When Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith met with reporters last Thursday during media day, he constantly talked about consistency.
After all, Arizona is a team that stumbled through the final weeks of last season and missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive year.
For Smith, coach Dave Tippett and the rest of the players, there is now a firm stability to reach. That means playing a full 60 minutes of championship hockey each night, displaying a stronger than usual defense during the final minute of a period and making sure the puck moves in a swift and efficient manner.
All of which may be easier to wish for than accomplish.
“Look, the consistency needs to be better,” Smith told reporters. “That’s how we have to think. We have to play our best and smartest hockey every night.”
Here, at the advent of training camp, it’s a given the Coyotes will not be a high-scoring team. In that regard, defense and goaltending takes on a greater importance. Not that defense and solid goalkeeping were not essentials to victory prior, but now, the Coyotes need to be more vigilant in execution.
Last season, the Coyotes only had three 20-goal scorers, and one, Radim Vrbata, signed with the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason as a free agent. That leaves captain Shane Doan, who popped in 23 last season, and Antoine Vermette, who led the team with 24 goals, as the only players to reach the 20-goal plateau. Going forward, scoring may come from unknown sources.
Plus, players recognize the necessity of involvement by all on the roster.
“It looks we may have to score by committee,” Doan told reporters during media day. “That’s the image we have right now and hope it will change. We have to find ways to energize the scoring and make sure we get contributions from everyone.”
As Doan will be 38 years old on Oct. 10, he reached the 30-goal mark only once in his 18-year NHL career. That was when he pumped in 31 during the 2008-09 season. Despite missing 13 games last season due to illness and now dealing with advancing age, Doan believes he can grasp the 30-goal level again.
“To do that, I have to be smarter,” he said. “I know my skills may be diminishing, so I have to compensate. That means hanging around the net more and not going too much in the corners or along the boards. Just smarter hockey.”
For now, the Coyotes have developed a kind of timeline mentality; that is, they hold that to win games this season, they will have to play keen and more disciplined hockey.
“The focus is on us,” defenseman Keith Yandle told reporters during media day. “Don’t worry about other teams, it’s about us. We all have to take ownership and be accountable.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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By quick glance, there could be as many as four roster spots open for the Arizona Coyotes this fall.
Because defenseman Derek Morris was not extended a contract for the 2014-15 season, one opening includes a spot on the blue line. While internal candidates like Connor Murphy, Chris Summers and Brandon Gormley will likely be considered for that vacancy, additional forward positions are also up for grabs.
With the usual array of hopefuls on hand, the Coyotes opened the rookie portion of training camp amid hope and expectation. Yet the road to The Show is littered with a plethora of candidates all pointed in the same direction.
When the Coyotes commenced camp last Saturday, this merely represented step two of the eventual evaluation process.
“Step one was the developmental camp we had for rookies in July,” coach Dave Tippett told reporters after Monday’s practice. “This is the second step, and step three is the major league camp. As far as the rookies are concerned, it’s still early in evaluating their talents. We’re looking at their skill set, work ethic and things like that.”
With potentially three forward spots available, the Coyotes brass has set its targets set on a core of young players. While the hope and expectation is that these players can make the transition from juniors and the American Hockey League, the change can be daunting.
Speed, power, an advanced skill level and experience are but a few of the obstacles facing these, and all rookies, attempting to make NHL rosters this fall.
“There are so many great hockey players here and it’s really intense,” forward Tyler Gaudet told reporters after practice on Monday. “Just play your game and see what happens.”
Gaudet—along with Max Domi, Henrik Samuelsson and Lucas Lessio— are the rookies in camp who have gathered the most attention. Of this unit, Lessio appears to have the best chance of making the final cut.
Though he skated in three games with the Coyotes last season, Lessio, who will be 22 years old this coming January, spent last season with AHL Portland. Scoring 29 goals in 63 games for the Pirates, Lessio’s game is speed and power.
That would be a welcome commodity for a team in need of a rugged game in the corners and along the boards.
“Sure, I was disappointed when they sent me down, but it was the best thing which could have happened,” Lessio told reporters after Monday’s practice. “The AHL is a developmental league and you really learn. Everyone should play in that league, and it was great for me. Down there, you can make a mistake and it’s called learning. Up here, they expect you to do everything right. In the AHL, it was a live-and-learn situation.”
While most of the rookies now in camp will return to juniors his fall, players like Domi, Samuelsson and Lessio benefited from their previous experience in the Coyotes’ major league camp.
All three are coming off solid seasons and are projected as serious candidates to make the final roster cut.
Gaudet, who prides himself on being a strong defensive forward, scored 26 goals in 65 games for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL last season. Domi lit the red lamp 34 times and assisted on 59 goals for 93 points while skating for London of the OHL. Samuelsson, who played on the Memorial Cup-winning Edmonton Oil Kings, scored 35 goals and registered 60 assists for 95 points.
Going forward, the hope from Tippett and Don Maloney, the team’s general manager, is that education accrued at the previous level will serve the players in their quests to gain a spot on the major league roster.
“You look at Domi and Samuelsson and see where they benefited being in a major league camp before,” Tippett added. “That’s usually the case in players drafted higher, and they are the ones who are ahead of the rest. Yet, for all of these players, this is a hard transition.”
Final rookie cuts will be made later this week, and that’s after the Coyotes’ rookies play the Los Angeles Kings’ rookies in a two-game set. Both games will be held at the Gila River Arena. The teams play Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.
After the two rookie games with the Kings, most will return to their junior teams and a chosen few will join the veterans for the major league camp that opens this Friday.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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