Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Coyotes sign GM Chayka to long-term extension

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — John Chayka arrived in the desert with an analytics background and made a big splash when, at 26, he became the youngest general manager in North American sports history.

As Chayka started to rebuild the Arizona Coyotes into playoff contenders, the recognition grew.

On Monday, the Coyotes rewarded Chayka, signing him to a long-term contract extension.

”I think the key thing is we’re on the right track. We’ve had a solid process and that’s always the main thing,” Chayka said. ”Obviously, you’re never satisfied until you reach your goals. We want to win a championship here, but it starts with making the playoffs and getting your foot in the door.”

Chayka was hired in 2015 as assistant general manager, analytics after co-founding the hockey analytics firm Stathletes.

Chayka was elevated to GM when Don Maloney was fired in 2016. He began rebuilding Arizona’s roster in hopes of revitalizing a franchise that was among the NHL’s worst in both attendance and wins.

The Coyotes struggled with injuries early in Chayka’s tenure, but were in postseason contention a year ago, finishing four points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. With an added scoring boost to go with its staunch defense, Arizona has opened this season 9-6-2, right in the thick of the Western Conference race.

”John is one of the brightest and hardest-working general managers in the entire NHL and over the past four seasons, he has done an excellent job of rebuilding our franchise and transforming the Coyotes into a contender,” Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said in a statement. ”I am fully confident that John is the right person to lead us moving forward and help us bring the Stanley Cup to Arizona.”

Chayka has been praised for revamping a team that had been one of the NHL’s best defensively and worst offensively.

Through trades and free agency, Chayka has brought in players like Nick Schmaltz, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg, Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper and Michael Grabner. Arizona also drafted Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and Barrett Hayton under Chayka.

The Coyotes made the big splash of the 2019 offseason, acquiring productive winger Phil Kessel in a trade with Pittsburgh.

All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keller, Schmaltz, Chychrun and forward Christian Dvorak are all under long-term extensions, putting Arizona not only in position for success this season, but for many to come.

”We’ve got a good young group and we’ve got a lot of good veterans that have helped along the way and are helping develop these guys and are good players themselves, which is tough to find those types of quality people and quality players that can come in and help support the youth,” Chayka said. ”It’s one of those things where until you achieve your goals it’s tough to be too reflective on things, but ultimately we feel like we’re in a good place, we’re on the right track and still lots to go in terms of achieving our goals.”

Connor McDavid makes it look easy to go coast-to-coast

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an $8.25 million defenseman. Darcy Kuemper ranks as one of the hottest goalies of this calendar year. Neither of them had a prayer of stopping Connor McDavid during his latest highlight-reel goal on Monday night.

While Leon Draisaitl did help to transport the puck through the neutral zone, McDavid did all of the rest, and basically as only he can do it — or at least as only he can do it with this sort of frequency, and seemingly with such ease.

McDavid grabbed the puck from Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen, then blazed up the ice, exchanging with Draisaitl before blowing past OEL and scoring another goal you shouldn’t even be able to score in video games.

The Oilers ended up falling to the Coyotes 3-2 in OT.

MORE:
• Oilers, Coyotes off to fast starts
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Kuznetsov, Kempny lead improbable comeback for Capitals

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Three Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals. With 10 seconds to play in the second period on Friday night the Washington Capitals trailed the Vancouver Canucks 5-1. They did not get a single point all night from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, or John Carlson. And they still won, 6-5. They won thanks to a pair of two-goal efforts from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and defender Michal Kempny to erase that four-goal deficit and send the game to overtime. Kuznetsov’s second goal came just before the buzzer in the second period to bring the Capitals to within three, setting the stage for their huge third period comeback that featured both goals from Kempny. Because of that they get to share first star honors for the night.

2. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have only lost two games all season and they followed up both of them with a shutout win. On Friday it was Ullmark stealing the show as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, handing them their seventh consecutive defeat. It is Ullmark’s first shutout of the season and already the third for the Sabres as a team (Carter Hutton already has two shutouts). You can read more about the Sabres’ win here.

3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes continued their strong start with an impressive come-from-behind win on the road in New Jersey, erasing an early 2-0 deficit. There were a lot of stars for the Coyotes in this one, but their best player was probably star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson with his second goal of the season, an assist, and some spectacular defensive plays to help secure the win. The Coyotes are now 6-3-1 through their first 10 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Nick Leddy had a huge night for the Islanders, scoring two goals — including one on a penalty shot — to lead the Islanders to their sixth win in a row, so far the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. He thought he had a hat trick for a while until his third goal was taken away on a scoring chances and awarded to forward Matt Martin. Read all about the game here.
  • The Devils wasted a great performance from No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Hughes had three points (one goal, two assists) in what would become yet another blown multi-goal lead for a team that has already had entirely too many of them this season.
  • Nathan MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games as the Colorado Avalanche crushed the Vegas Golden Knights. Read more about the game here.
  • Patrick Marleau received a nice welcome back in Toronto on Friday night, but once the game began it was all Maple Leafs as they picked up a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night

Coyotes forward Michael Grabner is FAST and it helps him create a ton of chances on the penalty kill. Here he is scoring yet another shorthanded goal.

The first of what will probably be many goals for Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

They may have let a four-goal lead slip away, but the Canucks made a lot of highlights on Friday night. This is one of the better ones as Tim Schaller scores by batting the puck out of mid-air.

Blooper of the Night

Do not anger New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss!

 

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win on Friday was the fifth time in franchise history they have won a game after trailing by four goals. It is the first time they have done it since the 2008 season. [NHL PR]
  • Nick Leddy’s penalty shot goal on Friday was the first time an Islanders defender has ever scored on a penalty shot in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Grabner’s shorthanded goal for the Coyotes was the 22nd of his career, the second-most among active players. He trails only Brad Marchand (26 goals) of the Boston Bruins. [NHL PR]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 6, Vegas Golden Knights 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Arizona Coyotes 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Buffalo Sabres 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Washington Capitals 6, Vancouver Canucks 5 (SO)

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.

