Kyle Capobianco is the only player present at the Coyotes’ annual rookie camp who has played in the NHL. Incidentally, he’s one of only a few players at camp who has a shot at cracking a deep NHL roster.
The Coyotes are still considered a young team by most standards. After all, rookies accounted for 121 of Arizona’s 553 total points last season and have accounted for more than 100 points in each of the last three seasons.
But it doesn’t seem as though 2018-19 will follow that trend.
As the club’s annual rookie camp kicked off Friday at the Ice Den Scottsdale, there were only a handful of players on the roster who could realistically be called up by the Coyotes at some point this season. And even fewer with shot at making the opening night roster.
Capobianco is one of those select few. Sure, he appeared in only one game with the Coyotes last season, but the left-shot defenseman tallied 30 points in 49 games with the club’s AHL affiliate in Tucson last season.“Everyone’s excited here,” Capobianco said of rookie camp. “The last couple years, a guy from camp usually makes the team. It’s an exciting time and everyone’s going full speed right now.”
Capobianco is referring to the recent string of first-year players that have been able to break in with the club out of rookie camp. It was Clayton Keller last year, and he went on to register 65 points en route to a third-place finish in the Calder Trophy voting as a 19-year-old.But the Coyotes’ roster is relatively set as the team sits a little less than a month out from the start of the regular season. A lot can change during training camp, which kicks off Thursday, but most positions seem at least penciled in.
The Coyotes’ depth at the center position is well-documented with Derek Stepan, Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome and Brad Richardson under contract. There doesn’t seem to be much room on the wings, either, which we can infer from looking at a projection of the team’s line combinations.
And although the defense seems fairly solidified — especially after the re-signing of Kevin Connauton and acquisition of Jordan Oesterle via trade — there could be one opening if Jakob Chychrun has not fully recovered from ACL surgery before opening night.
Such a scenario could mean that Oesterle would jump into the starting lineup and another player would take the No. 7 defense spot.
Capobianco could certainly be in the mix, but so would fellow Roadrunners defensemen Trevor Murphy and Dakota Mermis. Other new arrivals such as Ilya Lyubushkin and Robbie Russo would be considered as well, and either could have a chance to make the club out of training camp anyway.
Given the difficulty of cracking this year’s NHL roster, one of the deepest the Coyotes have had in recent memory, Friday’s skate and the upcoming 2018 Vegas Rookie Faceoff this weekend is about the players demonstrating growth between now and the Coyotes’ July rookie development camp.
“This is an evaluation camp; the July camp was a development camp,” Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka said. “This is an opportunity for players to earn contracts and make a team.”
Following Friday’s on-ice session, the players boarded a flight to Las Vegas and will play three games over the coming days against the Sharks (Saturday), Kings (Sunday) and Ducks (Tuesday). Each game will be streamed on the team’s website.Jay Varady, who was named the Roadrunners’ new head coach in July, will be coaching the rookie team in Vegas along with the rest of the Tucson staff. Several of the club’s prospects, including forwards Tyler Steenbergen and Brayden Burke, have a chance to make the jump from juniors to the AHL this season if they impress during the tournament.
“(I’m looking for) the best version of themselves,” Varady said of what he’s looking for in players aiming to make the Tucson roster. “They’ve been scouted, they’ve been drafted and they’ve come through our development process.
“Maybe one guy played junior hockey and was this player at junior hockey. We want to help that player progress into the next level of hockey and becoming a pro.”
Barrett Hayton, the club’s first-round draft pick in June and the fifth player taken overall, will likely be heading back to his junior hockey team despite signing his three-year, entry-level deal with the Coyotes in July.
The same goes for 2017 first-rounder Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who along with Hayton is ineligible to play in the AHL until they are at least 20 years old. Because they are both under contract with the Coyotes, they could theoretically play in the NHL this season, but such a scenario seems unlikely.The Coyotes will host a fan festival at Gila River Arena from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free. Many players will be on hand for autographs and selfies, and there will be other activities available for fans including interactive games.
The team will then kick off training camp on Thursday with medicals, fitness training and media day at Gila River Arena, with the first official practices taking place on Friday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. at Gila River Arena. Each session is free and open to the public.
The Coyotes will have three additional sessions on Sept. 15 before playing their first preseason game on Sept. 16 against the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Gila River Arena will host two preseason games as the Coyotes host the Kings on Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. and to the Ducks on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m.