Off the Post: Thoughts After Three Days of Training Camp
GLENDALE – Phoenix Coyotes training camp is here. Finally. In fact, it's already in full swing and the tone is quickly being set for the 2013-14 campaign. The following are five story lines that have developed after three days of workouts at Jobing.com Arena and figure to carry on into the new season:
1. The compete level is already high. Not sure if you've noticed this before, but the Coyotes have a tendency to outwork the opposition. It's the foundation they've built their success on, so it was refreshing to see them deliver that familiar intensity right out of the gate. Just how intense are we talking? Mark Louis was looking to drop the gloves in the club's first intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday, so Paul Bissonnette kindly obliged. Obviously, guys are competing for jobs, so it's only natural that they're going to go all out. But it was especially impressive to see the vets leading by example and showing the value of fighting for every little advantage on the ice. That is this team's identity, and it isn't going to change. In fact, it's especially vital right now because the beginning of the Coyotes schedule has the potential to be almost as scary as a Miley Cyrus haircut. They open at home against the New York Rangers, then quickly hit the road for five straight against the likes of Detroit, San Jose and Philadelphia. That's a pretty strong test to start out with, but this group traditionally plays its best hockey against the top-tier opponents anyway and, ultimately, it will be nice to have some of these contests in the books early.
2. Domi's audition. When it became apparent that Max Domi might somehow fall to the Coyotes on draft day, the excitement began to build. And when he was actually still available at pick No. 12, there was little doubt they'd gladly scoop him up. He has the sort of vision and quickness that cannot be taught, and it never hurts to grow up around the game while your dad is carving out a nice 16-year career at the highest level. Not only is Domi skilled, he fills a distinct need for Phoenix. And he's making a push to land a roster spot right away. At just 18 years of age, there's still plenty of time to send him back to juniors for another year of seasoning if needed... but what happens if he's ready right now? Either way, his NHL arrival is inevitable, and he's on the right track to making a considerable impact whenever it happens. For now, he seems intent on putting the coaching staff to a tough decision during this camp.
3. The list of skilled prospects is growing. Domi may be grabbing the headlines, but he's not the only youngster with considerable upside. Brandon Gormley, Connor Murphy and David Rundblad lead an impressive collection of talent along the blue line, while guys like Lucas Lessio, Henrik Samuelsson and Laurent Dauphin mean the future is bright up front as well. It's nice to have the pieces to win now, and the Coyotes certainly have that. But the ability to build up the farm system for the future without sacrificing success in the present is a telling reminder of the work that Dave Tippett, Don Maloney, Brad Treliving and the rest of the front office have done.
4. Doan is just as motivated as ever. Now that the Coyotes have stability off the ice, they can focus entirely on the task in front of them. And Shane Doan is clearly dialed in. Rather than relax a little now that things are back to normal, he honestly seems hungrier than ever. He might just be in the best shape of his career, and the guys in that locker room would follow him through a wall. And on the off chance they needed a little extra motivation to get them going, there's plenty of publications out there predicting them to finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference. Of course, picking against this team over the past few years has been about as intelligent as playing hockey with a stick made out of marshmallows, so I'm pretty sure they won't have a hard time embracing the underdog role if it comes their way. After all, this is essentially the same core of players that has made three playoff appearances in the last four years, took down a Pacific Division title in that stretch and nearly clawed their way into the Stanley Cup Final about 15 months ago. Oh, and now guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson are more developed - in addition to the fact that they've added a legitimate power play threat in Mike Ribeiro. I'll take my chances with this group.
5. Loyalty is paying off. I've never been around an organization where loyalty means so much. Doan stuck around when he could have left. Tippett did the same. As did Maloney and Treliving. And Mike Smith. Those are some big names who not only want to win, they want to win together right here. The core of this club is locked in and they've forged a strong bond with the hockey community in this state. On top of that, the fans have stayed loyal as well. And now's the time to reap the benefits.