Nick Merkley

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It’s Arizona Coyotes day at PHT

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes.

2017-18
29-41-12, 70 pts. (Last, Pacific Division; Last, Western Conference)

IN:
Alex Galchenyuk
Michael Grabner
Marian Hossa (cap hit only)
Vinnie Hinostroza
Jordan Oesterle

OUT:
Max Domi
Jordan Martinook
Zac Rinaldo
Luke Schenn

RE-SIGNED:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Kevin Connauton
Niklas Hjalmarsson
Antti Raanta

The Arizona Coyotes seem to be stuck in a rebuild with no end in sight. Alright, that’s not totally true, but outside of finishing the season strong, it was another long year for the ‘Yotes, who finished at the bottom of the Western Conference. They’ve now missed the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.

GM John Chayka had no choice but to make some heavy moves this off-season. He made a huge splash when he acquired Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi and he followed that up by extending franchise blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

[Three Questions | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Galchenyuk found himself in and out of Claude Julien’s dog house last year, but still managed to finish with 19 goals and 51 points in 82 games playing on the wing. The Coyotes have already stated that they plan putting the 24-year-old back at his natural position of center. Playing in a smaller hockey market might just be what the doctor ordered for Galchenyuk.

For Arizona to take the next step, they’re going to need youngsters like Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini, Jakub Chychrun, Dylan Strome and company to continue developing into impact players. There’s talent on the roster, but most of it is young and inexperienced. That’s the biggest issue.

Keller really took the NHL by storm, as he managed to pick up 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games as a teenager in 2017-18. His upside is enormous. Whether or not he can avoid the sophomore slump will be one of the bigger storylines heading into the season for the Coyotes.

The Coyotes also added Marian Hossa’s salary to their payroll, but that was mostly to acquire Hinostroza and Oesterle, who could turn out to be nice complimentary pieces at some point.

Last year, the team decided to commit to Raanta as their starting goaltender, but they also added Darcy Kuemper to the fold before the trade deadline. It’ll be interesting to see how Raanta and Kuemper end up splitting the workload. Neither of them has much experience as a starting netminder at the highest level, so expect there to be some prolonged struggles at times.

Prospect Pool

• Barrett Hayton, C, 18, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The Coyotes surprised some people when they used the fifth overall pick on Hayton, but they clearly had their sights set on adding another center. Hayton is a dynamic offensive talent with speed to burn. He finished sixth in on the Greyhounds in points despite being just 17 years old for the entire season. Hayton might simply head back to junior next season, but the Coyotes could also opt to give him a serious look in training camp.

Nick Merkley, W, 21, Tucson Roadrunners (AHL) – 2015 first-round pick

Outside of the lower-body injury that ended his season prematurely, Merkley’s introduction to pro hockey went pretty well. He suited up in just 38 games with the Roadrunners last season, but he managed to score 18 goals and 39 points. The young forward failed to collect a point in one game with the ‘Yotes. He could probably use some more time in the AHL to round out his game, but his offensive ability might be enough to get him on the opening night roster.

Kyle Capobianco, D, 20, Tucson Roadrunners (AHL) – 2015 third-round pick

After putting up a point-per-game season in the OHL in 2016-17, Capobianco made the leap to the pro ranks by picking up two goals and 30 points in 49 games last season. Like Merkley, Capobianco also got a one-game taste of the NHL last season. Although there’s nothing wrong with his offensive instincts, he’ll have show that he’s capable of playing consistently well in his own zone if he’s going make the leap to the NHL this year.

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.