Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

Coyotes will be young in ’21-22, but team cautions on rushing too many youngsters to NHL



If there is a single piece of advice to those players navigating through levels of competition, this remains to the ability to persevere.

Sure, players at the junior and college level are anxious to showcase their skills, impress coaches and management, and gain the attention of NHL scouts.

Such hopefuls may be affected by the changing nature of how players are selected and their ability to navigate through the push by NHL general managers to accelerate players from the draft board to the rink.

Since named general manager of the Arizona Coyotes one year ago, Bill Armstrong stands at the crossroads of this change of course. Unlike training camps in the past, Armstrong signed a plethora of rookies and had enough players to create “a development camp.” In the past few seasons, the Coyotes, and many NHL teams, simply constructed a rookie camp, and that proceeded the veterans training camp.

Several teams, including the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights, erected a similar environment, and that prompted the Coyotes to organize the 2021 Rookie Faceoff tournament in mid-September. Now, there is a push to drive toward the future in a different direction.

Due to Armstrong’s acumen, the Coyotes have amassed 11 draft picks in 2022, including seven selections in the first two rounds.

While a changing scenario could provide a quicker path to NHL arenas, Armstrong says, “not so fast.”

There are issues of a fair evaluation and the temptation to move players too quickly.

“That’s a tricky situation,” Armstrong said recently during the Coyotes media day. “What can stifle a player is getting to the NHL too early. It’s a delicate balance of putting a player in here to succeed at the right time and that is a delicate situation. Just because we have that opportunity, that doesn’t mean will insert that player at a point where it could be detrimental to his improvement. Our staff is in place to put players in at the right time and not too early.”

Despite the dynamics of players on a crash course to the NHL or another destination, those making the transition to juniors and college should recognize the “old guard” mentality could still be in place. Armstrong comes from a long hockey past that was weaned on history and tradition.

Players, whose destination is ultimately the NHL still must address a learning curve and an education process.

“When you’re trying to make the change, in my case, from juniors to the pros, whether it’s the AHL or NHL, there is not a whole lot of time to adjust,” said forward Dylan Guenther (pictured), the Coyotes’ top 2021 draft selection. “I feel OK but have to find ways to push through. There is so much to learn. For me, I guess that is to find ways to create time and space. Plus, I need to find ways to move on my feet. I knew the transition here would be challenging, physically.”

Guenther survived the development and rookie camp and found himself with fellow rookie forwards Liam Kirk, Ben McCarthy, Ryan McGregor and Reece Vitelli, defensemen Janis Jerome Moser and Vladislav Kolyachonok and goalie Anson Thornton invited to the veterans training camp.

At 18 years old, though, Guenther is destined to return to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings for the upcoming season.

Yet, his path to the NHL, and for others in a similar age bracket, could be encouraged by the dynamics of moving players faster than in previous seasons.

Then again, pillars of the old school, like Armstrong stand, as a sentinel to possible movement.

Photo/Arizona Coyotes

— Mark Brown

(September 25, 2021)

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