As exciting as training camp and the pre-season are for many teams, players and their corresponding fan bases, it is accompanied by the unpleasant nature of having to send players back to one of the junior leagues or to the American Hockey League (AHL). Many players will have worked hard all summer to make their dream of playing in the NHL come true, only to have it turned away and delayed at least for a few months.
The Arizona Coyotes did just that on Wednesday, September 19, 2018, as they reduced their pre-season roster by sending 14 players to their respective junior teams or the Tucson Roadrunners (AHL). The team announced Liam Kirk, Nate Schnarr, Noel Hoefenmayer, Dennis Busby, Kevin Bahl, David Tendeck and Ivan Prosvetov would be returned to their respective teams in the CHL. Whilst, Jan Jenik was returned to Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Extraliga. Additionally, defensemen Jordan Gross, Jacob Graves, Jalen Smereck and Kevin Ekman-Larsson along with forwards Tyler Steenbergen and Kelly Klima were sent to the Roadrunners.
The most notable player sent down with four pre-season games remaining was WHL standout, Tyler Steenbergen. After tallying 102 points in 56 games last season for the Swift Current Broncos and being named to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, Steenbergen hoped to make a more immediate impact with the Coyotes. However, much like the Coyotes have done with past forward prospects such as the recently traded Max Domi and current center Dylan Strome, they tend to invest an extra year in their development to ensure the players are truly ready and that the organization has groomed all aspects of their games for the NHL.
This was only a fraction of the players the Coyotes will have to send back in the next two weeks, as teams must have their opening night rosters set and be waiver and salary compliant by October 2nd.
With so many new faces in the organization and a glut of youthful talent coming up through the system, Coyotes management will have tough decisions looming in the weeks ahead. Decisions that will leave many players disappointed. However, when speaking with the media earlier this week, Head Coach Rick Tocchett described the process of cutting young players as, “just feedback and it’s a fun thing where you can tell they want to learn. I don’t see disappointment. I see guys that want to learn and keep going with it.“
After starting training camp with 63 players, the Coyotes are now down to 49 players. This will allow the coaching staff to begin working on special teams, specific line combinations and practicing their systems to determine which players fit into the team’s vision for the upcoming season.
Following a successful offseason which caught the eyes of executives and media around the league, the Coyotes are looking to improve upon a series of disappointing seasons. In order to make the offseason work worthwhile you have to “embrace the process” as Tocchett explained.
The new look Arizona Coyotes will open up the regular season in Dallas on October 4th, only time will tell how successful this team can be and if the changes General Manager John Chaykamade in the offseason were enough.