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By Tim Waugh
Arizona Coyotes Writer
Newly appointed Coyotes General Manager John Chayka (pronounced Shy-ka) has been a busy man since the beginning of the off-season, signing and re-signing forwards like captain Shane Doan to a 1-year deal, and former Anaheim Ducks winger Jamie McGinn to a 3-year $10 million contract. But the impact made in his few short months as GM has been felt most on the blue line. Reaching into what seemed like the shallowest of pockets in seasons past, Chayka has spent some serious cash (well, for the Coyotes) on some quality help for OEL and co. Paired with an exceptional first year at the draft-floor table in Buffalo this past June, the players brought in are exciting and a breath of fresh air for fans everywhere.
Headlining the list of new names patrolling the Arizona blue line this year is far-and-away my favorite Free Agent acquisition in years, Alex Goligoski.
After notching 37 points and finishing +21 with Dallas last year, “Goose” is exactly what we need. He is a defenseman who is always getting in on the play and making crisp passes while staying reliable in his end, one may argue him to be a “budget Duncan Keith.” His offense is definitely his upside, and will excel in a system like the Coyotes’ where scoring is generated from the net out. Now, Goligoski has taken flak in the past for being a “poor defender” due to his size (5’11” 185 lbs). But the way he plays isn’t that of a traditional defender, but very indicative of the current speed of the game, which Chayka is keen to stay ahead of the curve on. His mobility and puck-handling skills attribute to his ability to make a play in his own end and have the puck end up 200 ft. away from his crease, or more favorably, in the opposition’s net. Now that’s my kind of defending. I am personally ecstatic to see him in the fall and how he impacts the squad.
A much less impactful signing, Luke Schenn was also brought into the fold on a $2.5 million contract spanning 2 years. As a big-hitting, right-handed defenseman, he is polar-opposite to his new colleague Goligoski. His value will lie in his ability to shut down opponents and make big clean hits, nobody is looking to this guy for the game winning goal or a stretch pass on the PK to send Boedker (now San Jose) Rieder (?) Duclair up the wing for a shorty. But what he offers the most is a luxury AZ hasn’t seen in years, and that’s flexibility. The choices we now have in our bottom 6 are getting more attractive by the week. Behind us are the days of having to call up the likes of Alex Grant whenever Michalek had one of his famous “lower body injuries.”
The re-signing of both Connor Murphy and Michael Stone were excellent in my opinion. Locking up Murphy to a six-year deal with an AAV of $3.85 million is a low-risk high-reward situation. He’s already shown exponential growth in his game, going from a -27 in the 14-15 season, to a +5 and more than doubling his best for points this past season. At 23 years young he is entering the prime of his career and learning how to play from an All-Star like Ekman-Larsson is doing him wonders already. Stone is also solid, but the team needs him to become something greater. Hopefully he comes off his injury right where he left off and earns a lengthy contract with the club.
Right now, you can expect our D-pairings to look something like this:
Ekman-Larsson – Murphy
Goligoski – Stone
Michalek/Connauton/Chychrun – Schenn/D’Angelo
Some of you will notice I left Klas Dahlbeck out, and that’s because I feel he is the lesser of our possible choices, and will only see ice this year if one of the aforementioned left-shot defenders are injured or 16th overall 2016 selection Jakob Chychrun is sent down after camp. A former top-5 draft pick, Schenn will undoubtedly start the season due to Stone recovering from his recent surgery, it will be a good time for him, a once 5th overall pick, to fight for his roster spot and his place as an NHL regular.
I’ll be diving into some prospects in more detail as the summer rolls on, but I want to focus a bit on one right now. Anthony D’Angelo is high on my list of players to see this year. His skill is only eclipsed by his attitude issues that have enshrouded him since his early-OHL days. His season with Tampa Bay AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch last year was a productive one however, notching 37 assists and 43 points in 69 games. His booming shot and eye for offense would be a welcome edition to any team, and some scouts have been bold enough as to say he is a future All-Star. If Tippett can keep the young stud’s slurs and outbursts to a minimum, D’Angelo could be one of the biggest steals in desert hockey history.
Jamie McBain, Jarred Tinordi, and Kyle Wood are all on the outer-reaches of roster-hood as well, which will make for an exciting training camp for Yotes fans. There is no doubt the skill level at the position of defense has grown, maybe not upwards as much as it has outwards. That being said, flexibility staves off complacency, and a group of players competitive for roster spots is a group of players competitive on the ice.