Ice-cold Coyotes offense could get boost from Hayton’s debut

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Through their first two games of 2019-20, things seemed a lot like last season for the Arizona Coyotes.

They played strong defense, only allowing three goals total over those two games, but their offense has yet to ignite with Phil Kessel added to the mix, as they mustered a lone goal.

The Coyotes are likely feeling anxious considering the break they’ve had between Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins and Thursday’s upcoming home game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The most excited player of all might be Barrett Hayton, who is getting into the lineup for his first NHL game.

It seems like the 19-year-old is getting a legitimate chance to make an impact, too.

Via NHL.com’s handy collection of Thursday’s projected lines, Hayton is set to start his NHL career with some solid linemates in Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz. (Interestingly, you could argue that all three could line up at center, depending upon the circumstances.)

According to Left Wing Lock, Hayton also might get a look on the Coyotes’ top power play unit with Kessel, Derek Stepan, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Depending upon how you look at it, that’s either a great opportunity for the fifth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, or a trial by fire. (Or maybe it’s a combination of the two?)

While the Coyotes got mixed reviews for selecting Hayton at that position — at least with many penciling Filip Zadina in as the third best choice available, though he slid to Detroit at sixth — Hayton’s impressed since the Coyotes went out on a bit of a limb to choose him. In 39 games with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, Hayton scored 26 goals and 66 points, exceeding the 60 points he scored in the OHL in 2017-18, even though he played in 63 games that season. Hayton also managed 16 points in 11 playoff games at the junior level in 2018-19.

In September, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Hayton as the 11th-best prospect in the NHL (sub required), ahead of the likes of the Golden Knights’ Cody Glass (16th) and Zadina (23).

So, it should be interesting to get a first look at where Hayton is at, especially since he’s slated for a top-six role, instead of just barely making it into the lineup on the fourth line.

The Coyotes could use the boost, too, with that lone goal in two games.

Some of that improvement should happen strictly from positive regression, mind you.

Arizona’s been solid-to-good at even-strength so far, with Natural Stat Trick listing them as having 4.28 expected goals vs. 3.3 expected goals allowed at five-on-five. A league-worst 1.67 shooting percentage at even-strength has doomed them through two games (Columbus is second worst at 3.85). Even if the Coyotes might lag a bit behind other teams from a shooting skill standpoint (their 6.61 even-strength percentage was the worst of 2018-19), they should get far more bounces over the long haul of this season, especially if Kessel clicks — and maybe if Hayton can catch on as another gamebreaker.

The Golden Knights aren’t necessarily the easiest opponents to stick with, but either way, it should be interesting to see how Hayton might keep up.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
 
For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better. The Coyotes made a splash when they acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins this off-season. Assuming he comes in with the right attitude, Kessel alone makes the Coyotes a better team. The ‘Yotes haven’t had a sniper like him in a long time and head coach Rick Tocchet’s ability to get the most out of Kessel should help Arizona in a big way. Let’s not forget, this Coyotes team is young, too. So, there should be some internal progression as well.

Strengths: Arizona has quietly built up some solid depth down the middle of the ice. When healthy, Nick Schmaltz produced offensively, as he accumulated 14 points in his first 17 games with his new team. If he can keep that up, the Coyotes will be that much tougher to stop. They also have veterans like Derek Stepan and Carl Soderberg that will make important contributions this year. We’ve already talked about Kessel and what he brings to the table, but they also have other dynamic forwards on the wing like Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak, too.

The Coyotes also have a deep blue line with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jakob Chychrun and Jason Demers. And their goaltending is stable with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper.

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

Weaknesses: Overall depth might be an issue up front. Do they have enough players in the bottom-six that can contribute offensively when their offensive-minded players go quiet? Overall, this is a well-balanced team that could use more depth, but which team doesn’t need that?

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Let’s go with a four for Rick Tocchet. He’s not really on the hot seat going into the season, but his team also has to show some significant signs of improvement this year. They finished ninth in the Western Conference last year (they missed the playoffs by four points), so they have to improve this year or the seat will get hotter for Tocchet.

Three Most Fascinating Players: You can’t have a fascinating players section on the Coyotes roster and not talk about Kessel. We know what Kessel is capable of doing on the ice, but how will he mesh with his new teammates off the ice? Can he be the leader Arizona needs him to be? We’re starting to hear more and more about his fractured relationship with some of his old teammates in Pittsburgh. The Coyotes have to be hoping that something similar doesn’t happen to them.

Schmaltz is also an intriguing name. After being acquired from Chicago, he nearly scored at a point-per-game clip. Can he post similar numbers over an 82-game stretch? Schmaltz has all the talent to succeed at the NHL and now he has a golden opportunity to be one of the offensive catalysts on an up-and-coming roster that should push for a playoff spot this year.

The goaltending situation will also be something to keep an eye on. Raanta was limited to just 12 games last season after he had a career year in 2017-18. But once he was forced from the lineup Kuemper came in and did a nice job of keeping the Coyotes competitive. Does Raanta bounce back? Does Kuemper keep rolling? It might be a little bit of both.

Playoffs or Lottery: This is a tough one. It would be amazing to see the Coyotes sneak into the playoffs. The issue is finding which of the top eight teams they’ll finish ahead of this season. If the Rantanen hold out lasts long, can they sneak in ahead of Colorado, who finished in the last Wild Card spot last year? Maybe, but that’s still not a given. I think the Coyotes will miss the playoffs by less points (four) than they did last year.

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

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.