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Training camp cuts are coming. It’s an undeniable reality of the NHL calendar.
The Tucson Roadrunners open their training camp on Friday and they will need enough bodies to run that camp effectively. The Coyotes have four more preseason games and the last two will likely bear a strong resemblance to the team that takes the ice for the season opener on Oct. 14 in Columbus.
One glance at the Coyotes’ camp schedule shows that from Thursday to Friday, the on-ice session goes from two groups to one group so it’s time to examine the remaining position battles before the roster cuts begin.
Solid roster spots: Nick Schmaltz, Jay Beagle, Johan Larsson
In a battle (1 roster spot available): Travis Boyd, Barrett Hayton, Jan Jeník
Coach André Tourigny cleared up some of the uncertainty when he said that Beagle would play center and not wing. GM Bill Armstrong cleared the picture a little more when he said that Ryan Dzingel is viewed as a wing and is not in the mix at center. That leaves three players vying for that fourth spot, and each brings a different skill set.
Boyd would be a No. 4 center who brings a little bit of everything but no standout qualities. He has been no more than a depth forward and extra player at previous stops and at age 28, he has likely maxed out his potential. The advantage that he brings is experience.
Hayton is the most highly touted of the trio, and probably has the highest skill level in terms of playmaking. He is looking to secure a permanent place in the lineup after two disjointed years of development.
Jeník brings more of an edge; an in-your-face style. He can win battles in the corners and he isn’t afraid to go to the net. Jeník probably needs more development in Tucson. I think this comes down to Boyd and Hayton unless another player becomes available on the waiver wire who interests Armstrong and his staff. Hayton sustained a lower-body injury in the second period against Anaheim on Wednesday and did not return. No further information was available after the game.
Solid roster spots: Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel (when healthy), Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Dmitrij Jaškin, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Ryan Dzingel
In a battle (2 spots available): Alex Galchenyuk, Andrew Ladd, Liam O’Brien
I have a hard time believing that Galchenyuk will not be on this roster. As much as he loves living here, I doubt he would have turned down an actual contract offer from another team (he had one from Toronto) for a PTO in Arizona if he didn’t think he was going to play.
Ladd is in a tough situation. He has played just four NHL games the past two seasons, and just 35 AHL games. He trained hard this offseason and the desire is clearly there, as evidenced by his fight in the first preseason game against the Kings. Ladd brings leadership to the room, but he has lost more than a step. He is going to have to fight for this spot, and any ice time that comes if he makes the roster.
O’Brien was one of the best players in the preseason game against the Kings. He brought an edge and a high compete level, and he assisted on Dylan Guenther’s game-winning goal with a deflection in front of the net. Like Boyd, he is trying to cement a permanent spot in an NHL lineup (he has never played more than 13 games in a season), but that seems like a tall order, even in this lineup. His best chance is probably as an extra forward. With the others in the mix, it also might make sense for him to play in Tucson and provide the physical, veteran presence that almost all successful AHL teams possess.
It is uncertain whether the Coyotes will keep one or two extra forwards, but with Kessel sidelined due to a foot injury, it is likely that two will stick around for the time being.
A reminder, as with every other position, this picture could change if the waiver wire presents an opportunity for Armstrong to pluck another player.
“Sometimes you’re not in a position to take players. I think we’re in a position that we’re going to have room,” he said. “That’s always something you look into. You’re always looking to improve your team.”
Solid roster spots: Jakob Chychrun, Anton Strålman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Conor Timmins, Ilya Lyubushkin
In a battle (two spots available): Vladislav Provolnev, Kyle Capobianco, Victor Söderström, Janis Moser, Vladialv Kolyachonok
The Coyotes surprised some scouts when they put the 26-year-old Provolnev in the Rookie Faceoff, but he wanted the chance to adapt to the North American ice. He showed off a physical side and an ability to step up at the blue line, but not much on the offensive side. In a lesser role as the Coyotes No. 6 or No. 7 defensemen, Provolnev has a good chance of making this roster. He could help against heavier teams.
Capobianco has a chance at a fresh start. Once a promising puck moving defenseman, he struggled the past couple of times he was called up after an ACL injury. Coach Rick Tocchet thought he looked tentative on the ice. On the other hand, he has enjoyed a lot of success and looked dominant at the AHL level. He’ll have another chance to translate it to the NHL with a new coaching staff, but it would make more sense to have him play on the third pair than to sit him often as a seventh defenseman. If the latter, it would make more sense to keep him in Tucson. Capobianco is currently day-to-day with a knee injury.
Söderström will have to wow the staff with his performance in the preseason to grab this spot. He has only played 32 games at the American Hockey League level and 36 on North American ice. Defensemen take a little more time and he could use it to develop in Tucson.
Moser has shown good mobility in camp and could help in a puck moving role. He has played at the pro level in Switzerland but likely needs more time to adapt to the North American ice surface.
Kolyachonok is an interesting player in this conversation. The Florida Panthers’ 2019 second-round pick has some dynamic elements to his game, but he only has 10 games of AHL experience. He may also need some time in Tucson.
Solid roster spot: Carter Hutton
In a battle (1 spot available): Josef Kořenář, Karel Vejmelka, Ivan Prosvetov
I don’t really think Prosvetov is in the mix for the backup spot. He is the franchise’s top goaltending prospect, but he needs to play a lot of games in Tucson and develop more after what was a bit of a step-back season in 2020-21. Overall, he played well in a preseason game in Anaheim on Wednesday, but he was a bit scrambly.
Kořenář and Vejmelka are likely in a battle for the backup spot unless the Coyotes pluck a goalie off waivers or sign a free agent such as Devan Dubnyk. Kořenář only has 10 games of NHL experience, while Vejmelka, a late signing, has never played in North America. This will be a fascinating one to watch.
It is interesting that David Tendeck has not received a look in the preseason and is running out of game opportunities. The Coyotes brought junior goalie Anson Thornton to camp and wanted to get a good look at him after he showed some promise. He played two games in the Rookie Faceoff and got a period against the Kings in the preseason opener. It’s possible the Coyotes could sign him.
“David was in probably a tight spot because we have seen him play in the past and know what he has, while a goaltender came to camp that we hadn’t seen in a game and hadn’t played in a whole year but he kind of stood out in camp in some aspects so we needed to use a little bit of that time to put him in net,” Armstrong said. “Unfortunately, there’s always some point in time when someone gets the raw end of the deal at camp. We haven’t had the opportunity to put David in yet.”