The Arizona Coyotes will visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night in a matchup of teams looking for fresh starts.
Both clubs missed the playoffs last season, and both have new coaches.
Brad Larsen, 44, takes over for the Blue Jackets, but he isn’t a new face. Larsen has been an assistant for Columbus since 2014-15, starting under Todd Richards and continuing under John Tortorella, whom Larsen replaces.
“He was the guy that you would go to for video, for help, for a whole array of things,” center Jack Roslovic said of Larsen. “Now to have him as a head coach, it’s great because that connection is there and that comfort level is there.”
Along with Tortorella, others who are gone include longtime core players Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones and Denis Savard.
Atkinson went to the Flyers in July for a familiar face as winger Jakub Voracek, 32, returns to Columbus. Voracek was drafted by the Blue Jackets seventh overall in 2007 and traded to the Flyers in 2011. He had nine goals and 34 assists in 56 games last season.
Voracek has been skating on the Blue Jackets’ top line with Patrik Laine and 22-year-old center Alexandre Texier and also has provided a boost to the Columbus power play.
“Whenever he’s got the puck on his stick, you’ve just got to try and find a way to get open and he’ll find you,” said defenseman Zach Werenski. “(Having) a guy with that type of creativity on our power play, it’s huge. It opens up a lot of options for us.”
With the tragic passing this past summer of Matiss Kivlenieks — he died from chest trauma after being hit by an errant firework — Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will be in net.
In Arizona, 47-year-old Andre “Bear” Tourigny replaces Rick Tocchet at the helm of a team that’s made the playoffs only once in the past nine years. The former NHL assistant had been working for Hockey Canada and takes over a team that’s moving from the West Division to the Central to accommodate the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Tourigny and Coyotes’ management liked what he saw during the preseason as the Coyotes played a physical style and finished 5-1.
“We practice hard; we don’t take shifts off or any part of the drill off,” general manager Bill Armstrong said. “That was one of the reasons I liked (Tourigny) a lot, and I’ve said it a few times: Where there’s a lot of accountability but when he’s pushing them, there’s some likability on the other side.”
To go along with their rookie coach, the Coyotes imported a group of veterans in the offseason, including Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Travis Boyd, Ryan Dzingel, Anton Stralman and Carter Hutton.
They join veteran Phil Kessel, who’s in the final season of an eight-year contract. He missed most of training camp with a foot injury. Among the returning forwards are playmaker Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Lawson Crouse.
“To be honest, when we look up front, we fill the 14 forwards that we have; we like them,” Tourigny said.
Gone is former captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, forward Conor Garland and last season’s goaltending corps.
Arizona defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had 20 points in 41 games for the Flyers last season.
Hutton looks to be the opening-night goalie.
–Field Level Media