Craig Morgan – todaysslapshot.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Radim Vrbata always suspected that playing on a line with Max Domi would be a good match. Three weeks worth of training camp and preseason games have confirmed his suspicions.
“Speed, skill, he likes to create,” Vrbata said. “He can make something out of nothing which is a good skill to have.”
It was hard to say for certain where Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was leaning with his lines when the 23-man roster was announced on Tuesday. For starters, left wing Tobias Rieder hadn’t arrived in camp yet due to visa issues. Tippett said he would arrive on Wednesday.
The Coyotes also practiced without left wing Jamie McGinn, who is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Despite those absences, here is our stab at the lines and defensive pairings you will see when the Coyotes open the season. Mike Smith is, of course, the starting goalie, with Louis Domingue the backup.
Martin Hanzal will center Domi on the left wing and Vrbata on the right wing.
Vrbata and Hanzal played together for years and coach Dave Tippett knows they have chemistry, but Vrbata has always been at his best when he has a set-up man, like he did with Ray Whitney in 2011-12 when he scored a career-high 35 goals. With Hanzal opening up space by going to the net, Vrbata finding those open spaces and Domi finding him, the Coyotes hope they have a complementary trio.
Domi will likely move around to spark other lines or get himself going in Tippett’s ever-changing lineup, but Tippett, like most NHL coaches, thinks of his forward combinations in pairs so expect Hanzal and Vrbata to play much of the season together.
Christian Dvorak will center Jamie McGinn on the left wing and Anthony Duclair on the right wing.
This combination won’t give Duclair anyone who can skate with him, but McGinn provides another presence down low with good hands to chip in on scoring with the offensively gifted Duclair. That gives Dvorak two good scoring options on his wings to maximize his creativity. It will be worth noting how well this line can maintain puck possession and defend when it does not have the puck. McGinn will have to lead the way in the latter regard.
Brad Richardson will center Jordan Martinook on the left wing and Shane Doan on the right wing.
This combination worked well last season when Doan led the team with 28 goals. Martinook and Richardson both bring speed and work ethic and Doan will try to find the seams in the defense, particularly in what some like to call Alex Ovechkin’s office on the left wing, where he can uncork what is still one of the best shots on the roster. Martinook and Richardson will both be used on the penalty killing unit.
Laurent Dauphin or Dylan Strome will center Tobias Rieder on the left wing and Ryan White on the right wing.
This is the most difficult read because it wouldn’t seem to make sense to have Strome with the club at age 19 if he’s not going to play full-time. Dauphin has a year of pro experience and would make more sense as an extra forward, but Tippett reiterated that if Dauphin plays well he won’t be an extra forward.
Maybe the Coyotes will use the nearby AHL to keep Dauphin in game shape and the development staff to keep Strome in game shape. Maybe he will experiment with one of the three rookie centers on a wing at times. He’ll also have to find time for rookie left wing Lawson Crouse in the lineup. Someone may have to play the off wing, so Ryan White could also spend time as a healthy scratch.
Extra forwards: Lawson Crouse and Dylan Strome
Dauphin can report to the AHL so he can get time when Strome is in the lineup. Crouse is not AHL eligible so he can play nine games before the Coyotes must make a decision on burning the first year of his entry-level contract. Tucson assigned forward Christian Fischer is also a player who should see time at the NHL level.
LHD Oliver Ekman-Larsson and RHD Connor Murphy
Murphy showed marked improvement last season and will continue to protect OEL’s offensive forays. At 25 and 23 years old, Ekman-Larsson and Murphy could be a pairing for many years to come.
LHD Alex Goligoski and RHD Luke Schenn
Schenn’s spot on this pairing may be short-lived when Michael Stone returns. The Coyotes felt Stone took great strides in his defending last season and he still has that bomb of a shot that creates scoring opportunities when he manages to get it through to the net.
Tippett said Stone, who had ACL/MCL surgery more than six months ago, is close to returning to the lineup after being cleared for contact last week. He will start the season on the injured non-roster list with Kevin Connauton.
LHD Jakob Chychrun and RHD Jamie McBain
The Coyotes have to be careful not to limit Chychrun’s minutes so much that they stunt his development. He could just be playing on a nine-game trial before he returns to juniors or they could slide Goligoski to the right side in certain situations to free up more minutes. McBain will likely be out of the lineup once Stone returns, but he could remain with the club as its seventh defenseman
Extras: LHD Kevin Connauton, RHD Michael Stone, RHD Zbynek Michalek, LHD Jarred Tinordi
Michalek cleared waivers and can be sent down to Tucson over the next 30 days. With Stone and Connauton injured, and Tinordi still suspended four more games for violating the NHL and NHLPA policy on substance abuse, Michalek will remain the seventh defenseman for now. It is hard to see how Tinordi will crack this lineup.