With the recent acquisition of Alex Galchenyuk, the Arizona Coyotes are well on their way to taking another step towards building a winning team in the desert. If you add the players Arizona acquired last year at this time, a full year under the belt of coach Rick Tocchet and the continued development of their young players, the team seems to be heading in the right direction and the team is starting to get excited.
Throw in franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson as someone who sees the changes. Many thought Ekman-Larsson might spurn the struggling franchise, yet he agreed to sign an eight-year, $66MM extension last week. Just last year, the team went out and traded their first-round pick (seventh overall) to the New York Rangers and picked up two key pieces to their team in center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta. Stepan has continued his solid play, while Raanta put up a solid second half of the season after an injury-plagued first half, putting up a 2.24 GAA and a .930 save percentage in 47 games. He has also been rewarded with a three-year, $12.75MM extension, which kicks in this year. Chayka also went out and traded for veteran defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers in separate deals last year.
While many people felt that after a flurry of moves a year ago, the Coyotes would make a huge jump in the standings, that didn’t happen, especially after starting the season with an 11-game losing streak. However, their second half showed more of that improvement as the team had a stretch towards the end of the season in which it went 17-8-3.
Regardless, there seems to be a lot going right for the Coyotes right now, according to NBC Sports’ James O’Brien. The scribe points out some key facts, including the initial reaction to the Galchenyuk deal has been positive. While it’s too early to tell, Galchenyuk’s chances of becoming a solid player is quite a bit higher than Max Domi, who the Coyotes sent back to Montreal. Assuming that Galchenyuk can make the conversion to center, that would relieve some stress from the team’s lack of depth at that position. Now if the team wants to move Dylan Strome or Christian Dvorak to the wing position, there won’t be extra pressure to keep him at center due to their lack of depth.
One other key factor is the team still has an enormous amount of young players who could be ready to take that next step. Clayton Keller scored 23 goals in his rookie year and could improve on that exponentially. Other players like Dvorak, Jakob Chychrun, Strome, Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer could also take that next step. And don’t forget the sixth pick in next week’s draft.
The team also still has plenty of cap space available with more than $18MM in space waiting for them to use. They could dip into the free agency market or continuing to add players through trade. However, with the way Chayka is constantly tweaking this team, there are likely more changes to come.