With a strong second half, the Arizona Coyotes are ready to take that next step from cellar dweller to competitive team. The hope is that now that head coach Rick Tocchet has held the coaching reigns for a full season, he can help Arizona take that next step. While the importance of signing of star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is critical to the long-term success of the team is key (he has been rumored to be considering and eight-year extension), the team must continue to upgrade its roster.
According to Tocchet, in an interview with Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan, the team has several key needs with center being at the top of the list, followed by another top-five defenseman and a scoring wing. The team upgraded at center a year ago when it went out and traded defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and their first-round pick in a package deal for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. Stepan put up solid numbers as the team’s top center, scoring 14 goals and adding 42 assists in his first year for Arizona. However, the team might want a stronger, more veteran presence for the No. 2 center spot, which was held by Christian Dvorak last season. Dvorak had just 22 assists last season.
Despite a solid nucleus on defense starting with Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski as well as the strong additions of veterans Jason Demers and Niklas Hjalmarsson in the offseason and the improved play of youngster Jakob Chychrun, the team would like to add more to their defense. While the team might address that with the fifth-overall pick this year, the team wouldn’t mind adding another player to their group, which might have to come via trade.
- Tocchet said he has worked hard to form a relationship with Ekman-Larsson over the past year. “In December, we had a really frank 30 or 40 minute talk,” said Tocchet. “I’m not a big meeting guy but we just talked about life and everything. I wanted him to have more of a voice in how we do things. What time should we have practice? Do you like the day off here? Should we travel at 2 PM? I want him to be proactive in those decisions. I want him to take responsibility and I think he understands that now that I want more from him.”
- In the same article, Tocchet said that the addition of veteran Marcus Kruger is important due to his leadership skills. While the veteran struggled in his one year in Carolina with just six points in 48 games, Kruger did admit he played the entire year with a hernia. However, fully healed, he should give the Coyotes some grit on their fourth line. “The Chicago coaching staff loved him. I hear his hockey IQ is high and he’s a leader in the sense that he does the right things, practices hard. Since I’ve started, hockey IQ to me is bigger than I ever thought it was. When you add players with high hockey IQ, the chemistry comes quicker. He can probably help some young guys with that,” Tocchet said.