For all the veteran-laden and 8-4 Phoenix Suns say about their squad being a work in progress, the Phoenix Coyotes seem to be the team in town that's actually progressing rather than just rebuilding around a new centerpiece.
I went to last night's Blackhawks/Coyotes game at Jobing.com Arena, honestly, to get my first in-person look at Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane; I hadn't seen either of them live it. That should be no offense to the 'Yotes; I've only missed one home game all season.
However, I found myself more occupied with nitpicking at what the young Coyotes are doing right and wrong so far this season rather than drooling over the immense talent that Kane and Toews have.
Doing it right: Defense. This past draft day, I was convinced that the trade sending Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida for Olli Jokinen was addition by subraction. Boynton was nothing more than minute-eater in his two years in Phoenix; scoring only 5 goals and finishing with a -22 rating. Ballard still has the potential to become a fine defenseman in this league; he's currently 2nd on the Panthers in scoring; but I would have definitely taken a playmaking forward over a developing defenseman in the short term. The six regular defensemen the 'Yotes put on the lineup every night are doing a fine job so far; I really like what Keith Yandle has become, Derek Morris is having a solid start to the season and, frankly, Kurt Sauer may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of this past offseason's free agent market. It's a nice balance of youth and experience that will continue to get better.
Doing it wrong: Power Play. Despite the defense being solid a whole so far, the Coyotes lack a proven power play quarterback. The Coyotes currently own the 4th worst power play in the National Hockey League, mainly because it seems like noone is comfortable taking shots. Granted, Phoenix potted two PP goals last night against Chicago, but they came into the game with only 9 man-advantage goals through the season's first 16 games. They don't move the puck well and struggle on forechecking when they lose the puck down low. Special teams are a key factor during a tight playoff race and this is something the Coyotes need to sure up once February and March roll around.
Doing it right: The Rookies. I've got nothing but good things to say about Kevin Porter, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov. Boedker might be the most complete 18-year-old player I've seen this decade; I thought it was the right pick and the right fit after watching him play in the Memorial Cup last season and he's jumped right into the action with the Coyotes so far. Porter has shown flashes of superb playmaking skill but could use a little more toughness while Tikhonov is a terrific stickhandler and passer. With vets like Olli Jokinen, Shane Doan and even a grinder like Steve Reinprecht around, I have no doubt that these kids are in good hands and will develop nicely.
Doing it wrong: Line Juggling. Last night, Peter Mueller and Olli Jokinen shared a line with Daniel Carcillo. If I never see that forward combo again, it will be too soon. Poor Daniel, for all the grit and motor that he has, just can't keep up with those speedy linemates. There were several breakouts before Carcillo was taken off the line in which Mueller and Jokinen sped through the neutral zone for a potential odd-man rush, but the advantage didn't materialize because Carcillo didn't have the wheels to jump into the play. IMO, get Doan back on that line and the scoring will come. Doan said it himself last night in the locker room: "We need more offense." It's tough when you can only put two on the board when you get 38 shots on goal, and the right line combinations will lead to more pucks in the net.