The Arizona Coyotes have little to offer in the last two regular season games as they were eliminated from the playoffs on Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean that these games don’t play a role, especially for young players like Jan Jenik.
The 20-year-old center from the Czech Republic is due to make his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks in California on Friday night. Jenik was raised by AHL Tucson and was first inducted into the taxi squad on Thursday.
Jenik got the call with injuries at two centers, Nick Schmaltz and Johan Larsson. He has scored 11 points in 27 games in Tucson that season, including a two-goal, three-point game against San Diego on May 1.
Larsson wasn’t finally eliminated for Friday’s game, but head coach Rick Tocchet planned to activate strikers Hudson Mardi Gras and Michael Chaput. Defender Victor Soderstrom was due to play for Coyotes Friday for the first time since late January. He was then sent to Tucson for more playing time.
“I’m really happy and grateful that I can be here and I’m really excited,” said Jenik.
Jenik said his game has improved this season despite all of the challenges posed by the COVID protocols and a shortened schedule.
“I feel like everything has gotten a lot better, not just with the game, but also in my lifestyle. I think I grew up a bit more, matured and I think that helped me a lot,” said Jenik and added that it made the puck move faster and work in the defensive zone required the greatest adjustments from junior level to professional.
Already in January he scored a goal in an intrasquad fight at the training camp and was praised by Tocchet for his game.
Jenik is a former third-round draft pick of the Coyotes in 2018 and was signed to a three-year contract in March 2019. He immediately showed a knack for scoring.
Jenik played 27 games with Hamilton of the Ontario (Canada) Hockey League in the 2018/19 season, scoring 13 goals and 17 assists.
The following season in Ontario, he scored 22 goals and 34 assists in 27 games before ending his season with an injury playing for his home country in the 2020 Junior World Championship tournament.
“He’s just a guy who will do anything to make it to the NHL,” said Tocchet. “He’s an aggressive kid. He’s the type who will find it difficult to get middle position at this level. So it’s really important to play him (Friday) and get him reps.”
Schmaltz didn’t make the trip and probably won’t play again this season. He had 10 goals and 22 assists.
Striker Lawson Crouse (13 points in 51 games) also played his last game of the season with the Coyotes on Wednesday after an injury in the third period. Crouse’s lower body injury could lead to rehabilitation that lasts well into the summer.
The Coyotes compete on the final weekend of the game with a number of people who may be playing off their contracts. Defenders Jason Demers and Jordan Oesterle were often healthy scratches this season and could be directed to another position as free agents.
Alex Goligoski and Niklas Hjalmarsson are two defenders who were valuable to the team for their shot blocking, playing special teams and Goligoski’s offensive. Both are in their mid-30s, however, and had two of the top three defender salaries for the team of the season.
Goalkeeper Antti Raanta has been injured again this season and, as a prospective free agent, could have played his last game in a Coyotes shirt.
Striker Derick Brassard played a one-year contract but was an alternate captain that season. And striker Michael Bunting appears to be back on a contract for the next season after scoring nine goals in 19 games.
There are also a number of players to be restricted in the off-season as free agents, including Conor Garland, Dryden Hunt, John Hayden, and Adin Hill. These players may receive offers from other teams, but the Coyotes have the right to honor these offers.
Garland (10 goals, 25 assists in 47 games) and Hill (two shutouts, eight wins) stand out as players who have done well this season, and Hunt and Hayden have helped on occasion.
Tocchet said his approach to the last two games has been about people trying to work on their game and the team causing an insult.
“People are watching. Who knows where everyone will be?” Said Tocchet. “So why not make it seem like you’re the type of person who won’t give up?
“You have to play hard because if you don’t play hard you could get hurt out there.” Tocchet added. “Number two, some guys have a lot more to play than others. Some guys, whatever. As a coach, you just hope they show up, play hard … whatever happens happens afterwards.”
Contact Jose Romero at [email protected] Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM.