By Mitch Brandner, Staff Writer | Follow him on Twitter
If the Phoenix Coyotes want to repeat their success from last season, they need to find a way to replace winger Ray Whitney. Whitney put up a whopping 77 points as a 40-year old, and replacing those numbers will be no easy task for the Coyotes. Barring a trade for an offensive star, that production will have to come from within the organization.
Having lost a lot of offense already prior to Doan’s decision, it’s clear that a few young players will need to have big seasons for the Coyotes to return to the playoffs.
One player that could help fill the gap left by Whitney is Mikkel Boedker. The Denmark native put up four goals in last year’s postseason — two of them being overtime winners — and was arguably more effective than Whitney (the line of Doan-Vermette-Boedker was the Coyotes’ best line in the playoffs at both ends of the ice).
Boedker’s speed is his deadliest weapon, and he seems to have a knack for finding open ice. The only thing he lacked at times during the season was the ability to finish. At the young age of 22, he still has a lot of room to grow and has the potential to evolve into an All-Star caliber forward. If he can find a way to put it all together, the Coyotes will not miss Whitney quite so much in 2012-13.
Antoine Vermette is another player who could potentially step up in Whitney’s absence. Although he took a few games to get going, he eventually put up 10 points after his trade to the Coyotes. He then matched that output in six less games in the playoffs, further acclimating himself to the organization and Coach Tippett’s system. Vermette played with Boedker most of the playoffs, and together their speed is jaw-dropping. If they can build chemistry and find a way to continue their success from the playoffs, and hopefully build on it, they could be a perfect compliment to the Hanzal-Vrbata duo.
Additionally, Radim Vrbata will have to find a way to put up similar numbers as 2011-12 without having Whitney on his line. Hanzal is great at creating space for his line mates and keeping possession of the puck, but he does not have the playmaking abilities that Whitney does. Vrbata will need to create his own chances, and use his deadly wrist shot as often as possible in order to match his goal total from last year. He did put up 24 goals in 2009-10 without Whitney, but if the Coyotes are going to be successful, Vrbata will likely have to put up closer to 30.
Phoenix has a tremendous defense core, there is no doubt about that, but up front they are quite thin. Another piece is needed before the start of the season. The hole left by Ray Whitney is looking more like a crater and a lot of things will have to go right in order for the Coyotes to have success once again. It seems like it will take a miracle just for the Coyotes to sneak in to the playoffs, because on paper this team just is not strong enough to get the job done. Is any of this sounding familiar?