Coyotes ready to put 2017-18 behind them, look ahead to what is to come

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The Arizona Coyotes are ready put the 2017-2018 season behind them and look forward to what is to come.

After a rough start to the season, the Coyotes came out in the second half and had a 17-9 record. The finish was one of the best 30-game segments in franchise history.

Even with the improvements in the second half, the Yotes are looking at the big picture from the last season and know that there is plenty of work to be done to prepare for 2018-19.

“The first half of the year, at times I wasn’t sure if we were going to get out of it alive,” Derek Stepan said. “But I think our coaching staff did a phenomenal job of continuing to coach, our leadership group continued to push the group in the right direction and our young guys continued to push the pace.

“We can talk about our last 35 games, and say there were some real good things done, but when you look at it, it doesn’t carry over to next year. The amount of work that we have to put in to have the success that we did, is going to be a big message come September.”

Despite the Yotes’ 29-41 record general manager John Chayka was pleased with Tocchet and his staff in their first season with Arizona.

“I think it’s pretty well accepted, we’re probably the most improved team in the league,” Chayka said. “When you’re evaluating coaches you’re not just looking at the record, you’re looking at how that team evolved and the mentality of your group…I thought they did an excellent job.”

Tocchet was proud of the way his team turned things around from the beginning of the season to the end.

“I think we made a lot of progress,” Tocchet said. “When I got here the mandate was to get these guys to improve and I think we did that as an organization. Saying that, we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s going to get harder and we have to embrace the struggle.”

Tocchet’s message to the team as they head into the offseason is to evaluate themselves as players and the necessity of getting in the best shape of their lives in time for training camp in the fall.

“What are you as an individual willing to do?” Tocchet said. “That’s basically it. Are you willing to come into camp in the best shape of your life? Are you a culture guy? Do you want to turn the culture around? Are you a buy-in guy? That’s what we’re looking to have here. I’m not scared to say that we’re not scared to get rid of the guys that are not.”

The season may have wrapped, but hockey is still on the minds of the Yotes. Many will head back to their home towns and home countries to train, with several choosing to stay in Arizona for training.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson will head back to Sweden and will play in the Ice Hockey World Championships with his home country in May. He said part of the decision was due to wanting to get used to playing hockey further into the spring.

“I want to get used to playing that time of year,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I think we’re going to be back in the playoffs here soon, so I want my body to get used to that.”

Ekman-Larsson said he is hoping for a contract extension with the Coyotes when he is eligible on July 1.

“I’ve said it so many times, this is where I want to be,” Ekman-Larsson said. “Hopefully we can work something out.”

Clayton Keller said he plans to split his training time between Phoenix and Boston. While in Boston, Keller will train with Ben Prentiss, who is the Director of Hockey Performance at Boston University where Keller spent one year.

The nineteen-year-old had a breakout year with the Coyotes. Keller led the team in scoring, becoming the first rookie to do so in Arizona. He was also the first rookie and the tenth Coyote to reach 60 points in a season. 

Keller played in all 82 games in 2017-18 and set the single-season record in goals (23), assists (42), points (65) and multi-point games (14).

“I wanted to come in and have an impact right away and I’m an offensive player so that’s what I’m going to do every night,” Keller said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.”

Antti Raanta signed a three-year contract extension with the Coyotes last week. Raanta said he’ll head home to Finland for a bit then be back in Arizona for training in mid-May.

“The big thing is to get better in the summertime,” Raanta said. “Now you have one year of playing lots of games, and understanding what it takes to be consistent every night and that’s going to be a big thing for me in the summertime, to get better all the time.”

Raanta finished the season with the second-highest save percentage in the NHL. The type of player Raanta proved himself to be is what Chayka said is the type he is looking to build the organization on.

“We want to create a culture and a team where players perform,” Chayka said. “To lock up a starting goalie in a guy that performed at a high level, I think that sends a strong message to our fans in what we’re willing to do and that commitment.”

The Coyotes had two sellout games at Gila River to close out the season. The team is looking forward to building on what they accomplished in the second half to keep fans excited for the future of Coyotes hockey.

“It didn’t matter if we were winning or losing, they were there for us,” Ekman-Larsson said of the fans. “We appreciate that so much, that means the world. The future is looking really good, so just keep supporting us.”