Youth movement drives Phoenix’s hopes
Friday, 18 December 2009
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008
By Lucas Aykroyd
Unquestionably, power forward Olli Jokinen was the biggest off-season acquisition by the Phoenix Coyotes. But if the Arizona-based club is to earn its first playoff berth since 2002, it can’t just rely on veterans like Jokinen and captain Shane Doan. The Coyotes will need big contributions from the young players they’ve brought in this season.
Head coach Wayne Gretzky has a veritable United Nations of talent at his disposal. Mikkel Boedker, an 18-year-old left wing who’s represented Denmark internationally, might be the club’s top Calder Trophy candidate. He was taken eighth overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, which makes him the highest-drafted Danish player ever.
“‘Bods’ has so much speed and he’s so talented offensively,” said Doan. “We’re really fortunate that we have young guys who are capable of being out there in key situations. It’s big for him to get this experience.”
The club also has high hopes for Canada’s Kyle Turris, a savvy rookie center who was selected third overall in 2007 and scored his first NHL goal on October 12 versus Anaheim’s J-S Giguere. Don’t overlook center Kevin Porter, who won the 2008 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in US college hockey with the University of Michigan. Second-year forwards like Peter Mueller (US) and Martin Hanzal (Czech Republic) are expected to chip in offensively too. Mueller, a power play expert, could have won the Calder last season with his 54 points if he wasn’t up against the likes of Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. (Kane earned the trophy with a dazzling 72-point campaign.)
One of the greatest ironies in the NHL this season is the sight of Gretzky coaching Viktor Tikhonov. The 20-year-old rookie Russian is the grandson and namesake of the winningest coach in international hockey history, who led the Soviets to three Olympic gold medals and eight World Championship titles. Tikhonov the elder also confronted Gretzky the player in three Canada Cups in the 1980’s, triumphing in 1981 and narrowly losing in 1984 and 1987. The world has certainly changed drastically since the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism.
By using all these youngsters, Phoenix is saving some cash. Its payroll is the league’s second-lowest at $42.2 million, outpacing only Atlanta’s. In the next two or three years, the youth movement may pay off in a big way. But for now, there will be mistakes along the way, and veterans like goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and defencemen Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris will need to cover up for the rookies at times.
“The learning curve for young guys is quick and sometimes steep,” admitted Doan. “But you have to deal with it. Our young guys have been great. You can’t say enough good things about them.”