Clayton Keller

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PHT Power Rankings: Bounce-back candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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After looking at the top breakout and regression candidates in our previous offseason PHT Power Rankings, we shift our focus this week to more established players that should be better (and maybe significantly better) than they were a year ago.

Who are among our top-10 bounce-back candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season?

To the rankings!

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. For the majority of NHL players scoring 30 goals in a season would be a huge accomplishment. For Patrik Laine in 2018-19 it was probably a hugee disappointment. He was supposed to challenge Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown but never really came close to doing so. His season was made by one 12-game hot streak in November where he scored 18 goals, then managed just 12 goals in the other 70 games thanks mostly to an uncharacteristically low 6 percent shooting percentage in those games. That is a fluke and will not last. He is too good, too talented, and has too good of shot for it continue.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. He missed the first quarter of the season due to an extended contract negotiation and never really had a chance to get rolling once he returned. Despite the poor production, there were a lot of positive signs that indicate he can (and will) bounce back. HIs possession numbers were outstanding and he still generated a fair number of shots, he was just crushed by a 5.6 shooting percentage. A fresh start and a full season will do him well.

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There is really no way to sugarcoat Doughty’s 2018-19 season — it was bad. Maybe it was the result of playing on a terrible Kings team that had nothing going for it. Maybe it was the fact he is inching closer to his 30th birthday and reaching a point where he will inevitably start to slow down. Maybe it was just a down year. It was probably a combination of all three. Whatever the case, he had a miserable year as the Kings were absolutely steamrolled when he was on the ice. He is too good and has too much of a track record for that to happen two years in a row.

4. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His days as a 35-or 40-goal scorer are probably done but did his career really fall of a cliff that quickly? Scoring 20-25 goals shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation, and if he manages to do that it will be a nice bounce back season and really help a painfully thin Oilers roster.

[Related: Can James Neal bounce-back after tough year in Calgary?]

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. The raw numbers point to a strong season offensively, but there weree a lot of flaws to his game in a lot of areas (5-on-5 and defensively, to be specific). He wasn’t *bad* but he can definitely be a lot better and will no doubt be motivated to show he is still one of the elite players in the league. It is a big year for him in Pittsburgh.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Quick has always been a polarizing player because he’s never been as good as his loudest supporters think he is or as bad as his loudest critics think he is. He’s a perfectly fine starting goalie that’s had two amazing playoff runs. That’s it. He’s not an all-time great and he’s not bad. He’s just … good. For some reason that is difficult for people to accept. No matter what side of the Quick argument you fall on you should probably be willing to acknowledge he is not going to repeat the .888 save percentage he finished last season with. He is WAY better than that.

7. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. There were a lot of shocking things about the Islanders’ turnaround a year ago. One of the more overlooked storylines is that they were able to make the playoffs despite their best and most important returning player — Barzal — regressing almost entirely across the board. After one of the finest rookie seasons we have seen in years, expectations were through the roof for Barzal in year two. He was good, but probably fell short of what was expected of him.

8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Benn’s slower than expected start drew the ire of team CEO Jim Lites even though he was still one of the four or five players on the team that actually produced. Still, it wasn’t the typical Jamie Benn season in Dallas. His 0.68 point per game average was the second lowest of his career (only his rookie season was worse) and a sharp decline from what we are used to seeing from him. The fact that is considered a “down” year is a testament to how good he has been. He is not finished as an elite scorer just yet.

9. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons Rakell was one of the best and most overlooked goal-scorers in the league, scoring at a 37-goal pace per 82 games. He was one of the go-to players for the Ducks offensively and looked to be ready for another huge year this past season. But his down year was one of the many things to go wrong in Anaheim as his offensive production plummeted. A lot of the decline was shooting percentage driven and he should be able to recover from that this season.

10. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. Like Barzal in New York, Keller went through a bit of a sophomore slump for the Coyotes. The good news is he didn’t regress all that much, is still only 21 years old, and has already demonstrated an ability to be a top-line player in the league. If he gets back to the level he was at during his rookie season (or even takes a step forward) it will go a long way toward ending the Coyotes’ playoff drought.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Burning questions for Coyotes in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes.

