Christian Dvorak

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Coyotes expect Stepan to be ‘true number-one center’

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Derek Stepan is 27 years old and has played over 500 games in the NHL.

Though he has never registered more than 57 points in a single season, the Arizona Coyotes believe he’s the big piece they’ve been looking for.

“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” said GM John Chayka after Friday’s trade with the Rangers. “Our organization has been searching for a true number-one center for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”

Chayka is absolutely right that the Coyotes haven’t had great centers for a while now. Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal were fine players for them, but Jeremy Roenick was their last elite center, and he’s been gone since 2001.

But is it fair to expect Stepan to be a true number one?

Well, the Rangers were reportedly concerned his game was on the decline. And at 27, his prime years are probably behind him.

Also consider the bar for number-one centers in the NHL. It’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, and a few others who rate higher than Stepan.

One could even make the argument that the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup with Stepan because they never had an elite number-one center while he was there. (No disrespect to Brad Richards, but his game was on the decline when he signed in New York.)

So, no, it’s not fair to expect Stepan to be a true number-one center, even if he’s deployed like one next season.

The real hope for a number-one center in Arizona is with Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller.

In the meantime, Stepan will have to do.

After earning Memorial Cup MVP, Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome faces another important offseason

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Dylan Strome began this season in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended it in junior, earning most valuable player honors in the 2017 Memorial Cup.

Strome and his Erie Otters didn’t capture the championship, as their season ultimately ended with a loss in Sunday’s finale. The Memorial Cup title went to the Windsor Spitfires thanks to a dominant performance from Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.

Still, Strome posted 11 points in five games at the Memorial Cup, including a record-breaking seven points in a single game. That was on top of a campaign in which he had 109 points in 57 games combined between regular season and playoffs.

“There are a lot of players who get sent back and have trouble overcoming the disappointment,” Erie’s head coach Kris Knoblauch told NHL.com. “But Dylan has never been like that. That’s a major reason we are here.”

Taken third overall by the Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, Strome began this season with the big club, but after appearing in only seven games with one assist, Arizona made the decision to send its prized prospect back to juniors. (Remember, Strome wasn’t eligible at the time to play in the AHL.)

That 2015 draft was loaded with top-end, first-round talent. It started with Connor McDavid, then Jack Eichel as the top two picks. Strome was third, followed by Mitch Marner at fourth.

The Strome vs. Marner debate and comparisons started well before the draft took place. Marner has played 77 games in the NHL for the Maple Leafs, with an impressive 61 points. Could’ve been rookie of the year had it not been for playing in the same freshman class as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.

Of the top 11 picks in that draft, Strome has played the fewest NHL games so far. But he also plays center, and physical strength, especially at that position, seemed to be a focal point of his development when the Coyotes sent him down earlier in the year. His skating, too, is something Central Scouting had previously identified as needing improvement, even before the draft.

“I think Dylan, physically, it’s going to take him some time,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka earlier in the season. “That’s where we got to — that he needs to get stronger.”

Chayka later added that on-ice performance is what the Coyotes would be keeping track of while Strome was back in Erie. Strome was certainly productive — again. He had a goal and an assist in the Memorial Cup final, before receiving his MVP nod.

Last year, Strome made the Coyotes roster out of training camp, along with other youngsters Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse, and Christian Dvorak.

USA routs Slovakia to win fifth in a row at World Championships

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Just one day after needing to rally past Latvia, Team USA left little doubt on Sunday and played perhaps their most complete game of the World Championships in a 6-1 rout over Slovakia.

The win is the fifth in a row for the United States and has them sitting atop Group A with 15 points.

They have one game remaining in the opening round and that will come on Tuesday when they take on Russia. Russia, which plays Latvia on Monday, is one point back in the group standings.

Johnny Gaudreau led the way for the United States on Sunday with a pair of goals and an assist, giving him a team-leading nine points so far in the tournament.

Arizona Coyotes youngsters Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak also each contributed a goal in the win. Keller, the the Coyotes’ first-round pick in 2016, has been one of the standings out for Team USA in the tournament and has already scored five goals.

Sunday’s game also continued what has been a miserable tournament for Slovakia. Its only win of the tournament was an overtime win against Italy in its tournament opener. In the five games (all losses) since they have been outscored 22-7.

Gaudreau joins Eichel as latest additions to USA’s Worlds roster

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Another big score for USA Hockey on Friday.

Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau — whose season ended earlier Wednesday with a playoff sweep at the hands of Anaheim — told reporters today he’d be joining Team USA for the upcoming World Championships in Germany and France.

Gaudreau’s announcement comes just days after another big name — Buffalo’s Jack Eichelalso agreed to join the squad.

All this makes for a pretty intriguing roster.

USA Hockey has adopted a youth movement, selecting collegiate players like Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen (a Buffalo draftee), Boston University forward Jordan Greenway (a Minnesota draftee), Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork (a Boston draftee) and Daniel Brickley, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State-Mankato.

In addition to those, some quality NHL youngsters are also in the mix: Noah Hanifin, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp and a pair of prized Arizona prospects — Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller. Detroit sophomore Dylan Larkin will also suit up for the Americans.

The 2017 Worlds get underway on May 5.

 

 

‘I don’t think it’s acceptable’: Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is fed up of missing the playoffs

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It’s been five long years since the Arizona Coyotes made the playoffs. If you look at the way their 2016-17 season went, you’d think they probably aren’t close to ending that drought either.

Only two teams finished below Arizona in the standings (Colorado and Vancouver), three teams scored less often than them and only Colorado and Dallas gave up more goals.

For a veteran like Mike Smith, who’s been with the organization throughout these lean years, the situation surrounding the Coyotes is becoming more frustrating.

“It sucks. It’s the NHL. You play to play in the playoffs. When you’re out of the playoffs for five years in a row, I think it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Smith told AZ Central.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s acceptable.”

The 35-year-old has played in 19 NHL playoff games throughout his career with 16 of those coming with the ‘Yotes in 2012.

On the bright side, the Coyotes are stacked with quality young players. Max Domi, Tobias Rieder, Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, Anthony Duclair,  Jakub Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo all have terrific upside. Unfortunately for veterans like Smith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Shane Doan, we don’t know how long it’ll take before those youngsters come together to form a competitive team.

Adding quality veterans could help speed up the rebuilding process.

“We need to add some more veteran pieces,” added Smith. “It’s tough to compete in this league, especially in our division against veteran clubs that have been together for a long time. You throw a lot of kids in the lineup, even though they have improved drastically over the season, it’s tough to win on any given night with as many young players we have in the lineup.”

With captain Shane Doan still undecided about his playing future and Radim Vrbata set to become an unrestricted free agent in July, GM John Cheyka may have to invest a good amount of coin to bring in older players from other teams.