SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Hockey may be considered a winter sport, but here in the Valley of the Sun, even though we are still feeling the summer heat, the Arizona Coyotes are beginning to get ready for their new season, as the team reported to training camp at the Ice Den in Scottsdale on Tuesday.
The Coyotes made quite a few changes this offseason, adding some key veterans like forwards Jason Zucker, and Alexander Kerfoot and defensemen Matt Dumba and Sean Durzi.
The Coyotes are also bringing rookie forward Logan Cooley into the fold. Cooley, who the Coyotes drafted in the first round in 2022, originally decided in May to return to college and play a second season at Minnesota but changed his mind in July and signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Coyotes.
And even after all of these moves, Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong feels he has a good idea of just how good his team is.
"One of the things that I feel really good about is the job that (Head) Coach (André Tourigny) has done with the team on hand," Armstrong said. "I feel that we are farther ahead now than I thought we would be. Do I think we’re a playoff team? No. But I do think we’re a competitive team that can push to play meaningful games. And I think that’s where we’re at right now."
As for the players, they are keeping their expectations high heading into the season.
"Our expectations inside our locker room are very high and we’re going to hold ourselves to those expectations and hold ourselves accountable to make sure that we’re all pulling in the right direction and doing our own part to help this organization win games,” Zucker said.
"We understand where we are as a group and we have expectations amongst ourselves," Kerfoot added. "And so, we’re not just going to be, oh we’re in Arizona, there’s no pressure down here. There’s always pressure in this league and there’s always pressure wherever you are. I think that we know that we can do well and the pressure, whether it’s from you guys, whether it’s from around the hockey world, it’s going to be from within the room no matter what and we’re still going to be pushing every day to get better."
As for Cooley, he wants to come in and help the Coyotes on the ice from day one.
"I’m a guy that’s super competitive," Cooley said. "I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I’m going in (for my rookie year) like I want to be an impactful player. That’s my goal and I want to help this team win as many games as possible. And I want to produce, I want to thrive in this league and I feel like I’m ready to do that."
12Sports got the chance to speak one-on-one with Cooley on Tuesday. You can watch that interview in its entirety below.
Clayton Keller is returning for his seventh full season with the Coyotes. Last year, he tied the franchise record for points with 86, matching Keith Tkachuck's mark from the Coyotes' first season in the Valley. And head coach André Tourigny says Keller hopes to have an even better season this year.
"(Keller) doesn’t see his season last year and say, ‘That’s the level of play I want.’ No, no. He says, ‘Okay, now it’s the beginning. Now I want to get better.’ That’s what you want from your leader." Tourigny said. "He wants more, he’s hungry. It’s exciting.”
The Coyotes haven't had a captain since 2020 when Oliver Ekman-Larsson wore the 'C' on his chest, and it doesn't sound like that will change this season, despite Keller's strong play.
"We have great leadership on our team," Tourigny said. "And we like the way it’s going right now. And we have no intention on the short term to go in that direction. And I had (that) discussion with many of our leaders. (Keller) is one. We had a discussion. I did not share with them my opinion, I asked them their opinion. And their opinion was it’s going really well the way it’s going. They basically told me, ‘Hey, don’t touch any buttons, don’t touch anything, we’re good coach.’ So, I agree with them. So, that’s what I will do."
As part of their preseason, the Coyotes will take a trip to the Land Down Under, as they will travel to Melbourne, Australia for the NHL's Global series. They will play two preseason games against the Los Angeles Kings at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on September 22 and 23.
Cooley is excited about the trip, except for one thing.
"Yeah, I’m a little mad about the no Wi-Fi,” Cooley jokingly said. "No, it’s going to be awesome. Obviously, you don’t get to go to a place like Australia too often and play hockey there so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be nice to continue to meet the guys and, like I said, explore a new place and obviously get some games in as well."
Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez also spoke about the Coyotes' plans for a new arena after Tempe voters denied their previously announced plans in a public referendum vote in May. Gutierrez saying he can't guarantee anything about a new arena.
"I think that’d be inappropriate to guarantee it.." Gutierrez said. "What I can guarantee is, every single day, we’re moving forward, we’re working hard, we have multiple options and we have multiple communities that absolutely want us to be there."
Gutierrez added that the team and the NHL are working to announce the plans for a new arena in the middle of the upcoming season and that their plan is for it to have the same look and feel as the renderings of the arena and entertainment complex that would have been built in Tempe.
"What you have in this owner (Alex Meruelo) is a commitment for something that’s transformative," Gutierrez said. "Something that’s going to change the skyline, that’s going to change the experience of this Valley. We’re still committed to every use. An arena, a practice facility that will be open to the community, a 3,500-person theatre, and all the restaurant row, all the retail, the hotels, the residential, all of that. We see this as a district. We see this as a community. We see this as a place that you can live, work, and play. That’s still our commitment and it’s going to be at that highest level and caliber of architectural finishing."
The Coyotes open their season on October 13 when they travel to New Jersey to play the Devils. Their home opener at Mullett Arena on ASU's Tempe campus is on October 21 against the Anaheim Ducks.