GLENDALE, ARIZ.—The Arizona Coyotes have for years sought someone who could boost their biggest weakness, scoring.
Numerous players have arrived in the desert expecting to fill that void and, though some have had moderate success, the Coyotes never could find a true difference-maker.
Phil Kessel could be that player.
The Coyotes made one of the biggest splashes of the off-season by trading for Kessel, hoping the productive winger could be the answer to their long-running scoring woes and get them back into the playoffs.
“Phil’s a guy that’s been playing the big games and he’s played on the big stage,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “A big part of us acquiring him was knowing we’re getting that guy and those big moments. He’s had a lot of success. We’re trying to embrace those expectations and some of that buzz.”
The Coyotes made a late playoff push last season, finishing four points out of the last spot in the Western Conference despite a string of injuries.
With the addition of Kessel, two seasoned goalies and a talented mix of veteran and young players, the expectations in the desert are the franchise’s first post-season since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
“We want to take the next step,” captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “Yeah, we had a pretty good year last year. But I think we all know that we need to be better and take the next step. How do we do that? It’s hard work.”
Arizona appears to have the pieces in place.
The Coyotes signed productive young forward Clayton Keller to an eight-year contract extension this off-season, locking up the 21-year-old through the 2027-28 season.
Ekman-Larsson is still one of the NHL’s best offensive defencemen, Brad Richardson tied for the scoring lead with 19 goals in his 14th season, and crafty Nick Schmaltz, acquired last season in a trade with Chicago, is healthy.
The Coyotes also have a nice problem in trying to decide between two quality goalies.
Antti Raanta suffered his second straight season-ending injury last season, but Darcy Kuemper was good in his place, finishing with a 2.33 goals-against average and 27 wins. No matter who’s in goal, Arizona should have a chance to win every night.
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The Coyotes also will be playing their third season under coach Rick Tocchet, so they know his system and what to expect.
“I feel like we have a group that has something to prove,” Chayka said. “Guys have some chips on their shoulders.”