in their first two games.

On paper, the Coyotes seem much improved and injured players, primarily forwards Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak, are ready to bounce back. Coming over from the Chicago Blackhawks, Schmaltz managed 14 points in 17 games before a knee injury ended his 2018-19 season. Still, the Coyotes signed Schmaltz to a seven-year, $40.9 million extension.

Equally worth watching is whether Clayton Keller can bounce back from his remarkable rookie season. Last season, Keller scored only 14 goals, a drop from the 23 goals and 42 assists of his rookie year of 2017-18.

One player who may hold the key to an improved offense could be right wing Vinnie Hinostroza, who pumped in 16 goals last season.

With a blistering wrist shot, Hinostroza has the potential to be a deadly sniper, and the kind of shooter that strikes fear into hearts of opposing goalkeepers.

“My game is hard-working and winning battles with speed,” he said. “There’s no reason why I can’t be one of the guys that scores. Talking with Tocchet and Chayka, they want me to one of those guys, to take a step forward and not be satisfied with the year I had. They are expecting more from me and I’m expecting more from myself.”

While Kessel received the vast majority of attention in the offseason and in camp, a player like Hinostroza could emerge as the Coyotes’ need for greater offensive production.

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Oct. 30, 2019)