Coyotes seek to become Cup contender under new GM Armstrong

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After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Arizona Coyotes:

The Arizona Coyotes hope to take another big step after qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.

The process began with the Sept. 17 hiring of general manager Bill Armstrong, who helped build the St. Louis Blues into the 2019 Stanley Cup champions. He spent 16 years with St. Louis, including the past 10 as director of amateur scouting and the past two as assistant GM.

“What’s sitting on his finger, that championship ring, the Stanley Cup, that’s exactly what we’re here for,” Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez said.

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

The Coyotes hope to build on last season after going 33-29-8 (.529 points percentage) and defeating the Nashville Predators in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers before losing in five games to the Colorado Avalanche in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round. They’ll have to do it without forwards Taylor Hall, who signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 11 as an unrestricted free agent, and Michael Grabner, who was placed on waivers Oct. 4 for the purpose of buying out the final season of his three-year contract.

The Coyotes did not make a big splash in free agency, but they did sign forwards Tyler Pitlick, Johan Larsson and John Hayden to support a core led by Clayton Keller and Conor Garland.

“We were adding small pieces to the puzzle that the team needed to become more prickly,” Armstrong said Oct. 9. “We added a few cactuses to the team, and I was happy with that.”

Here’s what the Coyotes look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Bill Armstrong, GM: He was hired to replace Steve Sullivan, who was given the job after John Chayka quit July 26. … Tyler Pitlick, F: The 28-year-old center signed a two-year contract Oct. 9. He scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 63 games last season and three points (two goals, one assist) in 16 postseason games for the Philadelphia Flyers. … Johan Larsson, F: The 28-year-old center signed a two-year contract Oct. 10 after scoring an NHL career-high 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 62 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season. … John Hayden, F: The 25-year-old center signed a one-year contract Oct. 9. He has scored 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 156 games for the Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils.

 

Key departures

Taylor Hall, F: Scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 games for the Coyotes and Devils last season, including 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 35 games after he was acquired by Arizona in a trade Dec. 16, 2019. He scored six points (two goals, four assists) in nine postseason games. … Michael Grabner, F: Scored 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in 46 games and three goals in nine postseason games. … Brad Richardson, F: Signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators on Oct. 12 after scoring 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 59 games and three points (two goals, one assist) in nine postseason games. … Vinnie Hinostroza, F: Agreed to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers on Oct. 9 after scoring 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 68 games and two assists in seven postseason games.

 

On the cusp

Barrett Hayton, F: The 20-year-old center scored five points (four goals, one assist) in 20 games for Arizona last season before he injured his shoulder playing for Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. The No. 5 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Hayton scored 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League in 2018-19. … Kyle Capobianco, D: The 23-year-old, who signed a two-year contract Oct. 5, led defensemen in assists (27) and points (37) for Tucson of the American Hockey League last season. He scored one goal in nine games for the Coyotes. … Victor Soderstrom, D: The 19-year-old, selected with the No. 11 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 35 games for Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League last season and six points (one goal, five assists) in seven games for Sweden at World Juniors.

Video: ARI@NJD: Hayton taps in first career NHL goal

 

What they still need

Offense. The Coyotes averaged 2.71 goals per game last season, 23rd in the NHL, and Garland (22 goals) was the only player to score at least 20 goals. Arizona also must play better defensively after allowing 38.7 shots per game in nine postseason games.

 

Fantasy focus

After the departure of Hall, the Coyotes have a spot available on the top line, creating an opportunity for Keller or Nick Schmaltz, who has played center and wing in the NHL. Schmaltz was second among Arizona skaters in points per 60 minutes (2.16) last season behind Hall (2.29), and Keller was fourth (1.90) among those to play at least three games. Schmaltz and Keller each is worth selecting in the late rounds of any fantasy draft with the expectation that he’ll take on a bigger offensive role. — Rob Reese

Video: ARI@WPG: Schmaltz cleans up the rebound in front

 

Projected lineup

Nick Schmaltz — Christian Dvorak — Conor Garland

Clayton Keller — Derek StepanPhil Kessel

Lawson Crouse — Barrett Hayton — Christian Fischer

Tyler Pitlick — Johan Larsson — John Hayden

Oliver Ekman-LarssonJason Demers

Alex GoligoskiJakob Chychrun

Niklas HjalmarssonJordan Oesterle

Darcy Kuemper

Antti Raanta

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