Conor Garland has clearly made a good impression on Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka. The Coyotes today announced a two-year contact extension for Garland that will keep him in Arizona through the 2020-21 season. The contract will carry a $775K average annual value. Chayka released a short statement explaining the deal:
Conor has come onto our team and made an impact through his work ethic and willingness to get to the net and score goals. He’s a great success story for our organization as a later round pick and the development process he went through to get here. We’re thrilled to get him signed long-term.
Garland, 22, has stepped into a role with the Coyotes this season and not looked back, scoring 12 goals through his first 36 NHL games. That may be surprising to some who only know his name from the fifth round of the 2015 draft, but not others that watched him play at the junior level. For his final two years with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, Garland was the most dominant offensive player in the country. He finished those two seasons with 257 points in 129 regular season games a pair of scoring titles and a league MVP, but struggled upon his debut in the AHL.
Undersized, Garland had just 14 points as a rookie in the minor leagues in 2016-17 and followed that up with 27 in 55 games last season. That all changed at the beginning of 2018-19 when he got off to a torrid start with the Tucson Roadrunners and earned himself an NHL chance.
The Coyotes need more stories like Garland to compete in the NHL. If the team isn’t able to spend to the cap like some of their rivals, they’ll need their drafting and development systems to find players in the mid to late rounds of the draft and turn them into NHL contributors. If Garland can continue his scoring pace for the next two years they’ll have one of the biggest bargains in the league. Impressively, those 12 goals aren’t being held up by an unrealistic shooting percentage. The young forward is being sheltered considerably by head coach Rick Tocchet, but is responding well with excellent possession statistics and powerplay performance.
For a player who may have been considered an afterthought just a year ago, two years of security is worthwhile even if he proves underpaid by the time the deal ends. Garland will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the extension, as long as he plays in 44 more games during that time and avoids Group VI UFA status.