Monday, September 14, 2009

Ready or Not: Coyotes Hit Camp

If there is one thing that the Phoenix Coyotes are happy about is that they are back to work.
After a summer filled with off ice distractions concerning the ownership situation the Coyotes began camp without Head Coach Wayne Gretzky who is waiting to see what happens in court considering his contract with the team as head coach is under dispute. In the interim, assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson is in charge.
For Coyotes fans, discussions can go from bottom lines to the forward lines and who will play where. With a few new faces the Coyotes have a radically different looking team than opening night this past season.
Up front Phoenix has brought back many of the young players they acquired at the deadline last season. Petr Prucha, Scottie Upshall, and Matthew Lombardi all return after showing their stuff after the deadline.
Another new face up front who was acquired via trade during the offseason was forward Lauri Korpikoski as the Coyotes sent Enver Lisin to the New York Rangers. While Phoenix sacrifices some offensive firepower in losing Lisin, they gain a more all around player in Korpikoski who can play both sides of the puck very well. His offensive abilities will continue to grow as his career goes on and General Manager Don Maloney is hoping that he can help on the defensive side of things as well.
Continuing the look at trades, the Coyotes re-acquired a familiar face in Radim Vrbata by shipping off Todd Fedoruk and David Hale to Tampa Bay. This trade was an absolute steal for the Phoenix Coyotes who got rid of two useless players while acquiring a guy who can score and be a threat in the shootout. Vrbata had 27 goals in his previous tour with Phoenix and the team will be looking for him to provide that and more.
There are a few other new names up front that were signed during the free agency period. The first, Vernon Fiddler, was brought in from Nashville. While he may not be putting the puck in the net much he is a great faceoff and defensive forward, two aspects that the team was lacking in this past season. The penalty kill was a weakness and Fiddler will no doubt be the spear head for the PK unit.
On the wing Don Maloney signed Taylor Pyatt from the Vancouver Canucks. A big body, Pyatt has relatively good speed and some offensive instincts. Considering his size it would behoove him to use it more often. If he could Pyatt may become a very good power forward. Hopefully Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who plays a power forward game, can help Pyatt hone his skills.
Throw in the usual suspects of Doan, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and Mikkel Boedker and the Coyotes forward corps rounds out nicely. Young players such as Kyle Turris, Kevin Porter, Daniel Winnik, and Viktor Tikhonov will have to show they belong with the big club.
On defense there have been big changes. Two new defensemen have joined the blue line group of the Coyotes and both of them are from Calgary. First they acquired Jim Vandermeer, a tough and physical defensive defenseman. The Coyotes have needed some more physicality on the back line ever since Keith Ballard was traded away in the Olli Jokinen deal.
However a more important addition is veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Not only do you add a very talented blueliner who can play a good all around game but he is also a veteran and a leader. The Coyotes have been lacking in veteran leadership in recent seasons and adding someone like Aucoin to the mix helps to spread the responsibility around on a relatively young team. Having a mentor like Aucoin for young players like Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek will only help improve their games. Add in Ed Jovanovski and the Coyotes defense is the strongest it has been in years.
In goal, barring a big surprise, it seems that Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter. However, Don Maloney went out and signed veteran Jason LaBarbera as a man who can push Bryzgalov to be better. The former New York Ranger draft pick has shown he can be a solid goalie at the NHL level and will certainly force Breezy to be on top of his game all the time.
Al Montoya had an impressive showing towards the end of the season last year and will no doubt get another shot to prove he is ready to move up from the AHL permanently.
Phoenix has their first preseason game tomorrow night against the LA Kings at Arena. If you are from the Phoenix area, go to the game. Support this team and show everyone that hockey does belong in the desert and can work. The roster for that game can be found here.
Look here later for another post about the Rangers upcoming pre-season matchup with the Bruins tomorrow night!

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