Let’s ponder three questions about the Coyotes, beyond Phil Kessel handling the pressure and how luck has been such a factor in their recent results …

1. Can the Coyotes stay healthy?

Whether you judge injuries by quantity or quality, the Coyotes rank as one of the teams that were hit hardest by injuries last season.

Sometimes injuries just happen, and pile up, only to regress back to league average over time. Sometimes teams enjoy peculiar luck – good or bad – such as the Capitals’ bewilderingly long stretch of mostly avoiding injuries under Barry Trotz.

The Coyotes have to hope that 2018-19 was a mere anomaly.

In some cases, that’s likely true, and it has to be heartening that Phil Kessel was a borderline ironman on a Penguins team that’s dealt with recurring injury headaches through much of the Sidney Crosby era.

On the other hand, there are certain instances where you fear the worst. Antti Raanta is the clearest example, as there are reasons to worry that last year wasn’t a blip, but was instead a red flag that Raanta simply may not be able to avoid the nagging injuries that can hound a goalie, pushing a would-be starter down to a platoon level, or worse.

Raanta was limited to 47 games in 2017-18, but the 2018-19 campaign was especially grim, as the former Blackhawks and Rangers goalie only suited up for 12 games. While Raanta isn’t ancient, he also isn’t a spring chicken, as he turned 30 in May.

Sometimes injuries morph from sporadic bad luck to just the sad, status quo, so here’s hoping that Raanta can put that behind him.

Either way, the Coyotes should examine how they rest, and how they train. If there are any signs that they’re pushing players too hard, or could improve their odds of avoiding injuries, they should lean into opportunities with sports science.

[MORE: Under Pressure: Kessel | 2018-19 in review | X-factor]

2. What will they get from their goalies?

That Raanta discussion bleeds into this question: as unlucky as the Coyotes were with injuries, they were almost as lucky when it came to the surprisingly elite play of Darcy Kuemper, who’s otherwise been a career backup.

In a more ideal scenario, there could still be some uncertainty, as the dreamy picture would be the Coyotes essentially rolling out two starting-quality goalies in Kuemper and Raanta. That would really be something, especially since they combine for a cap hit barely over $6M.

Other scenarios are far cloudier. What if Raanta simply can’t hold up physically, whether that means that his workload would be limited, or that his career is unraveling in an even more profound way? It’s tough to imagine Kuemper matching his brilliant work from 2018-19, although he does have some potential to be an asset for Arizona.

If the goaltending sinks to a league average level or worse, then it could nullify gains made in other areas.

3. Will their offense sputter again?

Much like the Ducks, the Coyotes’ scoring stats were pretty depressing last season. When it’s 2018-19 and your leading scorer failed to hit 50 points (Clayton Keller generated 47), and no one reached 20 goals, you know that you’re not exactly overflowing with firepower.

Keller suffered through an unlucky year, and Kessel is the type of weapon the Coyotes have rarely deployed over the years, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll still be able to score enough to compete in the modern NHL.

Last season, the Coyotes almost made the playoffs, but succeeded with a tiny margin for error (209 goals scored, 200 allowed), and more offense could help them gain something that’s often underrated in the NHL: easy wins.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kessel has to take Coyotes to next level

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes. 

Every off-season, every single team in the NHL is looking to add some scoring to their lineup. But some teams need that offensive punch more than others. The 2019-20 Coyotes were one of those teams that absolutely needed to add a sniper as soon as possible and that’s exactly what they did.

Last season, the ‘Yotes were hoping that Alex Galchenyuk would be the 30-goal scorer they desperately needed. After all, he had scored 30 just a few seasons ago with Montreal and he possesses all the talent in the world. General manager John Chayka sent Max Domi to the Canadiens to get Galchenyuk, but the trade didn’t work out the way Arizona had hoped. Galchenyuk scored 19 goals and 47 points in 72 games while Domi 28 goals and 72 points in 82 contests.

After just one season, Chayka decided it was time to move on from Galchenyuk so they shipped him to Pittsburgh along with Pierre-Olivier Joseph. In exchange, Arizona got Phil Kessel, Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

For a team that didn’t have a 20-goal scorer or 50-point player last season, landing Kessel is a big deal. The 31-year-old has scored at least 20 goals in each of his last 11 seasons and he’s picked up 70, 92 and 82 points over his last three seasons.

