Grading the Goal: Arizona Coyotes

Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta

Typically when I choose a team to cover with a ‘Grading the Goal’ piece, it’s because that team has shaken up their goaltending in some kind of fashion, through trade, free agency, or otherwise. For the Arizona Coyotes, however, their goal crease looks exactly the same as last season – at least for the time being – and it would appear there’s nothing new to write about. The truth is, though, that the Coyotes’ goalie situation has evolved from the beginning of last season, through the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, and to today, looking to the 2021 NHL season. Here’s a look at the Coyotes’ organizational depth at the goalie position, and what fans could expect to see next year.

I’m old enough to remember when the Arizona Coyotes were the Phoenix Coyotes, and when they took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings to the Western Conference Finals in 2012, led by goaltender Mike Smith. Smith put on a show in those playoffs, which eventually landed him a big payday. For the Coyotes, though, that would be the last real taste of success and playoff hockey that they would enjoy for a long time.

Since the early days of Mike Smith in Glendale, the ‘Yotes have failed to capture that same skill between the pipes (and on the rest of the ice). They also traded Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild after his short stint and NHL rebirth with the team, and, well, we all know how that guy turned out.

But if you’ve paid any attention to the Coyotes recently, you might have noticed the goalie tandem they have now is pretty darn good, if still unproven. That tandem is made up of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.

Darcy Kuemper really made a name for himself down the stretch toward the end of the 2019-20 campaign, and continued his impressive play in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in the August. Before this year, though, Kuemper had been relegated to a sort of journeyman backup, which never really made sense since he seemed to possess all the necessary characteristics needed to be a starter in today’s NHL.

Height? Check – Kuemper is a towering six-foot-five. Weight? Check – weighing in at 215 lbs, Kuemper is as sturdy as any other guy his size. Ability? Some might dispute his natural abilities, but in my opinion, he’s proven he deserves the opportunity to battle for starting minutes. It’s not his fault, after all, that he’s backed up such names like Devan Dubnyk and Jonathan Quick in the course of his career.

The 30-year old native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has played for the Minnesota Wild, the LA Kings, and finally, the Arizona Coyotes. Like I said, he had been a backup pretty much his whole career – until he wasn’t.

In the 2019-20 season, injury at the goaltending position cleared the way for Kuemper to play starting minutes. And boy, did he ever take advantage of his shot.

Darcy Kuemper finished the season with 29 games played, an above .500 record of 16-11-2, and great numbers: a 2.22 GAA, .928 SV%, and two shutouts. Not only are those career bests for Kuemper, but those numbers ranked among the league’s best last season, too. Among all NHL goalies last year, his goals against average ranked second best, and he was one of just eight goalies with 20+ games played to record a save percentage above .920. I’d say that earns him some pretty high marks.

That stat line earned Kuemper the nod in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Playoffs, in which he played 9 games, a decent workload come playoff time. In those contests, he was 4-5, with a 3.47 GAA and .913 SV%. That goals against average could have been better, but his save percentage is nothing to gawk at, especially if you watched how the ‘Yotes played in front of him (hint: not good).

For a former sixth-round pick of eleven years ago, Darcy Kuemper has done pretty well for himself, all things considered. He’s fought for 215 career games in the NHL, managing a record of 96-72-29. He’ll most definitely cross the hundred-win threshold next season, which is a feat not many goalies drafted into the league ever get to accomplish.

Darcy Kuemper looks to keep his starting position going into 2021
Darcy Kuemper looks to keep his starting position going into 2021

His 2.46 GAA and .918 SV% are more than impressive given his body of work, and his 18 shutouts are a nice surprise to see, too. All in all, I would argue Kuemper has solidified himself as a true starter in this league, and entering the prime age of his career (30), he’s positioned to keep riding it out for as long as he’s allowed. He’s signed for two more years at a $4.5-million AAV, so let’s hope it’s at least for that long.

