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Neutral Zone: On Matias Maccelli’s opportunity

Craig Morgan Avatar
March 3, 2022

Nothing is set in stone for recently recalled Roadrunners forward Matias Maccelli. He may stick with the Arizona Coyotes for the rest of the season if Tucson falls further off the Pacific Division playoff pace. He may be part of a small rotation of Roadrunners players who get an NHL look, and that group could grow larger if the Coyotes are able to move several veterans out at the March 21 trade deadline.

Those elements are out of the Finnish forward’s grasp, but he can influence whatever decision the Coyotes make for the rest of the season and beyond with how he performs in his maiden NHL voyage. To that end, coach André Tourigny put him on a skilled line with Alex Galchenyuk and Phil Kessel in his NHL debut against the Colorado Avalanche at Gila River Arena on Thursday. The hope was to give him the best chance to succeed.

“I think Maccelli has the talent to play with guys like Galley and Phil,” Tourigny said. “We hope to have players coming back soon. It’s an opportunity for Maccelli to leave his business card with us.

“My big thing is that is you cannot create a monster. It’s a hockey game. It’s the best league in the world I know, but it’s a hockey game. He’s a good player who will play in a good league. I want him to go out there and play; not thinking too much. I think we have a lot of time to fuck him up (laughs). I don’t want to do that right now. Just play and we’ll go from there. We’ll see what he really needs to improve in the short term but I don’t want him to go out there and try to please us. I want him to play his game.”

GM Bill Armstrong has made clear his philosophy of overbaking players in the AHL to make sure that when they arrive in the NHL they are not only ready for the league; they are ready to succeed. This recall was simply a reward because Maccelli was lighting up the AHL.

He was third in the league in points with 55 as of Thursday and that production has already given him the second most points in a single season in Roadrunners history, with the highest single-season points-per-game average in franchise history.

“He’s an interesting guy because everywhere he’s gone he’s kind of creeped in and been the best at the end at every level he’s gone to,” Armstrong said. “Can he get it done at this level with his size and his ability? Some might say, ‘Hey, it’s probably an easier level for him to play because people are where they are supposed to be.’

“He’ll have to slowly integrate. It will take him some time to adjust to the bigger, heavier, faster bodies, but that hockey sense is elite. All year long he’s really been a driving force for the team down in Tucson. He’s been one of the best players in the game. We’ve been dying to get him up here in this situation because we know how well he’s played down there.”

Armstrong has stressed the importance of putting players in good situations. Next season, the Coyotes’ fortunes will look much like this season, but that won’t be the sole determinant of Maccelli’s 2022-23 role and team.

“He’s earned the right, no matter what he does right now, to come in and try and compete for a spot in camp,” Armstrong said. “What he does in the summer will set the tone for if he can deal with the NHL. 

“When you’re coming up at the end of the year, you’re playing on Adrenaline and you’re loose. Then you come to camp and it’s a job with the wear and tear playing against the big bodies. Can you deal with it? He’s got to take that step in the summer with the training and get bigger, stronger and faster.”

Scott Wedgewood has posted career-best stats in a lengthy look with the Arizona Coyotes. (USA TODAY Sports)

What about Wedgewood?

Scott Wedgewood has made it abundantly clear that he would like to secure a permanent home in the NHL, or at least stick around somewhere for more than a season. Nothing has been decided yet, but that possibility may exist with the Coyotes next season.

“He’s played well,” Armstrong said. “He has really dug into the situation. He’s matured since his first time through as a Coyote and he’s slowly gotten better. He really embraces being here and liking and wanting to be a Coyote.”

Entering Thursday’s games, Wedgewood’s numbers (3.05 goals against average, .910 save percentage, 1.1 goals saved above average) were better than Karel Vejmelka’s.

“When you talk about all the players competing in practice, he’s one of the guys that gives it his all and I think he has a better understanding of who he is as a goaltender and what he has to do to be a good NHL goalie,” Armstrong said. “He does it every day. I think he’s gotten to that point where that maturity has set in.”

Wedgewood can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Here is what Armstrong said when I asked if he would have an interest in re-signing Wedgewood.

“One hundred percent, we’ll explore that option,” he said. “He’s definitely somebody we have some interest in bringing back.”

Wing Lawson Crouse is one of five RFAs-to-be currently on the Arizona Coyotes roster. (USA TODAY Sports)

RFA update

The Coyotes recently signed RFA-to-be defenseman Dysin Mayo to a three-year extension (more info in a previous edition of the Neutral Zone) and Armstrong recently confirmed that the team has begun preliminary talks with RFA-to-be goaltender Karel Vejmelka.

The Coyotes have four other RFAs on the current NHL roster: forwards Lawson Crouse, Barrett Hayton, Christian Fischer and defenseman Kyle Capobianco. All but Hayton have arbitration rights (so does Vejmelka). Their agents confirmed that no talks have begun yet on new deals for those players, but they could start soon; perhaps after the March 21 trade deadline passes.

“There’s a wide variety of players that we’re slowly moving to sign and we’re also looking for some veteran help that is going to help lead the team again next season,” Armstrong said. “That’s a key component for us, some good leadership. We were fortunate with all the guys we had in that locker room this season. The leadership that they provided was outstanding.”

Arizona Coyotes center Johan Larsson has not played since Jan. 25. (USA TODAY Sports)

Injury updates

Center Jay Beagle (lower body) skated with the team recently in an orange no-contact jersey and center Johan Larsson (sports hernia surgery) has also begun skating again, Armstrong said.

“They’re slowly coming back and I think it will be right around the trade deadline when they’re ready to play,” Armstrong said. “I think Beags might be a little bit later. He looks like he’s further ahead on the ice, but he’s actually probably behind with just the fact that he’s had this injury before and it has taken a little bit of time to heal. He could be anywhere from the deadline until the end of the season.”

Armstrong said that Larsson is “probably about two weeks away” before he starts doing anything with the team.” Tourigny said that Larsson “doesn’t have strength yet, still has soreness. No pain, but soreness.”

As for the Coyotes who are out for the season, here’s an update on a couple of them.

Defenseman Conor Timmins (knee) will have a routine check-up with his surgeon in Minnesota next week. If all goes well, the tentative plan is for him to start skating again in two to three weeks, but the visit with the surgeon will provide a firmer timeline.

Forward Liam Kirk (ACL) is back in England but will return to Tucson on March 14. His rehab is progressing well and if that continues, he should be able to resume skating by the end of April. He will not be able to play in any international competitions this summer.

Top photo: Arizona Coyotes forward Matias Maccelli (Getty Images)

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