“I think Phil’s one of the best scorers in the League in the past decade; the stats back that up,” Chayka said via NHL.com. “We think we’ve got a lot of good young players that can score more, but to have a guy that’s experienced, that we know going in that can score, he’s been durable, he’s been dependable in terms of putting up point production, that gives a lot of confidence to the entire group.”

Kessel’s arrival has brought plenty of excitement to the front office and more importantly to the fan base. Once he was acquired from Pittsburgh, season ticket sales were up 600 percent compared to the same time last year. They also had a 94 percent season-ticket renewal rate. Those are impressive figures.

Now, the pressure is on Kessel to deliver on the ice. He’s always been a productive player, but he’ll have that added responsibility of being the go-to guy on the ice, which he was in Toronto too, and he’ll have to be one of the key veteran leaders for the young players in the locker room.

Is that something he can handle?

“I haven’t really got to have that in my career,” Kessel said of being a key leader. “I think it’s going to be great. I’m going to do whatever I can to help these guys win and help them improve. The young guys have questions or anything they want to talk about, I’m there to talk about it. Try to get our team better and them better.”

[MORE COYOTES: 2018-19 Summary | X-factor | Three questions]

Kessel’s relationship with head coach Rick Tocchet should help ease his transition to Arizona and the fact that he’s on a team that won’t be the center of attention in the state should also help him feel more comfortable.

Now, it’s all about the veteran winger delivering on the ice. He won’t have the benefit of suiting up on the same team as stars like Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, but he has to find a way to take the Coyotes to the next level. Last year, they missed the playoffs by four points without him. Now that Kessel’s been added, he and the rest of his teammates are going to be expected to make up those four points.

Only four teams finished with fewer goals than the Coyotes last season (Wild, Stars, Kings, Ducks). So if Clayton Keller can bounce back from his difficult sophomore year and Kessel can add to the 19 goals Galchenyuk scored last year, they should be able to produce enough offense to make them competitive. Arizona also had the 26th ranked power play in the NHL last year. That should improve with Kessel in the picture, as 12 of his 27 goals were scored on the man-advantage.

There’s no denying that, on paper, this acquisition is a good one for the entire organization, but it’s now up to Kessel to find a way to make it work on the ice.

Can he do it?

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Arizona Coyotes Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes. 

2018-19
39-35-8, 86 points (4th in Pacific Division, 9th in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Phil Kessel
Carl Soderberg
Beau Bennett

OUT
Alex Galchenyuk
Kevin Connauton
Nick Cousins
Richard Panik
Josh Archibald

RE-SIGNED
Lawson Crouse
Hudson Fasching
Ilya Lyubushkin

2018-19 Season Summary

The Coyotes opened last season by dropping four of their first five games but they found a way to go on a five-game winning streak in late October/early November. The rest of 2018 was very much up and down for them, which is something you’d expect from a young team.

They managed to get really hot in late February/early March, as they won six games in a row and eight of nine contests. Just as they were building momentum in their fight for a playoff spot, the wheels fell off again in March when they dropped seven of their last 11 games that month.

In the end, they ended up missing the playoffs by just four points and they only had one fewer regulation/overtime win than Colorado, who finished in the final Wild Card spot.

It’s easy to look at the Coyotes’ season as a failure, but they’ve clearly built some positive momentum heading into the summer. Head coach Rick Tocchet found a way to get the most out of his group of players. They were so close to the postseason despite not having starting goalie Antti Raanta for most of the season (they used five different goalies last year) and they didn’t have any player hit the 20-goal or 50-point mark in 2018-19 (Yeah, you read that correctly).

Tocchet isn’t the only one that deserves credit. Goalie Darcy Kuemper turned in strong performance after strong performance throughout the campaign. This was Kuemper’s first real opportunity to be a starting goaltender in the NHL and he didn’t disappoint. The 29-year-old finished the year with a 27-20-8 record, a 2.33 goals-against-average and a .925 save percentage. He kept them in the race. Now that Raanta is healthy again, it’ll be interesting to see how the two netminders split starts next season.

[MORE COYOTES: Under Pressure: Kessel | X-factor | Three questions]

Heading into the season, Arizona probably expected a little more production from Clayton Keller. The 21-year-old had 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games during his rookie season, but he followed that up by scoring 14 goals and 47 points in the same amount of games in year two. It’s totally normal for a player to take a step back in the second year of his career, but the diminished production may have been the difference between playing in the playoffs and watching them from home.

