|From Russia with Love baby|
50 wins, 25 losses, 7 OTL, 107 points, 4th overall in the league
The Phoenix Coyotes are a rags to riches team in the NHL. Facing severe economic pressure in the non-traditional Arizona market the league itself took control of the team last season and the Coyotes responded with it's first playoff appearance in seven years. The Coyotes seem to be a team on the upswing with intelligent moneypuck decisions and a nice influx of youth. The pressure on this team is paramount though because the Coyotes are not only playing to win the Stanley Cup but they're playing to keep this team in Phoenix. The question for the Coyotes is can they keep this momentum from last season and become a profitable team?
The Coyotes are led up front by captain Shane Doan who's the absolute epitome of what a hockey player should be. Doan is a gritty goal scoring winger with a flair for clutch play. The 33-year old also has a wealth of international experience but struggles with scoring consistency. Kyle Turris has been the subject of much hype since being drafted third overall in 2007 but has needed some time to refine his game in the AHL. The young speedy center offers a excellent offensive game with both creative vision and an underrated shot. Turris has made the team out of camp and looks to be a fixture in the Coyotes top six. Keep your eye on this kid as he's gone off a lot of people's radars but has huge sleeper potential. Likely to start on the first line will be Polish scorer Wojtek Wolski who was acquired last season in a change of scenery trade with the Avalanche. Wolski blossomed on the Coyotes scoring 18 points in 18 games while having a respectable playoffs. Wolski will bounce between the top two lines while being a significant contributor on offense.
Competing with Turris for top six center minutes is 23-year old Martin Hanzal who's an excellent two-way center with a 6-5 big bodied frame. The former 17th overall pick has struggled to find his scoring touch in the league but remains a candidate to break out this season if he can bring a consistent effort every night. Hanzal is also one of those rare skill players who will attain a high penalty minutes count each season. Radim Vrbata has found a home in Phoenix seeming to only play well for that team. The Czech sniper had a solid bounce back season with the Coyotes last year after bouncing around three teams and two continents. Vrbata is a player who gets his goals simply through sheer volume of shots on net and is a decent complimentray scorer for the Coyotes. Ray Whitney was brought in this off-season as another intelligent moneypuck move by the Coyotes brass. The 38-year old Whitney has quietly been one of the most consistent scorers over his near two decades of professional hockey and will be looked upon to mentor the kids in Phoenix this year.
Another intelligent moneypuck decision was to bring in gritty two-way center Eric Belanger who arrived in Phoenix after a contract spat with the Washington Capitals this off-season. Belanger is an intelligent hard nosed player who's competent in all three zones while being able to contribute on both special teams. Taylor Pyatt has never lived up to his eighth overall draft hype but has been yet another intelligent moneypuck move for the Coyotes when he was brought in as a free agent last season. Pyatt is a large 6-4 winger who's developed into a tool box player being able to contribute in any role he's placed in. Pyatt is also known for his excellent board work and pretty eyes but has never found a scoring touch in the NHL. Lee Stempniak is another player who seems to have discovered the Fountain of Decency in Phoenix. Arriving last season in a trade from Toronto, the 27-year old sniper exploded for 14 goals and 18 points in 18 games with Phoenix. Stempniak has bounced around the league in the last few years having been unable to find scoring consistency but remains a player who could explode offensively in the right situation.
Vernon Fiddler was yet another intelligent moneypuck signing for the Coyotes having developed into one of the better defensive centers in the game. Fiddler will be the de facto penalty killer of the forwards group with his strong hard-nosed defensive play. Petr Prucha has managed to hang in the NHL as a complimentary sniper but has never been able to find the consistency to live up to innate talents. Prucha will likely factor in the Coyotes lineup bouncing around the depth chart through the season. Scottie Upshall will be returning to the Coyotes this season after a hellish knee injury ended what was shaping to be the best season of his career. Upshall scored 32 points in 49 games last season and seems poised to be a sleeper this year if he can find the same scoring touch.
