2016-17 season preview: Arizona Coyotes

"I always laugh when people say, 'You're going to be good in a few years.' Why in a few years?" said Max Domi. "What do you mean, 'in a few years?' With the moves we've made ... there's no reason we can't win night in and night out." Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Coyotes players realize that the expectation outside the organization is that they're going to be pretty good in the future. Once some of these high-profile picks start to mature, watch out. Right?

Max Domi and the other current players have different plans. The Coyotes have bottomed out in their rebuilding effort and now he wants to see them make serious positive strides in the standings.

"I always laugh when people say, 'You're going to be good in a few years.' Why in a few years?" Domi said during a recent phone interview. "What do you mean, 'in a few years?' With the moves we've made ... there's no reason we can't win night in and night out."

Last season, the Coyotes needed a few breaks to get two points in a game. They needed the other team to play lousy. They needed high-end goaltending. Basically, they were overmatched.

Internally, they now believe that if they play well, they can play with any team, regardless of how the opposition is playing.

The key will be getting consistent play from a roster full of young players. Domi came out strong in 2015 but admitted he struggled later in the season -- even after everyone had warned him that harder times were coming.

"You have to battle the uphill battle," he said. " You're trying to elevate your game as much as you can but so does the rest of the league. It's almost like playoff hockey comes in December."

Best new faces

General manager John Chayka's trade for free-agent defenseman Alex Goligoski's rights raised eyebrows. Why in the world would a veteran, puck-moving defenseman wait all these years to get a shot at free agency -- and then sign with the Coyotes? He did exactly that and at a very reasonable number ($5.475 million per season), showing just how convinced the Coyotes must be of their plans moving forward.

He'll make a big difference on a defense that desperately needed him.

"It's unbelievable the passes and plays he can make," Domi said of Goligoski. "You can tell his presence; it's pretty unbelievable. He's a mature guy who is definitely a leader. He's going to help lead this team in the right direction."

The signing of Jamie McGinn was a nice veteran addition on the wing. He'll push 20 goals -- and taking a $1 million flier on Radim Vrbata won't hurt. There's insurance if some of the kids aren't completely ready.

Biggest unknowns

The prospects. The Coyotes have an extremely deep prospect pool. It's just hard to project exactly when they're going to make consistent NHL contributions.

Dylan Strome had 111 points in 56 games last season in the OHL and will be given every opportunity to play in the NHL this season.

"He looked great last year [in camp]," said Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. "He's one year older now. I think he's going to come in and do what [Anthony Duclair] and Max [Domi] did last year."

It will be interesting to see if there's any temptation to keep defenseman Jakob Chychrun around to give him a taste of the NHL. The Coyotes are still thin on defense, an area Chayka might try to look externally for help.

Goaltending remains a bit of an unknown. The Coyotes still have Mike Smith locked up for three more years at $5.6 million per season, a high sticker price for a guy who has a save percentage in the .915 range.

Sure things

There are plenty of questions surrounding the Coyotes, but there are two constants: coach Dave Tippett and Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson has now put up consecutive 20-goal seasons and has been a positive possession player on a team that has spent more of its time defending than on the attack. When the Coyotes get going as a franchise, the hockey world will get a true appreciation for just how important Ekman-Larsson is as a player. He's dynamic, but that has been lost on a bad team for the past couple years. If Arizona makes a playoff push, he'll get Norris Trophy consideration.

And then there's Tippett. The one sure thing is that he's going to maximize talent. Having Tippett around last season may have even cost the Coyotes a shot at Auston Matthews because Tippett managed to scratch out wins with a group that was often overmatched. The payoff is that he's absolutely the right guy to guide all this young talent moving forward.


This isn't a playoff team yet, but it's headed in the right direction. At some point the Coyotes will catch the aging former powers, such as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, just not yet. They'll have to settle for a sixth-place finish -- above Vancouver -- in the division.