Dylan Strome

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‘Fun to watch’ — Devils rookie Jesper Bratt off to hot start

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Bovada has released its Calder Trophy odds, and the names on the list shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes tops the list at 9/2, followed by 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier, who recorded his first NHL point for the New Jersey Devils on Monday, and what a thing of beauty that was.

Here’s a look at the list:

Clayton Keller (Arizona): 9/2

Nico Hischier (New Jersey): 5/1

Anders Bjork (Boston): 7/1

Brock Boeser (Vancouver): 7/1

Charlie McAvoy (Boston): 7/1

Alex DeBrincat (Chicago): 8/1

Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia): 9/1

Dylan Strome (Arizona): 9/1

Tyson Jost (Colorado): 12/1

Jakub Vrana (Washington): 20/1

Kailer Yamamoto (Edmonton): 20/1

Again, nothing really out of the ordinary with that list, highlighted by top prospects and first-round draft picks. It’s still early and plenty can change, of course, but there is another first-year player that, if things continue the way they are going, should start to gain more attention throughout the league.

He isn’t a first-round pick.

No, you’d have to scroll all the way down to the sixth round and the 162nd overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft to find this player’s name.

At 19 years of age, Jesper Bratt of the Devils has been able to fly under the radar to some degree because of the addition of Hischier with the top pick in June, and a number of acquisitions made this offseason to upgrade that club’s offense heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

Maybe not for much longer, though.

The first week of the new NHL season isn’t over yet, but so far Bratt leads all NHL rookies with three goals and five points in two games. He scored twice on Monday, as the Devils crushed the Buffalo Sabres.

“He’s a really good hockey player already. He’s young and he just got over here,” said Devils forward Marcus Johansson, per NJ.com. “It’s fun to watch, and I think everyone can agree on that. If he keeps going at this pace, it’s going to be pretty impressive.”

It should be mentioned that he’s currently sporting a shooting percentage of 100. That will, likely at some point in the next few days, begin to go down. Early on, though, he’s been a productive player for a Devils team that made several high profile moves over the past two summers to improve their woeful scoring attack.

There have already been a few surprises to begin this NHL season. You can add the early breakout of Jesper Bratt to that list.

Coyotes send top prospect Strome to AHL

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Before the start of the season Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka said he wants to continue to be patient with prized prospect Dylan Strome.

Chayka said that he wants Strome to be a 200-foot player and that they are trying to bring him along “the right way.” That sort of role asking an awful lot out of a young player, and the Coyotes are trying to make sure he is absolutely ready to take it on before they throw him into the deep end of the pool.

That apparently means an early season trip to the American Hockey League after just two games.

The Coyotes announced on Monday that Strome has been assigned to Tucson of the AHL and that forward Mario Kempe has been recalled. Kempe will be available for Arizona’s game on Tuesday at the Vegas Golden Knights.

Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, has appeared in nine games over the past two seasons (including the first two games this season) recording just a single assist during that time.

At this point the AHL seems like the perfect spot for Strome. He spent the past three seasons making a mockery of the Ontario Hockey League with 315 points (including 104 goals) in only 159 games. But he has also shown that he is probably not quite ready to take on the role at the NHL level the Coyotes are hoping he one day will, so we end up where we are now with an assignment in the AHL.

Deep defense and lots of questions: Examining Arizona Coyotes’ cap situation

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A shift is happening with the Arizona Coyotes, and if this summer is any indication, this might not be a slow evolution.

Faces of the franchise such as Shane Doan, Mike Smith, and (former) head coach Dave Tippett are gone, but just as importantly, the Coyotes are beginning to use their cap space to add NHL-ready players, rather than absorbing other team’s mistakes or problem salaries in exchange for assets.

This post discusses how the acquisition of Jason Demers makes this Coyotes team one to take more seriously in 2017-18, but let’s go the extra mile and examine the team’s salary structure.

(For cap analysis on a growing number of NHL teams, click here.)

