Coyotes looking to build off strong finish in 2017-18

Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The young talent of the Arizona Coyotes had an adjustment period under new coach Rick Tocchet last season. By the time they made it around the learning curve, any thought of the playoffs had long passed.

Backed by the confidence of a strong finish to 2017-18, key additions and a year in Tocchet’s system under their skates, the Coyotes are hoping to take a straight line to playoff contention this season.

”This is a franchise that’s about to turn a corner,” Coyotes President and CEO Ahron Cohen said. ”We really see this as a sleeping giant.”

Expectations wilted quickly last season when the Coyotes lost their first 10 games and went 9-26 through late December.

A late-season push – 17-9-3- boosted their confidence heading into this season. Those young, talented guys have another year of NHL experience and know Tocchet’s system. A string of offseason moves added scoring and depth. A new captain, locked up in a long-term deal, provides stability.

A bid to make the playoffs – or at least be in contention – is not the longshot it’s been the past six postseason-less years.

”Obviously you’ve got a lot more veteran guys, established guys,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said. ”Our youth has grown up, they’ve had a year or two years in the league, so you expect that they take that next step.”

A few things to look for from the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19:

CAPTAIN OEL: The Coyotes took a big step toward securing their long-term future by signing defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year deal that averages $8.25 million per season. The four-time All-Star had already taken more of a leadership role in the wake of Shane Doan’s retirement before last season and will be counted on even more after being named captain in preseason camp.

”There’s a responsibility that he wants to lead this team into the next level,” Tocchet said. ”He’s also a quality person. Everyone looks at him as a hockey player, but he’s a quality person.”

THE NEW GUYS: A year after making major roster changes, the Coyotes again were busy during the offseason.

Arizona traded feisty and skilled forward Max Domi to Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk and added wingers Michael Grabner and Vinnie Hinostroza. The moves should give the Coyotes scoring depth, with numerous players capable of putting up 20-goal seasons.

”If you go down the list, you go, Oh jeez, this guy can score 18 or this guy can score 24,” Tocchet said. ”If you look up and down the lineup, there are guys with the potential to score these amount of goals. And when you add it all up, is there enough goals to win? Yeah, I think so.”

A big key: Keeping them healthy. Galchenyuk, Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak all battled injuries during preseason camp. Galchenyuk will miss the start of the season and he is week to week with a lower-body injury.

RAANTA’S RETURN: The Coyotes traded for goalie Antti Raanta last season, hoping he would thrive in a No. 1 role. He did – when he was healthy.

Raanta was limited to 47 games last season, but had a winning record, finishing 21-17-6. He had a 2.24 goals-against average and .930 save percentage for a team that gave up plenty of shots, and got better as the season went along.

A healthy Raanta this season could go a long way to keeping Arizona in the playoff picture.

KELLER’S RISE: Forward Clayton Keller got his rookie season off to a fast start, cooled off and finished with a flourish. He was a Calder Trophy finalist and finished the season with 23 goals and 42 assists. The key for his sophomore season: Becoming more consistent.

”Any NHL player – the guy is turning 20 years old – consistency is key,” Tocchet said. ”I’m not saying he’s inconsistent, but the great ones have a bad night and usually the next night they bounce back. That’s one of the things he’s probably going to learn.”

AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scroll Down For:

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

    The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.