Rounding out the forwards group is Internet UberGod Paul Bissonnette who will be the Coyotes' enforcer this season. Defensive forward Lauri Korpikoski will also factor into the Coytoes' lineup for a significant number of games this season.
Leading the defensive group is former first overall pick Ed Jovanovski who is probably one of the most naturally talented players in the game. Jovanovski offers excellent physical and offensive play however Jovanoski has garnered the nickname "Special Ed" for his defensive zone work. Keith Yandle has come out of nowhere to suddenly be one of the finest offensive defensemen in the game. The 24-year old Yandle exploded with 41 points from the blue line last season. The scary thing is there's a good chance Yandle will improve upon those numbers this season.
This season will be the first for highly touted prospect Oliver Ekman-Larsson who was drafted sixth overall in 2009. Ekman-Larsson has made the team out of camp and offers a very intelligent smooth skating game reminiscent of a young Joni Pitkanen. Ekman-Larsson remains one of the most promising defensive prospects in the game and it's going to be an absolute joy watching him progress in Phoenix this year. Likely playing with Ekman-Larsson will be long time veteran Adrian Aucoin who's been a rock of consistency through his NHL career. The 37-year old Aucoin doesn't necessarily excel at any one aspect of the game but he safely contributes 20+ minutes of worry free hockey a night.
In another intelligent moneypuck move the Coyotes acquired retread Derek Morris from the Boston Bruins last season. Morris is a capable three zone defensemen who can safely play any role asked of him. With the depth on the Coyotes blue line Morris is in a great situation to have a career year for the Coyotes. 25-year old Sami Lepisto found a home with the Coyotes last year after bouncing around in the Washington Capitals' system. Lepisto is a talented puck moving defenseman who displays a strong three zone acumen but hasn't been able to discover himself in the NHL yet.
The Phoenix Coytoes were ridiculously lucky in 2007 when they acquired franchise netminder Ilya Bryzgalov from waivers. Bryzgalov has blossomed into an elite goaltender for the Coyotes coming second in Vezina Trophy voting last season. The 30-year old Russian netminder is an uber-talented big goalie who can absolutely dominate games when he's at his best. Bryzgalov also has a fantastic mindset for the game and behind the Coyotes excellent defense looks poised to have another top five season. Backing up Bryzgalov will be long time number two Jason LaBarbera who has put together two great seasons after bouncing around various leagues and teams for the last decade. LaBarbera will tender some decent performances in his 15-20 games this season.
The key word for this team is "depth" as the Coyotes don't have elite talent in their forward or defensive core but have several top tier players and promising prospects. This season is going to be fun for the Coyotes' faithful and hockey fans in general to watch the progression of Turris and OEL through the season. It's hard to imagine this team will repeat it's epic performance of last year. However this team remains a strong playoff threat. Look for them to come in somewhere between 7th-13th in the league.
BVB's Projected Opening Night Lineup
Wojtek Wolski - 26 G/31 A 57 P
Kyle Turris - 22 G/35 A 57 P
Shane Doan - 23 G/38 A 61 P
Ray Whitney - 19 G/35 A 54 P
Martin Hanzal - 14 G/29 A 43 P
Radim Vrbata - 26 G/21 A 47 P
Scottie Upshall - 21 G/19 A 40 P
Eric Belanger - 14 G/25 A 39 P
Lee Stempniak - 22 G/18 A 40 P
Taylor Pyatt - 13 G/14 A 27 P
Vernon Fiddler - 7 G/20 A 27 P
Petr Prucha - 9 G/10 A 19 P
Paul Bissonnette - 2 G/2 A 4 P
Lauri Korpikoski - 3 G/5 A 8 P
Keith Yandle - 13 G/35 A 48 P
Derek Morris - 3 G/30 A 33 P
Ed Jovanovski - 9 G/22 A 31 P
Sami Lepisto - 2 G/15 A 17 P
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 5 G/19 A 24 P
Adrian Aucoin - 6 G/19 A 25 P
Ilya Bryzgalov - 40-23-5 | 2.36 GAA | .921 Sv%
Jason LaBarbera - 6-5-2 | 2.68 GAA | .917 Sv%