That defense

Let’s start with a unit that’s rising among the league’s best, though still a tier below, say, the Nashville Predators’ impressive group.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 26, $5.5 million cap hit through 2018-19

You know a defenseman is a deadly scorer when a 12-goal year is a letdown. For “OEL,” 2016-17 probably qualified as much, and yet he’s still an off-the-charts guy. One of the potential bonuses of a competent Coyotes team would be Ekman-Larsson getting more attention as a true star on the blueline.

About the only problem with Ekman-Larsson is that, like fellow high-scoring Swede Erik Karlsson, that bargain deal won’t last much longer. OEL will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Coyotes snatched him up in the summer of 2018. Really, they’d do so if they’re as smart as they seem.

Alex Goligoski – 32, $5.475M through 2020-21

For all the excitement that surrounds the Dallas Stars seemingly every summer, it sure seems like they might have dropped the ball by letting “Gogo” go. He’s a transition gem and an underrated all-around player; hopefully his game will age well, but at the moment, Goligoski’s a very nice value for Arizona. With 36 points, he wasn’t far behind OEL last season.

Niklas Hjalmarsson – 30, $4.1M through 2018-19

Maybe Connor Murphy will pan out for Chicago, but the Coyotes were reasonable in trading some potential for a “sure thing.” It’s difficult to believe that Hjalmarsson is only 30, considering his remarkable achievements.

As one of the best examples of a modern “defensive defenseman” alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Coyotes can lean on Hjalmarsson for tough matchups, freeing more offensive-minded guys to focus on scoring.

The only bummer is that he, too, only has two years remaining on his resounding bargain of a contract.

Demers – 29, $3.938M through 2020-21

Personally, shaving off 12.5 percent of Demers’ cap hit makes it more palatable by an almost odd degree. He’s another Coyotes defenseman who subtly impresses, and at a reasonable price, one made even more reasonable in parting ways with an expendable piece in Jamie McGinn.

The Coyotes have room to either fill in gaps or, if they need to, replace players who get too expensive.

Jakob Chychrun suffered an injury setback, yet there’s still time to assess where he figures into the bigger picture. Adding some firepower also allows him to ease into the mix in a more organic fashion. GM John Chayka can determine if Luke Schenn, Kevin Connauton, and/or Adam Clendening figure into the equation, as all of those guys are on expiring contracts.

Few teams enjoy defense corps as promising as the Coyotes,’ which must be frustrating for other teams, considering that many of these players were available through trades or free agency (or falling a bit in the draft, in the case of Chychrun).

Flexibility but uncertainty in net

In many cases, you’ll see a team immediately sign an acquired goalie to a new deal or an extension. One fresh example is Frederik Andersen, who signed a five-year, $25M contract before he stopped a single puck for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Chayka didn’t do that, or at least hasn’t done so yet, after acquiring Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers.

That could cost the Coyotes some extra cash if Raanta converts his strong backup numbers to full-time expertise, yet it also gives Arizona room to maneuver if Raanta doesn’t pan out. This also opens the door for Louis Domingue to prove that he’s either a) more than a backup or b) a backup worthy of another contract.

Cheap, young forwards

The Coyotes’ forward group feels a bit like Derek Stepan, Dave Bolland‘s cap hit, and a bunch of potential.

Max Domi enters the final year of his rookie deal with considerable dollars to either gain or lose, especially if Arizona rides it out without an early extension. Anthony Duclair is just one of other forwards with something to prove.

Dylan Strome could be a nice little bargain if he finally works things out. The Coyotes managed to give him a look without burning a year off of his entry-level contract, so they could get three years at a bargain rate if it all starts to “click” at the NHL level.

Really, the Coyotes are counting on some ifs turning into an emphatic “Yes” or two. Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Brendan Perlini all have at least two years left on their ELCs, opening the door for the Coyotes to at least fill out roster spots at a discount.