It’s worth mentioning that the deadline deal that brought Darcy Kuemper to Arizona back in 2018 saw the Coyotes ship out forward Tobias Rieder and goalie Scott Wedgewood. That trade turned out pretty well in the desert, looking back on it now.

A year before Arizona brought Kuemper in to shore up the net, they tried the same thing in acquiring Antti Raanta, another backup who had starter potential. Raanta came from the New York Rangers in a 2017 trade that saw the departure of defenseman Tony DeAngelo and Arizona’s first round pick in 2017, which turned into Lias Andersson. Derek Stepan, who is still a Coyote, came packaged with Raanta.

It’s hard to say if the 31-year old Finn has lived up to the potential he showed in New York. The un-drafted goalie has been riddled with season-ending injuries since his arrival in the desert, and hasn’t really had ample opportunity to showcase his abilities. Last season was probably the first wherein Raanta had that chance.

In the 2019-20 season, Antti Raanta played in 31 games, going 15-14-3, and posting a 2.63 GAA, .921 SV%, and two shutouts. He only played 40 minutes between two games in the Qualifiers and playoffs, and gave up four goals against. Raanta’s official playoff record in five appearances in 0-1.

In 186 career NHL games, Raanta is 88-60-18, with a 2.40 GAA, .921 SV%, and 13 shutouts. Much like his counterpart Kuemper, this is a pretty good stat line to boast for his body of work. Signed at one more year at a $4.25-million AAV, he still has the potential to live up to the expectations he brought with him when he came from New York back in 2017.

Armed with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta at the NHL level, the Coyotes seem set heading into next season. But what about at the minor league level? It turns out the club looks really good when it comes to the AHL and ECHL ranks, too.

The Coyotes’ AHL affiliate Tucson Roadrunners are likely to ice goalies Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov, both of whom suited up for the Roadrunners last year, too.

Antti Raanta is fully capable of battling for his starting position back
Antti Raanta is fully capable of battling for his starting position back

Adin Hill was Arizona’s third round pick in the 2015 draft, and has amassed 30 games of NHL experience to date, 13 of which came last season. In his NHL career, Hill has been good for a 2.81 GAA, .907 SV%, and one shutout. Over the last four seasons, he has started the majority of games for AHL Tucson.

In the 2019-20 AHL season, Hill appeared in 20 games, posting a 2.40 GAA and .918 SV%.

Hill’s counterpart, Ivan Prosvetov, looks slated to begin the AHL season as his backup, but appeared in more games with the Roadrunners last year than Hill did.

In 27 games played, Prosvetov recorded a 2.88 GAA and .909 SV%. He has yet to appear in an NHL game.

Moving on down the ranks, the ECHL affiliate of the Coyotes is the Rapid City Rush. The Rush iced predominantly three goalies last season: Tyler Parks, Gordy Defiel, and Alex Sakellaropoulos.

Tyler Parks earned the majority of starts, playing in 25 games and posting a 3.21 GAA, .911 SV%, and two shutouts. Splitting the majority of remaining contests was Gordy Defiel (13 GP) and Alex Sakellaropoulos (12 GP).

Defiel posted a 2.58 GAA and .925 SV%, while Sakellaropoulos managed a 3.35 GAA and .903 SV%. Also appearing in games with Rapid City were goalies Merrick Madsen (6 GP), Ivan Prosvetov (5 GP), and Erik Kallgren (3 GP).

When it comes to the Coyotes in the NHL and the Roadrunners in the AHL, I would expect the goalies rostered to look almost (if not exactly) the same as last year’s roster. In ECHL’s Rapid City, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rush carry their same goaltenders from last year, too.

For the first time in a long time, I think it is fair to say that the Arizona Coyotes organization is in pretty good standing when it comes to their goaltenders. Up and down the ranks from the big league to the minor leagues, it would appear they have the right pieces in place, and are in position to remain competitive in that regard for years to come.

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