As this season winds down, the Arizona Coyotes have plenty to be thankful for. More so, there is plenty to look forward to. The 2015-2016 Coyotes saw significant growth in the play of their rookie class. The youngsters played so well it invigorated the older players to have near career seasons. But next year will see the NHL debut of a few of the following players as they are poised to make the leap into the big time.
Youngsters to Debut Next Season
Conor Garland: The Moncton Wildcats star right wing just broke a nearly 20-year-old team record for most points during the season while leading the QMJHL in scoring. The 5'8" winger finished up the regular season with 128 points (39 G, 89 A) and also set the all-time assist record for the Wildcats in the process. A nice accomplishment for the 20-year-old. It is expected that Garland will make his presence felt in the Coyotes rookie camp and training camp later this year. Favorable comparisons to Martin St. Louis are helping to pave the way for the Massachusetts born prospect.
Dylan Strome: The Coyotes 2015 top pick, the Draft's third overall selection, was among the last cuts in Training Camp. The Coyotes were reticent to start off their prized prospect in the NHL having had disastrous experiences rushing Kyle Turris. Well, after having another stellar statistical season for the Erie Otters in the OHL, the Coyotes brass might have a hard time keeping him off the team. Especially, after plays like this:
Strome is the franchise center the Coyotes have needed since Jeremy Roenick left the first time. Heck, statistically a case can be made that Steven Reinprecht has been the Coyotes best center since. Let that sink in.... OK. Strome will be on the Desert Dogs roster next year barring injury.
Christian Dvorak: The London Knights forward has continued to progress in the CHL registering back-to-back 100-point season. Dvorak is changing the tone of the media when referring to him. Columnist Hannah Stuart at TodaysSlapShot.com loves Dvorak and writes glowingly about him:
The general tone when talking about Dvorak has changed from “the Coyotes may have gotten lucky picking Dvorak in the second round” to “the Coyotes got a steal in Christian Dvorak in the second round”, and many are beginning to consider that he may have a higher offensive ceiling than previously thought.
Praise indeed. Stuart goes on to point out that the Coyotes have four unrestricted free agent spots in their current forward corps for next season. Dvorak can easily fill one of those slots and continue the youth movement in Glendale. His play and leadership has grown in London where he followed in the Captain's footsteps made by Max Domi.
Nick Merkley: The Coyotes second 1st round pick at number 30 overall from the 2015 NHL draft. Merkley was having a fine season until suffering a torn ACL during a game against Spokane. The youngster tallied 17 G and 31 A in 43 games this season. The Coyotes medical staff has taken over his care from the Kelowna Rockets WHL team. He is expected to recover fully.
Brendan Perlini: While youngsters like Dvorak and Strome have been lighting it up there are questions surrounding power forward Brendan Perlini. The Guildford, UK product has not really been the same since he broke his hand a couple of years ago.
Perlini's production has actually cratered over the last two years. In 2013/14 Perlini tallied 34 G, 37 A for 71 points in 58 games. This past year the numbers dropped to 25 G, 20 A for 45 points in 57 games. So what is going on? Arizona General Manager Don Maloney still has faith but is perplexed.
“His skill set and the numbers just don’t equate,” Maloney said. “There’s something off with him because really he should be a premier scorer the way Strome and Dvorak and Fischer and MacInnis are. He should be right in that conversation. His game is skating and scoring.”
The Coyotes are not in a panic, as of yet. But it is quite easy to see that there is a problem to be addressed by the team and the player.
The Arizona Coyotes are not going to make the playoffs this year but the growth exhibited by the team gives their fans a lot of hope for long term success. The talent arriving as soon as next year should only help the Desert Dogs reach that next level. Once they get into the playoffs...who knows? Anything can happen.