During the summer months leading up to the 2007-08 season, the Phoenix Coyotes were looking for a change in direction. They started the process by appointing Don Maloney as the team’s new GM. Maloney, along with the rest of the retooled front office, began to overhaul the mindset and vision of the franchise. This change in style had a direct affect on the roster. While the club had been stocking quality first-round prospects prior to Maloney’s arrival from previous drafts, it was the new GM, along with head coach Wayne Gretzky, who decided a youth movement was in order. The Coyotes were willing to pass on signing high-end free agents to bolster the roster and were more than likely concede a playoff spot in order to give their future stars a chance to learn and progress at the NHL level. Management was aware that the process of bringing young players up to speed would take some time and possibly take a toll on everyone’s patience. However, they simply weren’t willing to take the franchise backwards any longer. The move worked extremely well for the franchise as the rookies played a vital role for the team this year, having finished the year above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2001-02 season. In the end, the Coyotes just missed the playoffs, but they earned a lot of respect in the process.
Peter Mueller headlined the young group this year. Coming to the desert after playing the past two seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, Mueller looked poised right out of the gate. He would go on to play top minutes and see time in crucial situations for the Coyotes. After a slow start, Mueller hit his stride about a month into the season. He would erupt in the month of January, averaging a point a game en route to rookie of the month honors. The young pivot was able to maintain a healthy point pace as the season winded down. He ended the season with 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists), which left him tied for third in rookie scoring with Jonathan Toews and left him third in Phoenix in scoring as well. He was the club’s first rookie to score over 20 goals in a season since Teemu Selanne did so during the 1992-93 campaign, when the franchise flew the Winnipeg Jets banner.
While Mueller won’t win the Calder Trophy, one can’t overlook the positive effect he had on this team on all fronts. Once Mueller settled his game and started to take off, he truly looked like a skilled vet. While he is far from his apex, it is going to be interesting to see what chemistry is going to be mustered up heading into the 2008-09 season. It was apparent that he fit well with Shane Doan on the top line. However, Phoenix might be willing to tinker with either him or Kyle Turris at wing to solidify their top three forward positions. Looking forward, expect Mueller to pick up where he left off last season, becoming more productive.
Finishing the season with 35 points (8 goals, 27 assists), Martin Hanzal might have not made such a offensive splash as Mueller did, but he was just as vital to the Coyotes filling the role as the team’s top two-way centerman. Throughout the season, the Czech native was able to use his size and tenacity on both sides of the puck. As a rookie, he was also one of the team’s leaders in the face-off circle. He did miss some time due to a mild groin injury, but was able to get back into the lineup missing minimal time.
Like Mueller, expect Hanzal to come back and continue to be a big factor for the Coyotes next season. Over the course of his career, he has shown the ability to adjust and meet the level of competition and the NHL is no exception. Suffice it to say, you should expect Hanzal to be an upgraded version of Michal Handzus if he continues to live up to his potential.
You can never blame Daniel Carcillo for not trying. That is, trying everyone’s nerves. While he’s shown to be an irritating middleweight, much of Carcillo’s full potential has been locked away as his mouth and muscles have kept him off the ice. If he wanted to show everyone that he could lead the league in penalty minutes well, he won. Racking up a whopping 324 minutes in 57 games – including a league-leading four game misconducts – it’s astonishing that Carcillo wasn’t able to muster up a match penalty with all his antics. Regardless, when he wanted to play some effective two-way hockey, he was able to play at a high level. He was able to display this when he scored five goals in the last two games of the season – which even left Gretzky laughing at the anomaly – even though the Coyotes were out of postseason contention. He finished with 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists) and was a plus-1.
No one discredits Carcillo for being loyal to the franchise and defending his teammates. However, as it was seen during the season, Carcillo really lacked a sense of when and where it was acceptable to flex his muscles and his jaw. It didn’t help that the Coyotes had one of the weaker penalty-kill units in the league. It even got to the point in the season where the Coyotes had to send him a stern message by shipping him out to San Antonio to play in the AHL for a brief stint.
Come next year, Carcillo needs to really balance out his game. Seeing how he has the tools, great drive, and some good upside, he shouldn’t look to covet the league’s pest award.
By and large, the biggest surprise for the Coyotes this year was delivered by second-year forward Daniel Winnik. After having an off year in the minors in 2006-07, Winnik bounced back and stole the show from day one during training camp. Having found chemistry and confidence playing alongside Craig Weller, Winnik was really able to step it up and prove to be an effective two-way player at the NHL level.
Overlooked on the offensive front having only scored 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games this year, don’t be surprised if Winnik comes back next year and builds on his previous point totals. He’s never had a problem scoring throughout his career after he’s adjusted to the level of play. Combined with his size, effectiveness on the forecheck, and willingness to work through traffic, he should continue to be a well-rounded gem for Phoenix.
After starting his season in the AHL with the Rampage, Keith Yandle earned a call-up to the Coyotes and finished out his year in the NHL. The results were a bit mixed, as he made a lot of youthful mistakes. However, as the coaches pressed and as he started to get a good base under him, Yandle was able to show some flashes of the future. He chipped in a modest 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 43 games, showing that offense is not an area of concern. Yandle seemed exposed in his own coverage and his positioning, something that needs to improve over the summer if he wants to stick with Phoenix full time next season.
Enver Lisin got a sniff of the action in Phoenix, seeing time in 13 contests. While he wasn’t much of a factor on the scorer’s sheet the majority of the nights, the crafty Russian’s game is showing some growth. He registered 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) during numerous call-ups, but the key sign is that Lisin showed to play both sides of the ice with consistency. Come next season, the speedy sniper should be expected to make the team out of camp.