Following a year in which rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair combined for 38 goals and 96 points, the Coyotes will open the 2016-17 season on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers with three rookie centers, one rookie wing and one rookie defenseman.
Defenseman Jakob Chychrun, a first-round draft pick in May, is the youngest of the newbies — having turned 18 in March. Center Dylan Strome and left wing Lawson Crouse are 19, center Christian Dvorak is 20 and center Laurent Dauphin is 21.
Their roster spots were finalized with the Coyotes placed defensemen Kevin Connauton and Michael Stone on the Non-roster Injury list — a designation which allows them to return without missing a minimum number of games. Stone is recovering from knee surgery in March, and Connauton has missed the bulk of training camp with an lower body injury.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, an ancient 33 in comparison, is back on the roster after clearing waivers, although he could be released or sent to the minor leagues without passing through waivers through the first 10 games of the season. Defenseman Klas Dalhbeck, also placed on waivers on Monday, was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Coach Dave Tippett says roles and line pairings are still to be determined, but he’s pleased with the composition of the roster.
“We sit today with five rookies on there, young players who have earned their way to a roster spot, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said. “We’ll be young, we’re going to integrate some of these young players into our group, hopefully they continue to grow and become good NHL players.”
Strome and Dvorak were offense-minded scoring machines in the junior ranks last season and were expected to be given a long look in camp. One of them will likely center one of the team’s top two lines.
Crouse, a 220-pound former first-round pick of the Florida Panthers, came over in a late summer trade and muscled his way onto the roster with his physical presence.
Dauphin, who’s spent two years in the system already, impressed the staff as a two-way center who can help on the penalty kill. Chychrun’s emergence was perhaps the biggest surprise in camp — forcing his way past Michalek and Dahlbeck on the depth chart.
“The one thing we’ve said from the first couple days of training camp is he’s mature for his age,” Tippett said. “He’s come in and played a mature game.
“He’s a real eager young man, he’s obviously fit, he’s in a man’s body. There’s going to be things he needs to learn as we go on here, but he’s ahead of the curve for a young defenseman.”
Tippett said learning from the experience of Domi and Duclair in making the transition to the NHL last year and dealing with all the trials and tribulations should be a benefit to the first-year players.
“They need to grow as people and as players,” he said. “Young players come in, there’s an excitement to start with, but with that excitement comes the reality that to be in the NHL there’s a commitment you have to make on and off the ice, there’s still a lot to learn.
“We went through that last year, we’ll go through that again this year, but I feel like overall our depth is strong enough to integrate these young players in and still be a very competitive team.”
Chychrun, son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, seems to understand that. He’s already had to deal with some of the trials and tribulations after falling from potential top-five pick in this year’s draft to No. 16.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “I’m hoping this is just the beginning, I’m going to treat it like that, still come in every day and work just as hard if not harder. You have to fight just to make the lineup every night. You have to act like a pro, you have to go about your business every day and continue to get better. You can’t be complacent.”
Crouse says the rookies are learning from each other as well as the veterans.
“All of us have been pretty tight. Having all of us here has made it that much easier. At the end of the day it’s really good competition for us, and I’d like to think that we push each other and it makes us better players, each and every one of us.
The roster remains in flux with Stone and Connauton making progress in their recoveries. Tippett described both as “day to day.” Defenseman Jarred Tinordi,’s situation will also have to be resolved after he returns from serving the final four games of a 20-game suspension for performance-enhancement violations.
Stone, who began participating in contract drills within the past week, says he feels good, but there is no set timetable for his return. “I think we’re doing all the tings we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from his teammates new and old.
“I think we look good,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of speed and skill up front, and I think we’ve got a lot of pieces on the back end that are going to move the pucks up quick to those forwards who are so dynamic.”
As for piecing together the roster puzzle, he said: “I think anybody in management will say that’s a good problem to have. Competition is healthy.”
LOOSE PUCKS: Tippett said Tobias Rieder is expected to join the team Wednesday for his first practice. His arrival was delayed due to visa difficulties. . . . Jamie McGinn did not practice Tuesday and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Goaltenders: Mike Smith, Louis Domingue
Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Connor Murphy, Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn, Jamie McBain, Jakob Chychrun, Zbynek Michalek
Centers: Martin Hanzal, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Brad Richardson, Laurent Dauphin
Right wings: Radim Vrbata, Anthony Duclair, Shane Doan, Tobias Rieder
Left wings: Max Domi, Jamie McGinn, Jordan Martinook, Ryan White, Lawson Crouse
Non-roster Injured List: D Michael Stone, D Kevin Connauton
Suspension: D Jarred Tinordi