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.
Can Antti Raanta put together a complete season as a starting NHL goalie?
Raanta’s numbers from last season look quite good at a first glance. On a poor Coyotes team, he posted a 21-17-6 record with a very solid .930 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average.
Truth be told, however, he was horrible in the first half of the season but rebounded in a huge way in the second half of the season, posting 13 wins in his final 17 starts.
His impressive run earned him a three-year, $12.75 million deal in April, and a renewed commitment from the goaltender to spend the offseason working at becoming a bona fide starter.
Questions of Raanta’s fitness heading into last year’s training camp were a concern of head coach Rick Tocchet.
“It’s going to be good for me to know what it takes to play lots of games and it’s going to be good for me to kind of see what I need to do more in the summertime, what I want to improve, and come back stronger next year,” Raanta told the Associated Press after he signed his contract.
A .930 starting goaltender playing 60-plus games will very likely put the Coyotes in the playoffs and would just as likely have Raanta in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy.
Can Dylan Strome build off the end of the season and make an impact as a full-time player?
Strome struggled to find a spot in the Coyotes’ roster last season.
Here’s a quick timeline:
Oct. 5-7 – plays the first two games of the season and is held pointless.
Oct. 9 – Sent down to Tucson of the American Hockey League.
Oct. 9 – Nov. 25 – tears up the AHL with 26 points in 15 games.
Nov. 26 – Earns recall back to Arizona
Nov. 27 – Dec. 18 – Scores his first NHL goal but that’s all in nine more games with the Coyote.
Dec. 19 – Sent back to Tucson
Mar. 20 – Called back up to Arizona, this time for the rest of the season.
From that point on, Strome seemed to find his stride, amassing three goals and five assists in 10 games to close out the year.
For everyone involved with the former third-overall pick, it was a sigh of relief.
“We’ve made him earn things, and playing a top-six center position as a 20-year-old is a very hard thing to do,” GM John Chayka told the team’s website in May. I think in his latest segment where he came up and played, I thought he showed a lot of improvement. I thought he proved a lot to himself and his teammates that he can handle that type of role and be productive. He’s been productive his whole life. It’s always good to see progression, and I think we’ve seen that with Dylan.”
A center by trade, Strome could make the jump to the wing.
Those moves certainly point Arizona in that direction.
That’s 53 goals being injected to the Coyotes forward group based on last year’s numbers, and based on that, it would move the Coyotes from 30th place in the league to near the top-10 in goals-for.
That’s an excellent upgrade.
Couple that with Strome turning into the player they franchise wants him to be and Keller taking another step forward (and Raanta playing at his best), and the Coyotes could very much be in the playoff discussion providing they can reduce their goals against from last season. They gave up 251 — 11th most in the NHL.
That issue gets partially fixed if Raanta doesn’t get off to a poor start.
The simple truth here is that the Coyotes look better on paper this year.