Everybody in the hockey world keeps underrating this Phoenix Coyotes team (myself included) but here they are ready to play a Game 7 against the defending Western Conference-champion Detroit Red Wings. Not only has this team been left for dead by the media and general consensus of the hockey world, but this team is comprised of players that were thrown on the NHL scrap heap and are now thriving.
Just take a look at the Coyotes’ roster and you’ll find a litany of players who were healthy scratches or unwanted where they were last season. Miraculously these players have formed together and Dave Tippett is one win away from guiding these group to a first-round victory.
Take the case of Radim Vrbata for example. Last season Vrbata was a healthy scratch for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who finished with the second-worst record in the NHL last season. Vrbata played only 18 games with the Lightning before he left to play in the Czech Republic, which is never a good sign for a player in the prime of his career.
Phoenix took a chance on Vrbata this season and voila! The 28-year-old sniper lead the team with 24 goals and has another two goals and four points against the Red Wings so far this series.
It’s not just Vrbata, though, Petr Prucha is also a player in his prime who showed a boatload of promise in his rookie season with the New York Rangers scoring 30 goals. Prucha’s goal total quickly dropped to 22 the next season and the season after that he was regularly watching games from the Madison Square Garden press box instead of participating in them which led to a trade to Phoenix.
Prucha hasn’t returned to the player that scored 30 goals with the Rangers, but he
has played a key role for the Coyotes and has three points in this series and is playing with confidence again. At the ripe age of 27, there is no reason to believe that Prucha’s best days are in front of him instead of behind him.
With the Coyotes financial problems players like Prucha, who makes a mere $1.1 million per season are a steal.
Vernon Fiddler is another Phoenix forward exceeding expectations. Fiddler has flown under the radar for years playing for Barry Trotz in Nashville, but he is a serviceable set-up man, particularly making just $1.1 million per season.
While these forwards are doing well, the force that drives the Coyotes success is clearly its defense, which finished with the fewest goals allowed in the Western Conference this season with just 196.
Keith Yandle and Zybnek Michalek are up and comers that play a very different game. Yandle is an offensive defenseman and has two goals and five points in this series, but Michalek is more of the stay-at-home type of defenseman and was tied for the second-most blocked shots among Pacific Division players with 156.
Other aging castoffs Mathieu Schneider and Adrian Aucoin are performing more than admirably on the back end. Schneider wasn’t playing in Vancouver and was traded for a prospect and a sixth-round draft pick, but he is still lethal on the power play.
It isn’t all castoffs in Phoenix though as Ed Jovanovski is playing the best hockey he has played in years and is averaging the second-most ice time among Phoenix players in the playoffs at 21:27.
Now with the Coyotes best forward and captain Shane Doan out for the time being with an upper-body injury, the defense has to be even better than it has been in the past.