Early Season Rising Star and Diamonds in the Rough

Mar 27, 2022; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Arizona Coyotes left wing Matias Maccelli (63) at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2022; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Arizona Coyotes left wing Matias Maccelli (63) at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 2022-23 NHL season in full swing, the Arizona Coyotes have done pretty much exactly what we’ve expected them to do; lose a lot by a lot, and beat Toronto in Toronto.

The Coyotes have opened the season with 6 straight road games, winning just two of them against Toronto and Columbus, both much to the surprise of the opposing fanbases. Arizona, however, has the tendency to own the Maple Leafs at home, with an all-time record of 10-4-2 since the Leafs moved out of Maple Leaf Gardens in 2003.

The Coyotes win against Columbus was a total rout until late in the 3rd period, shelling the Jackets early and often and testing young Blue Jackets goalie Daniil Tarasov in the 6-3 win. Shane Gostisbehere continued on his comeback tour scoring twice in the win and assisting a Crouse empty netter. Gostisbehere is now ranked 2nd in the league for defenseman scoring with 4 goals and 4 assists, only behind the Sabres former 1st-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.

This season, the Coyotes have the unique chance as a rebuilding team to give some of their more promising prospects bigger minutes than they would garner on a more competitive roster. They also have the chance to roll the dice on a few players on waivers searching for a diamond in the rough. Both of these opportunities have yielded some interesting players to watch and see if they can establish themselves with this team going forward – some have already managed to turn some heads.

The Rising Star

Dylan Guenther has been anointed as the first of many young stars to help pluck the Coyotes from obscurity, and in his debut trail with the big club he’s been making the decision to send him back to the WHL a difficult one. On the opening road trip, Guenther has managed to notch 2 goals and an assist in his first 5 games after getting a chance on the roster early due to a Nick Schmaltz injury in the season opener.

Guenther could very well be a star scoring winger in this league to mature on pace with Logan Cooley (or one of the elite centers in the 2023 Draft the Coyotes could select) to become our first true 1st line threat since Roenick – Tkachuk. Guenther isn’t just impacting the scoresheet, however. His play in all three zones, for his age and experience, has been commendable and sometimes downright impressive. The speed at which he processes the game has proven to be universal to hockey itself, as this trait has been carried over from the WHL and his dominance there. There’s still a 4 game runway before the Coyotes brass has to make the tough decision of sending him back to the WHL or burning a valuable year of his ELC and letting him finish the year in the NHL.

The Diamonds In the Rough

Matias Maccelli is another young forward who may not have the pedigree of 9th-overall pick Guenther, but the fiery Finn has given the Coyotes fans flashbacks to the rise of Conor Garland. Both players share a lot of traits; both were later-round picks, as Maccelli was a 4th round selection in 2019 and Garland a 5th in 2015. Both are smaller forwards, coming in at 5’11” and 5’10” respectively.

But their biggest similarity is in their playstyle, which is unrelenting on the puck. Maccelli in his 2023 campaign so far has shown he loves to gain the offensive zone, he loves to carry the puck and he does both very well. His vision on the ice is so good, and he can see plays develop in real-time. Sometimes this can make him try and force a pass into the middle when he sees a seam, which can be dangerous, but he hasn’t made enough mistakes for me to worry about his processing at this point. Watch him make a in-close pass to Guenther on the powerplay with 2 defenders collapsing on him.

Maccelli is proving a lot of teams wrong by passing on him 3 (sometimes 4) times in the 2019 Draft and at this point his potential is the moon. Watching him grow and find his role in the NHL will be exhilarating this year and beyond.

J.J. Moser is a 2nd-year defenseman that has been building off of last year’s success and earning top pair responsibilities. Injury trouble opened up a spot for Moser, but nobody expected what he would do with his opportunity. This goal was from early last year (he switched from #62 to #90 this season).

To see this production and defensive play from such a young defenseman is very rare, and with the uncertainty of Jakob Chychrun creating a vacuum of opportunity and fan adoration, Moser has stepped in and risen to accept it all. With 1 goal and 3 assists in his first 6 games, 2022-23 is looking like it could be Moser’s defining campaign that will put the league on notice. His confidence with the puck and the way he patrols the blueline reminds you of a much older and more experienced veteran, but then he will jump up into a play and become a scoring threat at a moments notice. Here’s a powerplay tally from this season.

There is still a long way to go for Moser so you can put away your Norris ballots for now, but the 2019 draft (Guenther, Josh Doan, Moser) could go down as one of the best in Coyotes history if Moser keeps up his meteoric rise – one he shows no signs of slowing.