Arizona Coyotes Max Domi - Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Three Keys to Arizona Coyotes’ Playoff Contention

Published On September 19, 2017 | By Jason Harrison | Editorials

John Chayka has continued to re-tool the Arizona Coyotes roster and the results should be measurable. These three events will bear the most influence on whether the Yotes play into late April.

It has been a summer of change for the Arizona Coyotes.

The adage goes “out with the old and in with the new”. John Chayka and the new sole owner of the franchise, Andrew Barroway, followed the saying to a “T”.

When the Yotes take the ice on October 5th, it will be with a new goaltender, a revamped defensive unit, and without it’s franchise icon and captain Shane Doan. Rick Tocchet replaced Dave Tippett after the latter spun his wheels at the bottom of the league for the past several seasons, and the former Coyotes player brings with him the promise of something desert hockey fans haven’t seen in some time; positive, attacking hockey.

Last offseason saw expectations raise to a playoff level. Those expectations fell off within the first ten games. Fans have been more tempered in their approach to the 2017-18 season. Still, there’s no denying the improvement in the roster and the expectation from long suffering fans that they’ll finally see some dividends on the ice.

I’ve got good news. Its going to happen. The Coyotes may or may not be “good”, but they should be considerably more fun to watch than they have been in the past several seasons.

Names like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan are immediate upgrades over their predecessors Connor Murphy and Martin Hanzal. The kids are older, stronger, faster, and better adjusted to life in the NHL and they are now playing for a coach who better suits their strengths.

Better isn’t good enough, though. What would it take for the Arizona Coyotes to make a trip to playoffs this spring?

Max Domi returns to being Max Domi, and then kicks it up a notch

You’re probably saying to yourself, “He must’ve meant Anthony Duclair.”

Nah.

Max Domi is the key to getting this ship off the ground. Go watch tape of the 2015-16 season to prove it.

In his rookie year Domi scored 52 points and formed a dynamite tandem with Duclair. Last year he missed 23 games and we rarely saw him paired with Duke on the opposite wing. Subsequently, Duclair’s own numbers went into the tank and then fell out from under the tank and into a bottomless pit.

Is it any wonder we have a new head coach?

The Yotes need Domi to return to dominance, but with the added experience he’s gained over his freshman and sophomore years. Anything shy of 60 points will be a disappointment for #16, and if he can produce 60-plus points like he’s capable this offense will go much further than it did last season.

Clayton Keller delivers

Clayton Keller is an incredible prospect. The best in a loaded Arizona system, hands down.

Tocchet and Chayka need Keller to progress from prospect to star in a hurry if playoffs are going to be a possibility in the desert in 2018.

If I took a show of hands, would anyone say Max Domi was more touted than Clayton Keller coming into his rookie season? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. Domi put up 52 points in a rookie season strapped to worse centers, worse defenders, and a coach who stressed bunker-mentality hockey.

If Keller can’t top that in a full season on a considerably better roster, then all of the prognostications (including my own) may have been too optimistic.

Simply put, Keller is the most skilled player ever drafted by the Coyotes that doesn’t go by a three-letter acronym.

For the turnaround fans are craving to begin in earnest this season, Keller will have to become the thunder to Max Domi’s lightning and provide Tocchet with two consistent point producing options on the wing.

Antti Raanta must be consistent

If you were tuning into Coyotes hockey in the past five years, you could count on three things: Shane Doan, defensive hockey, and inconsistent outings from Mike Smith.

All three of those things are gone at the start of the 2017-18 season, and Antti Raanta is the new backstop behind a defensive unit that has seen significant tweaking this offseason.

There’s not a huge sample size of work to go on for Raanta, but what he’s put on tape – particularly last season filling in for Henrik Lundqvist – was enough to convince Chayka that he was the answer where Mike Smith hadn’t been in some time.

We’ve seen him be an above average goaltender for 20 or 30 games across three different seasons now. The question is can he provide performances close to that for 50 or 60 games when there’s no relief in sight? If he can, everything about the Arizona Coyotes’ fortunes will change.

Close your eyes and imagine.

Raanta hovers near a .918-.920 save percentage for a full 50-60 games. With his track record and Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers added to the defensive corps in front of him, it seems possible, right?

And if that’s possible, so are the playoffs.

The Yotes just need these three pieces to fall into place…oh, and a bit of injury luck.