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Arizona Coyotes’ rookie camp features group of promising defensemen

Arizona Coyotes' rookie camp features group of promising defensemen Seth Askelson/TSJ Sports


Injuries open door for developing d-men

The Arizona Coyotes received devastating news regarding their defensemen group during the offseason. Jakob Chychrun had surgery to repair a knee injury he suffered during summer training. He had a solid rookie year and was most likely to play a larger role in the team this season.

While losing a player the caliber of Chychrun is a blow, the team the has depth to manage. Luke Clendening and Kevin Connauton are the two who will most likely fill in while Chychrun is away, but they are not the only options.

The Coyotes finished up rookie camp in Arizona Friday before heading to San Jose for a rookie tournament hosted by the San Jose Sharks. It was the first time the new coaching staff got to see what they had with their prospects.

Among those prospects is a group of defensemen who could take the next step this year. Kyle Wood and Kyle Capobianco are favorites to see time at some point in the NHL, and guys like Jalen Smereck and Pierre-Olivier Joseph could make their debuts in the next couple seasons.

The negative of an injury has turned into somewhat a positive for the team. They can get an extended look at some of their back-end prospects, and the players want to prove themselves worthy of the opening-night roster.

“You just want to bring it every day,” Smereck said. “It starts… in the first practice of rookie camp and you just want to bring it every day from then.”

The Coyotes brought in an entirely new coaching staff in the offseason. The rookies are the first group to skate for the coaches, and they are looking to make a great first impression.

The potential first-year players notice the difference in the new system. It’s a difference that some of the players are welcoming.

“The coaching staff is bringing a new style,” Capobianco said. “A faster, quicker style of game that fits a lot of the players that we have.”

The first two days of practice have been led by Tucson Roadrunners’ head coach Mike Van Ryn. Van Ryn was hired by to head the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in late July, and he is working some of the players he might see when Tucson’s season starts.

The defensive group’s composure and desire to move the puck has impressed Van Ryn. He has liked the way the rookie defensemen have performed, but knows that their full potential has not been unlocked.

The minor league bench boss understands that he is not the one that makes the decision for the main roster. That is up to new head coach Rick Tocchet and his staff, but Van Ryn wants to prepare the rookies for the new system.

“I just want to see them show that they’re willing to play with the pace that [Tocchet] wants them to play with,” Van Ryn said.

A handful of players at rookie camp played in Tucson last season. Among those players are Smereck, Wood, and Capobianco. These players may not have played in the top league, but they still found value in playing one step below.

Smereck picked up two points in two games after making the jump from juniors last season. He found that the two games took a little pressure off coming into the new year.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Smereck said. “It’s pretty important when you get to see what you’re going to be coming up against the following year. It takes a little weight off your shoulders because you already know what you’re kind of expecting coming into next season.”

The Coyotes main roster players will combine with the rookies to start main training camp September 15.