Two of the Arizona Coyotes’ newest forwards are settling in nicely to their new home.
The Coyotes kicked off training camp on Thursday at the Ice Den Scottsdale, where both Nick Bjugstad and Zack Kassian took their first official skate with their new teammates. Bjugstad, who signed as a free agent in July, and Kassian, who arrived via trade, bring a combined 21 years of NHL experience to the desert, and already have a sense of familiarity with their new teammates.
Cassian didn’t have as many ties to the Coyotes, but it didn’t matter. Once everyone hit the ice on Thursday, the team bonding began.
“I’ve been here two weeks now, and they seem like a very tight-knit group,” Kassian said. “They made me feel right at home – both me and my wife. I’m excited to get the hockey aspect going and starting to play with these guys.”
The 31-year-old winger has 201 points in 610 career games with the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres. Moreover, the 6-foot-3 Kassian plays the style of hockey that Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong and head coach André Tourigny expect from the team.
Kassian believes his brand of hockey will be a great fit in The Valley.
“What we’re all talking about is taking a step forward this year — and not being satisfied with the way the team ended last year — but taking a step forward this year, not a step backwards, and there’s nothing given in this league,” Kassian said. “No one cares what you did last year. It’s a prove-it-to-me-today league.
“I’m just excited to go out there and compete with the guys, and grow as a team offensively, defensively, a lot of young guys. It’s nice to see them come up and find their own.”
Bjugstad, meanwhile, is quite familiar with the Coyotes’ brand of hockey.
The 30-year-old center, who has 237 points in 540 career games with the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota Wild, recalled this game between the Wild and Coyotes at the end of last year in which Arizona won 5-3.
It was the Coyotes’ tenacity that Bjugstad remembered, and after just one day with his teammates at camp, it was easy for him to see why.
“It’s not a surprise after sitting in a meeting and seeing all the details that [Tourigny] goes through,” Bjugstad said. “I think the teaching points already this morning, they came across really well. The practice was high intensity, high pace, and I definitely understand why they were a hard team to play against at the end of the year.”
For the first day of training camp, Arizona’s skaters were already locked into highly competitive play on the ice. Battles for the puck were hard-fought, and the pace was noticeably faster than any of the informal offseason skates throughout the summer.
After a summer in which Armstrong acquired multiple big bodies that play with an edge, Coyotes forward Nick Ritchie remarked that the new arrivals left little doubt that they will make their mark with the club.
“You can see by some of the guys we signed and traded for in the offseason that we’re going to be that kind of team that plays hard, is hard to play against, and there’s a little bit of nastiness,” Ritchie said. “I think that’ll fit my game, and the whole team really well.”
Tourigny has been clear since his arrival prior to last season that he wants the Coyotes to build into the culture of the team, and given the impression left on some of the team’s newest forwards, the culture that started last season is already bleeding through into this year two.
“The buy-in on the culture is there,” Bjugstad said. “[Armstrong] made it clear that that’s important, and as a player we want to hold each other accountable, too.”
Tourigny liked what he saw out of his team on day one, although the work has quite literally just begun.
“After an hour and a half, it might be a little bit early to say we’re heading in the right direction, but today was a win,” Tourigny said. “Today was a good day, and we’ll try to be better every day.”