As mentioned in my previous article, the Roadrunners are pulling away from the competition in the AHL’s Pacific Division and look poised to make their first-ever appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs (for a look at Tucson’s favorable chances of winning the Pacific Division Championship, CLICK HERE). The Roadrunners have played great hockey with their current roster and with a few more additions we may see over the next few months, Tucson is fast-becoming a leading Calder Cup Contender.
The Coyotes’ rebuild means Tucson is only going to get better
The Roadrunners have had a fantastic season thus far, especially considering the slew of call-ups from the Coyotes they have had to deal with all season long. With the Monday, February 26th, NHL trade deadline now fast approaching, buyers are going to load up for deep playoff runs, and sellers are going to move assets for draft picks and prospects.
The Arizona Coyotes, the Roadrunners’ NHL affiliate is once again in the basement of the NHL’s standings and are going to be sellers at the deadline because of it. When they inevitably move roster players to contenders for draft picks and prospects, some of those prospects will join the Roadrunners and improve the quality and depth of what is already one of the AHL’s best rosters.
Who’s coming down from the Coyotes after the regular season?
Every year at the trade deadline, every NHL organization is allowed to fill out a form that allows them to declare four players on their NHL roster eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs. The players that are given eligibility are usually young players, on two-way deals. Since the Coyotes have essentially been mathematically eliminated from making the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, Tucson will not have to wait for the Coyotes to be eliminated from the playoffs for those four players to show up in Tucson.
The three players that will most likely be given eligibility are Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun, and Christian Fischer. The Coyotes could either elect not to send anyone else with the fourth spot or send anyone of Brendan Perlini, Max Domi, or Christian Dvorak (its less likely the Coyotes send these guys down to Tucson because of their age and the amount of NHL experience they have).
Clayton Keller (Forward), the 19-year-old 7th overall pick from the 2016 draft, is the most exciting of the potential NHL players we could see join Tucson for a deep playoff run. Considered an early season favorite for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s rookie of the year award, he has scored 15 goals, 23 assists and 38 points in 55 NHL games with the Coyotes this season. Although New York’s Matt Barzal and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser have surpassed the Chesterfield, Missouri native for Calder Trophy consideration, Keller has still been an unbelievably good NHL player for the Coyotes this season and would be an outstanding addition to Tucson’s roster in the playoffs.
Jakob Chychrun (Defenseman), is a rising star in the Coyotes Organization and is a great young player that doesn’t get talked about enough in an organization loaded with elite prospects. In his draft year, scouts praised the Boca Raton, Florida native as “An unyielding two-way defenseman, with a toolbox bursting at the seams. [He] plays with poise and composure through high pressure situations, and with the puck on his stick, can direct the play up-ice. All-in-all, [Chychrun is] a well-rounded two-way defender who competes with pro-level drive and makes his authoritative presence felt at both ends of the ice.”
Like Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun was also selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, and the 19-year-old has 29 points in 93 career NHL games with the Coyotes. With the Roadrunners, he would likely play on Tucson’s top defensive pair and would massively improve the quality of the Roadrunners’ blue line.
Christian Fischer (Right Wing), was Tucson’s leading goal-scorer last season with 20 goals and has provided excellent secondary scoring for the Coyotes this season, with 13 goals, 11 assists and 24 points in 52 NHL games. The 20-year-old went in the second round of the 2015 NHL draft behind current Tucson Roadrunners players, Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley. With Tucson in a potential playoff run, he would give Tucson even more firepower up front and would play the same physical game that made him great in so many situations for the Roadrunners last year.
Potential additions from the CHL
The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) consisting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) are the top three junior leagues in the world and together are the three best leagues in the world for non-NHL players between 16 and 20 years old.
Although the NHL-CHL transfer agreement prevents North American prospects under 20 years old from being assigned to AHL affiliates by NHL teams, prospects playing in the CHL can be assigned to AHL teams once the CHL’s playoffs are over.
The two big-name prospects that come to mind and could be huge additions for the Roadrunners are Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current Broncos, WHL) and Pierre-Oliver Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders, QMJHL).
Steenbergen, the Coyotes’ 5th round, 128th overall selection in 2017, is looking like the steal of the 2017 NHL draft. In 41 games with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos the 20-year-old, 5’10”, 187-pound left wing has scored 38 goals, 42 assists, and 80 points. Playing on the second or third line for the Roadrunners, he could give the Roadrunners valuable depth scoring in Tucson’s push for the Calder Cup.
Although Steenbergen has not signed an NHL contract yet, given his performance in the WHL this year, don’t be surprised if the Coyotes sign him to one before the season is over and give him a taste of the AHL.
Joseph, the Coyotes’ 1st round, 23rd overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, has already been signed to an NHL contract and has put together quite a season in Charlottetown. In 48 games the 18-year-old two-way defenseman has 10 goals, 29 assists, and 39 points. If assigned to the Roadrunners once the QMJHL and CHL’s playoffs are over, he could provide the Roadrunners with a dependable second or third-pairing defenseman and a dynamic option on the power play.
The likelihood of a Tucson Roadrunners Pacific Division title is increasing every day and a playoff berth is theirs to lose at this point in the season. If Tucson does make the playoffs which they (almost certainly) will, win the division, and puts the team I described in this article on the ice; a stacked Tucson Roadrunners team has a great shot at bringing the Calder Cup to Tucson.