By all accounts, the Arizona Coyotes are still a re-building club without much for expectations in 2017-18. However, at some point this team needs to take the next step and to do so the club needs to develop their many talented, young players as best as possible. For that reason, the incredulous lack of right-shots and experienced right wingers on the Arizona roster presents a substantial problem. In an article on the biggest issues facing each of Arizona’s sports teams, Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports opines that the Coyotes’ right wing depth is a major obstacle. With so few options, the team would be forced to move young players out of position or field unbalanced lines for the purposes of making the right wing position make sense. Instead, Morgan suggests that the roster still needs “tinkering”, with an outside addition going a long way to balancing out the team.
Morgan certainly is not exaggerating the problem that the Coyotes have on the right side. The only right-handed shot guaranteed to make the roster is newly-acquired top center Derek Stepan. Beyond him, Arizona could end up fielding an entire forward corps of lefties. Morgan mentions 20-year-old Christian Fischer as a near lock for one of the right-wing spots, given that he is likely the only natural right winger with the NHL ability in the organization right now. Fischer skated in seven games with the Coyotes last year, scoring three goals, and put up big numbers in the AHL as well. He looks primed for a full NHL campaign and the team’s lack of right wing options only helps to solidify his chances of making the roster. Young forwards Jens Looke and Nick Merkley are also righties with right wing experience, but what they lack is North American pro experience and seem better suited for a season in Tuscon, at least early on. So who fills the final three spots? Although he is a lefty, Tobias Rieder has fared well on the right side for much of the past few seasons in Arizona and will likely resume his role on the off wing in 2017-18. Brad Richardson and Anthony Duclair have routinely played on the off side in their careers as well, but with Richardson’s health still in question and Duclair coming off a disappointing season and has yet to re-sign, so relying on either, nevertheless both, is a risk for the ’Yotes. That leaves Arizona with the option of moving young lefties like Brendan Perlinin, Lawson Crouse, or Nick Cousins to the left side or giving veteran wash-ups like Emerson Etem, Michael Latta, or Mike Sislo a regular job. Neither of those avenues seem to be the best fit for the Coyotes.
Instead, GM John Chayka may be looking to fill the void with a new addition. A couple obvious names pop up as right side options still available on the free agent market, as Arizona could simply fill the hole left by veteran scorer Radim Vrbata with another veteran scorer like Thomas Vanek or Jaromir Jagr. The team said goodbye to the face of the organization, Shane Doan, this summer, so it is fair to be skeptical of them bringing in another aging player. However, Vanek and Jagr offer a scoring touch that Doan hasn’t had of late and that others like Jarome Iginla or Brian Gionta may not bring. If the Coyotes are going to take a roster spot away from a young player, even if it is to fill a notable absence, it will need to be someone ready to contribute. Younger veterans with more gas in the tank like Alex Chiasson or P-A Parenteau would make some sense as well. A trade, even at this point in the off-season, is always a possibility for Chayka as well. The Coyotes young GM has showed a willingness to take on bad contracts and a propensity for winning those trades as well. The cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs may be willing to give up a pick or prospect alongside Joffrey Lupul to remove that contract, especially when Lupul appears to be moving closer to playing health, while the Detroit Red Wings also need to move some salary at some point soon.
There are options aplenty for the Coyotes on the right side, but the question remains whether they see 2017-18 as yet another stepping stone campaign or a season where they can actually compete. It if it’s the former, then the team may hesitate to add another contract with so many young forwards eager for play time (even on their off side), but the latter would require another body at right wing. The decision belongs to Chayka an his staff, but there appears to benefits all around to adding another body to compete at right wing.