And the other thing that hurt the Coyotes was the failed Alex Galchenyuk experiment. GM John Chayka traded Max Domi to Montreal to get Galchenyuk, but he only lasted one year in the desert. Yes, trading him away allowed the team to get Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh, but it must have been hard for the ‘Yotes to watch Domi score over 70 points for the Habs while Galchenyuk managed just 41 points in 72 games. Apparently Chayka saw all he needed to see from the 25-year-old in just one season.

The Coyotes were a nice little story in 2018-19, but they have to find a way to turn the corner this season. They have a new owner, some new players and a coaching staff that has another year under their belt. They have to find a way to get themselves in one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference. Signing Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a long-term deal will help keep them competitive and adding veterans like Kessel and Carl Soderberg should give them a nudge in the right direction, too.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ducks face questions on scoresheet, blue line, behind bench

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks. 

Three questions for you to ponder regarding the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks…

1. Who is going to score? 

This is not the sort of question any team wants to answer. But when you finish the season with an NHL-low 196 goals and with just one player scoring 20 or more, it’s a question that demands an answer for the Ducks.

To illustrate how bad an issue scoring was last season, consider that Ryan Getzlaf was the team’s leading scorer with 48 points. Only one team — the Arizona Coyotes — had a player who led the team with fewer points (Clayton Keller, 47). Jakub Silfverberg’s 24 goals led the team, the third-fewest in the NHL to lead a team behind the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.

You can safely assume that both all three of those teams missed the playoffs. Scoring, at the end of the day, is paramount, and the Ducks need a lot more of it this season if they are to compete and avoid franchise-record losing streaks.

Some of that could come in the form of a bounceback year for Rikard Rakell, who managed just 18 last year after hitting the 30-goal plateau in each of the previous two seasons.

But without any big-name scoring acquisitions this offseason, the team will be looking at some promising prospects to get the job done.

Sam Steel will be one of those guys. He could play as high as the team’s top-line centre, which should give him a couple of good wingers to play with. In 22 games last season — and on a very poor team — he scored six times and added five assists.

Troy Terry will be another. The winger saw 32 games with the Ducks last year, scoring four times on 25 shots and adding nine assists. There could contributions from Max Comtois and Isac Lundestrom as well, depending on how training camp battles play out.

What’s certain is someone needs to step up.

2. What impact will the arrival of Dallas Eakins have? 

Anaheim’s biggest move this offseason came at the position that stands behind all the players during the games.

Eakins will give it another go in his second stint as a head coach in the NHL after one and a half very poor seasons with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

His coaching record in the NHL is 36-63-14, otherwise known as pretty abysmal. And now he’s been handed the keys to another bad team and is being told to make something out of nothing.

Eakins has run a winning machine in San Diego of the American Hockey League over the past four seasons and has overseen some of Anaheim’s next stars, which is a healthy boon.

[MORE DUCKS: X-Factor | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 Summary]

Eakins has promised that the guys he’s groomed — Steel, Lundestrom, Brendan Guhle, et al — will have to battle for spots in training camp, but given last year’s team and the lack of reinforcements this summer, they shouldn’t be particularly hard to win.

Eakins had a couple of good runs with the Toronto Marlies before the Oilers hired him, so his AHL success hasn’t translated in the big league as of yet.

He’s got a mountainous task in front of him once again.

3. Can a team devoid of team defense last season band together in the upcoming one? 

Here’s a common statement uttered by people around the NHL last season: “John Gibson needs some help.”

Gibson deserved to be on the ballot for the Vezina this season, and not just for a pity add for enduring the type of hanged-out-to-dry year that he did. Gibson rose above all that to post some ludicrous numbers despite the hand he was dealt in 2018-19.

But surely, as good as Gibson is, he can’t endure another round of it without showing some cracks in the armor.

It remains to be seen what kind of defensive system Eakins will deploy. In his only full season in Edmonton, the team gave up an NHL high 267 goals, including 204 at even-strength — also the most in the league that year.

One would think that a buy-in under Randy Carlyle’s old regime was a longshot given how poorly the season went. When Bob Murray took over in February, there wasn’t much to play for. Having Eakins there could re-invigorate the team with a new message and a new way to play.

That has to be the hope, for Gibson and the rest of the team.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck