Jeremy Roenick is hockey's best player--a dynamic skater, a
bruising checker, a smooth puckhandler. He is everything you
would want a star to be, say the eight geeks who still own EA
Sports' NHL '94, a video game in which Roenick was programmed
with every skill imaginable. As for the earth's other
inhabitants.... "I think Jeremy would admit that he didn't have
a great first half last year," says teammate Rick Tocchet, who
is being polite considering that many hockey observers feel that
Roenick, a four-time All-Star, performed like a has-been. "We
need him to play all-out, two-way hockey for a full season, like
Yzerman or Fedorov. If he does that, things are good."
That is a Gorilla Monsoon-sized if. Another big question for the
Coyotes (35-35-12 last season) has to do with their captain,
star forward Keith Tkachuk, who reported to the team in late
September after a highly criticized holdout for a contract
extension. The pressure on Tkachuk would be eased if
someone--ahem, Jeremy--steps up to shoulder some of his load. In
'97-98 Roenick had the worst season of his 10-year career,
finishing with just 24 goals and 56 points. In the off-season he
abandoned his customary as-much-golf-as-possible workout for a
summer of lifting weights and running. Roenick, who weighed 170
pounds at the beginning of last season, is up to 206. "I'm on a
team that can win a lot of games," he says, "but I have to do my
share. I don't think I'm done just yet."
Coach Jim Schoenfeld has a solid collection of forwards, but
none who can, like Tkachuk or the Roenick of five years ago,
take over a game. Phoenix improved its defense by signing free
agent Jyrki Lumme, a good move because goaltender Nikolai
Khabibulin was spotty last season. "If you look at the best
goalies, they're consistent," says Tocchet. "I'd like to see
Niki take that next step."
If the Coyotes hope to take that next step, Roenick will need to
take a step back in time.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO A Roenick (97) resurgence could lift Phoenix. [Jeremy Roenick and others in game]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
The Coyotes won two playoff games from the Stanley Cup champion
Red Wings last spring, but they still have the worst postseason
winning percentage (.320) of any current NHL franchise.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Phoenix needs to improve its special teams, which were a
disappointing 14th in power-play efficiency and 21st in penalty
killing in the league last season.
--Veteran Rick Tocchet must convince his talented but enigmatic
mates that winning is more fun than padding stats.