Desert Dogs

by Chris Liggio on March 16, 2018

 

Don’t look now but the Arizona Coyotes have won 11 of their past 17 games and look to be righting the ship on another lost season to finish strong. Several of their go-to players have greatly improved their play in the past month, posting solid well rounded stat lines. Making for one of the more interesting teams in the final weeks, a squad playing for nothing but pride can oftentimes be of nuisance for opposition in pursuit of a playoff berth. Although it’s been another disappointing campaign for Arizona, the immediate future certainly looks bright with the wealth of young talent in their system.

 

After going completely off radar for seemingly all of winter, Clayton Keller is catching his second wind as we approach the springtime. Reaching the 50-point plateau in his rookie season, Keller has been a solid fantasy contributor the past month. In his past 14 games he’s contributed four goals, eight assists, five power-play points and 27 shots on goal. Certainly not a dynamo by any means but noteworthy is the fact that on a team known for dreadful plus minus he’s posted a plus eight in this time span.

 

Prior to the quick ascents of Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal, Keller was the uncontested Calder trophy frontrunner. Right at the start of November, Keller hit the wall at full speed and entered into streaky territory. Getting hot for stretches and then exiting Earth orbit for some time throughout winter, he’s recently turned the tide. The month of March has seen him return to the play showcased at the beginning of the year with two goals and four assists in seven games played only missing the score sheet in one of those contests. The Coyotes have six games through March 25th from this point making Keller an excellent own whilst producing for your fantasy playoffs. His locked in spot on the top line and top power play set him up to continue generating offense down the stretch.

 

Partly responsible for the rebirth of Keller is his center, Derek Stepan. Mr. Consistency as I like to call him is officially a team/situation proof play for fantasy hockey. Coming from a strong cup contender during his tenure in Manhattan to the bottom dwelling Coyotes, he’s once again on track to post over 50 points in a season. Should he do so this would be the fifth consecutive season hitting this point plateau for the 27-year old cerebral pivot. Though his plus/minus this year certainly reflects the change of scenery, he’s been a quality asset to own this past month with two goals, seven assists, 99 faceoff wins and 34 shots on goal. Currently hot with five points in the past six games, by the end of the season what you have in Stepan is a 50-point, 200-shot, 800-face-off center. Though he’ll never be ogled over because he’s not a sexy play, Stepan’s consistency needs to be valued more than he gets credit for. If you’re wise, in these closing weeks you’ll take a look his way for roster assistance in your playoffs.

 

Christian Dvorak has six goals in the past fourteen games and has already matched last season’s 33 points in nine less games. Another solid shooting and faceoff option he’d be a sneaky depth option on rosters in the closing weeks. Max Domi has had a dreadful season but has contributed across the board in the past 14 games with two goals, six assists, 26 PIM, 30 face-offs, 21 shots, and 11 hits. The category that signals the positive turnaround in Arizona is that every player mentioned thus far has had a positive plus/minus throughout the past month of play. Yes, every one of them on the season has a decrepit mark in that category but stop living in the past during your playoffs and embrace the fine stretch they find themselves in lately.

 

Arguably the most important piece on this squad that needs to play well in order for the squad to have positive results is Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL). One of the worst across the league in plus/minus at minus-34, like everyone else surprise he’s a plus player in the past month. Coupled with that in those 14 games he’s potted two goals, eight assists, 12 PIM, four power-play points, 28 SOG, and 25 hits while averaging almost 22 minutes per game. Safe to say that as of late, the multi-cat stud we all came to know and love in seasons past has resurfaced at the right time for owners who endured his entire campaign. Outside of OEL no blue liner in Arizona has any significant impact in the fantasy landscape though Jason Demers could serve as a plug that won’t hurt you in any category.

 

With Antti Raanta once again on the shelf, the crease is in the hands of Darcy Kuemper. The 27-year-old came to the franchise in a deal with the Kings three weeks ago and has had mixed results. It’s hard to get a gauge on his time in a Coyotes sweater as he’s played the Canucks three times in his five starts so far since the trade. Prior to coming here in 19 starts for the Kings he posted a 10-1-3 record with a 2.10 GAA and a .932 SV%. Those numbers are almost assuredly not going to be replicated in the desert but it goes to show that Kuemper has ability and may be able to rack up some wins to close out the season. With Frederik Andersen exiting the game against Dallas Wednesday with an upper body injury, Kuemper may be the stop gap option you need to fill the void on the fly.

 

Overall the Coyotes are quietly carrying some pieces that have relevance for our fantasy purposes during playoff time. There is a cloud that lurks over this team like a storm generally keeping fantasy managers at bay. Use this general deterrence to your advantage and see if any of the above players are available to you on the wire. I’ve owned Stepan and OEL all season and there is no denying there have been a lot of tough spans to endure. Regardless, the last month shows they’re seemingly coming online with consistency at the right time and can rectify all those cold spells in pursuit of a title. Don’t let a team’s overall performance in wins and losses distort your outlook on individual value(s).