Arizona Coyotes’ trade deadline moves signal youthful future in sight

Arizona Coyotes young guns Dylan Guenther, No. 92, and Logan Cooley, No. 3, seen here in a game against the New Jersey Devils, represent the team’s shift toward a youthful future. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

TEMPE – The future has arrived.

The Arizona Coyotes have struggled in the win-loss column this season, currently sitting at 28-36-5 and second to last in the Central Division. Despite being just outside the NHL wild-card race heading into the All-Star break in early February, with plenty of hopes afloat, a collapse on the other side of the break, including a nearly record-breaking 14-game losing streak, sparked conversations about the team’s direction moving forward. As the March 9 trade deadline loomed, the Coyotes shipped out several veteran players, shifting their priority toward the future.

Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong was active on the final day of the deadline, trading away veteran forward Jason Zucker to the Nashville Predators for a 2024 sixth-round pick. He also traded defenseman Matt Dumba and a 2025 seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire a 2027 fifth-round pick. One day earlier, Armstrong sent out defenseman Troy Stecher to the Edmonton Oilers, tied together with a 2024 seventh-round pick, to acquire a fourth-rounder in 2027. All three players were on one-year deals with the Coyotes. Given the team’s direction, it was unlikely that any would return next season.

“The great thing about what we did in the summer is not get locked into long-term deals, allowing this young team to grow and breathe and expand,” Armstrong said. “When they do, we’ve got room to put them in the right positions.”

Dylan Guenther and Logan Cooley are two of the key young players Armstrong referenced. While they haven’t made the biggest impact on the stat sheets yet, the improvements they’ve made on the ice this season have been noticeable in other ways.

Guenther is just 20 years old, selected ninth overall in 2021 by the Coyotes and comes to the team with more prior championship experience than any other player on the roster. He has played in several championship games at the junior hockey level. But no moment in his young career was bigger for Guenther than his game-winning goal for the under-20 Canadian national team in the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship.

“What I see about Guenther, everybody talks about his shooting … he has a really good stick on the forecheck. He reads the play really well …. He sees the play before it happens,” said Coyotes coach André Tourigny. “He does so many good things. He’s a player that will help your team, even when he has a bad game.”

Logan Cooley hasn’t seen the same level of winning before the NHL. Coming to the Coyotes by way of the University of Minnesota, Cooley has a hockey background that extends to his youth. Cooley, a Pittsburgh native, was a part of the inaugural season of NHL legend Sidney Crosby’s “Little Penguins Learn to Play” devolopment program. Expectations are a bit different for Cooley, a former lottery pick of the Coyotes, selected third overall in 2022.

Cooley, 19, credits his progression in his first season as a professional hockey player to some of the veterans who have helped him.

“It’s sad seeing guys like Matt Dumba and Zucker go. Zucker has helped me so much, just starting my career and ever since I first got here, he’s been a huge help for me and he’s definitely going to be one of my best friends for life,” Cooley said.

Guenther so far this season has 21 points in 32 games. Cooley has 32 points in 69 games. Guenther was originally recalled in January on a short-term basis, due to a three-game suspension for forward Jason Zucker. He has since earned his stay on the roster with his solid play, including a recent stretch of at least a point in four of the last five games.

With Guenther and Cooley as some of the names to keep in mind moving forward, Coyotes fans can expect to see several other young players in action over the final few weeks of the season.

“There’s always guys down in Tucson. They’ve had a great year down there. They’ve done an amazing job at developing our players down there,” Armstrong said of the AHL Roadrunners, the Coyotes minor league affiliate. “Also, having success and a playoff team down there. They’re exciting and we’d like to reward some of those guys during the course of our final remaining games.”

Asked if any specific names came to mind. Armstrong replied, “I can’t think of one,” with a chuckle.

While Coyotes fans are disappointed with the result of a season that opened with so much promise, the growth of the youth in the organization is a big stepping stone for an Arizona team straining to be back on the NHL map soon.

“We went through some tough times this year and I know it left some scars,” Armstrong said. ”I don’t mind some of those scars as a reminder of how hard we have to work. I’d like to see our guys pay that price to walk on that winning side.”

Zach Mott(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Zach Mott expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Mott has interned with the Varsity Sports Show doing camera and broadcast work.