How effective can this group – which also includes some fledgling veterans – be as soon as 2017-18? If nothing else, they should get a real boost from defensemen who can move the puck.

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Overall, the Coyotes are in an intriguing spot, even if they’ll need to battle to make the playoffs.

From a long-term perspective, the real question might come down to the team’s internal budget. If this team starts to make serious gains, will ownership be able to pay up to keep OEL, Raanta, Domi, and other players?

If the answer isn’t positive, the Coyotes might find themselves in rebuild stages over and over.

At least the foundation looks sturdy this time around.

Yes, you can probably take the Arizona Coyotes seriously now

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Even if you assume that intriguing young defenseman Jakob Chychrun won’t really be healthy until late in 2017-18, the Arizona Coyotes suddenly boast a remarkably promising defense after acquiring Jason Demers.

(Read more about that significant trade here.)

Demers joins a group including stud blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, underrated puck-mover Alex Goligoski, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of the best pure “defensive defenseman” in the game.

Jamie McGinn has quietly put together a solid career, yet his kind are easier to come by in the NHL, a league where competent top-four defensemen are at a serious premium. Just ask Coyotes GM John Chayka.

That top four has something for everyone, and generally boasts the sort of mobile, talented defensemen that are coveted in the NHL.

Ask yourself for a moment: how many teams, particularly in the Western Conference, can confidently say that they have a better defense corps than the Coyotes do right now? The Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames are immediate answers, while the St. Louis Blues likely boast a stronger group, too.

Things get a little fuzzier once you reach down the conference’s ranks.

The San Jose Sharks boast bigger strengths on the high-end with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, but the Coyotes might have them beat from a depth perspective. The Winnipeg Jets boast some interesting talent, yet you wonder if Paul Maurice is really harnessing that potential. And so on.

We can quibble over Arizona’s exact place among those groups, yet it’s difficult to dispute that, suddenly, the Coyotes seem respectable in that area.

They have the makings of a team that can make a surge in other areas, too.

If Antti Raanta can covert strong backup work to full-time difference-making (see: Cam Talbot, Martin Jones), suddenly the Coyotes are that much tougher to score against.

Stepan gives that forward group some credibility, while things could get interesting if Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome take steps forward. And, really, a signing like this might inspire the Coyotes to push to add a little more offense.

(Maybe older guys [who can be more than mere mentors] like Jaromir Jagr or Denis Zaripov deserve at least an exploratory phone call right now?)

There are a ton of “Ifs,” right down to how well Rick Tocchet can mold what, to many, looks like a roster that’s about as polished as a ball of clay.

Don’t be surprised if the Coyotes become a chic dark horse candidate as previews start trickling in, though, either.

Poll: Who will lead Coyotes in points this season?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes lost their leading point producer from last season, as Radim Vrbata signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers when free agency opened last month.

That is 20 goals and 55 points gone from the Coyotes roster.

Behind Vrbata, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson — who is capable of scoring more than 20 goals in a season — finished second on the team in points, while Max Domi wasn’t able to reach his rookie totals mostly due to his sophomore season being interrupted by injury. After scoring 20 goals in 2015-16, Anthony Duclair had a difficult follow-up campaign and eventually saw time in the minors.

General manager John Chayka was busy at the draft, adding to his youthful team by acquiring Derek Stepan from the Rangers with the hopes Stepan will emerge as the team’s No. 1 center this season. In New York for seven seasons, he consistently reached the 50-point mark, achieving it five times.

The Coyotes have a number of young players on their roster, with Christian Dvorak having completed his rookie year and the likes of Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller looking to make a full-time impact this upcoming season. But they’ve also added some veteran players in Stepan up front and Niklas Hjalmarsson on defense. Given the dynamic and the addition of a player like Stepan, it will be interesting to see if the Coyotes attack can improve — they were 27th in the league in goals-for per game — and to see who emerges as the team’s leading point producer in 2017-18.

Now, have your say. Have a candidate not listed in the poll? Feel free to write it in the comments section.