The Arizona Coyotes come out of July having added a significant amount of talent and depth to their team, especially their forward group. Let’s see what those newcomers bring and what roles they should fill in the team.
Jason Zucker signed a one-year, 5.3 million dollar deal with the Coyotes on free agency’s opening day. The 31-year-old winger is coming off a year where he scored 27 goals and 21 assists while on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. He brings a strong wrist shot and smart offensive game to the Coyotes, where he should play a top six and power-play role for the team. Zucker has also been a fantastic locker room presence, great of the ice impact, and a fan favorite wherever he’s been. And with his contract, if the Coyotes don’t feel they can re-sign him or want the roster spot for a younger player, he should fetch a decent return at the trade deadline if the team is out of the playoff picture.
The Coyotes signed Kerfoot to a two-year, 3.5 million AAV contract in the first week of free agency. The 28-year-old center came off a season where he scored ten goals and 22 assists in Torontos’ middle six. The gadget player brings a strong defensive game and ability to play either wing or center on lines two through four. He will also bring his energy and defensive skills to the PK, where he should help balance out the special teams. Kerfoots speed and determination make him a threat to create shorthanded chances and help kill the penalty by keeping the puck out of his own zone. Kerfoot could play on any of the Coyote’s lines and may be a perfect early running mate for Cooley to ease him in and give Cooley less defensive responsibilities.
Nick Bjugstad returns to the desert on a two-year, 2.1 million AAV contract after being moved at the trade deadline to the Oilers. Bjugstad, while in Arizona, centered a line between Lawson Crouse and rookie phenom Matias Maccelli and could look at a return to that spot unless someone else outplays him. Bjugstad should bring a steady veteran presence and solid two-way game to the Coyotes middle six for another season or two. Bjugstad said the reason he came back was the coaching staff, direction of team, and the teammates.
The return part two! Troy Stecher also returns to Arizona after being moved at the deadline. Stecher was signed to a one year, 1.1 million dollar contract. Another guy who should bring a calming veteran presence to what is a very young blue line and provide some stability on the PK. The 29-year-old rearguard should play meaningful minutes in the bottom four as the team looks to compete more.
Quite possibly the most exciting addition to the Coyotes this offseason (not named Logan Cooley), Sean Durzi was acquired from the LA Kings for a second-rounder in 2024. The 24-year-old defenseman scored nine goals and 29 assists last season, playing in the bottom four and PP2 role for the Kings. Durzi is in the last year of his contract paying him 1.7 million. He should play a major role for the Coyotes this season, likely on the top pairing and main power play quarterback, where his ability to create offense from the backend will be sorely needed. He should be in for a career year this season, playing a larger role and become a key part of the teams core moving forward.
The tank is over. The Coyotes definitely made moves to put themselves in a more competitive place and surround their prospects and young core with good proven vets versus just acquiring bad contracts to plug and play. While playoffs are likely a long shot, in large part due to the teams youth and lack of depth on the back end, the team will be much better than they have been the last couple seasons. The forward group is actually quite good and has good depth, and the team could take a massive leap offensively. Look for the Coyotes to surprise many with some very good stretches but also have the bumps and bruises that come with young teams. All told, though, this is a definite start in the right direction and will make the Coyotes more fun to watch and competitive than they’ve been for a while.