Q&A with Alex Teme of ‘Howlin Hockey
The ‘Yotes played pretty well leading up to the All-Star break. What’s been going right?
AT: I think it’s been a combination of a few things. The defense is finally playing a cohesive game, which Coyotes fans have not seen all year. Part of that may have been Dave Tippett‘s doing his best impersonation of Joel Quenneville “line-blending”, but I also think that Michael Stone and Alex Goligoski have really turned it around over the two weeks or so.
Mike Smith has been playing absolutely phenomenally day in and day out, and the forward corps has been energized by the new additions, whether by callups in Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer or by the acquisition of Alexander Burmistrov.
I think all of those together has finally earned the team a few well-deserved wins.
Who in the Coyotes organization looks to have the brightest future with the team?
AT: I think when you take a wide angle view of the whole organization, a lot of people have bright futures.
Some of that talent pool the team has amassed is finally bleeding onto the NHL squad, but I believe, as many Coyotes fans do, that the team’s best prospect has yet to wear a Coyotes sweater.
Clayton Keller had a phenomenal World Juniors showing January, leading the U.S. to a gold medal. He’s done pretty well at Boston University this season and many analysts have likened him to Patrick Kane.
If Keller can even come close to what Kane has done for Chicago, then Keller will be a huge instrument in next season’s push out of the Pacific Division’s gutter.
How big has Mike Smith’s emergence been for the team?
AT: Mike Smith’s resurgence has been huge. If Smitty were to be having the same kind of season he’s had the last three or so years, the Coyotes would be worse than Colorado, or at least in the same ballpark.
Smith has kept this team competitive when no other part of the team was working. His lateral movement is back to its 2011-12 playoff-run level, and his demeanor in-game has seen an obvious shift this season. For all of his puck-handling mishaps, he has been the Coyotes’ best asset this season so far.
Where do you see the team in the next five years as the rebuild continues?
AT: I think this team is hard to predict. Coming into the season, I thought the Coyotes might have a shot at a 8 seed or be one of the last teams out on the playoff bubble.
Many Coyotes fans and writers felt Dylan Strome would move along and that Nick Merkley would progress in juniors, but that has not happened just yet. Nonetheless, the talent pool Arizona has amassed is so strong (Perlini, Fischer, Kyle Wood, Clayton Keller, etc) that whether the Coyotes get a high draft pick and/or sell heavily at the deadline this year, the future will still be very bright.
Five years from now, the Arizona Coyotes will be a talented, consistent playoff team with a new stadium in a good part of town and a pipeline relationship with a growing NCAA talent pool at Arizona State University.
What’s your prediction for Thursday’s game against the ‘Hawks?
AT: I haven’t watched a ton of the Blackhawks this season (despite living in Chicago), but from what I’ve seen, things seem to be a little rockier than normal.
It feels like the ’Hawks have been somewhat bipolar recently, and I know ’Hawks fans will scoff at this, but the Coyotes have been really improving and developing a somewhat consistent game.
I do think ’Hawks fans will see some of the Coyotes roster’s flaws, but they will also see some of the promise the Coyotes have developing.
Ultimately, I think the game will be a close Chicago win, say a 4-3 or 3-2 kind of score, give or take an empty-netter.