Arizona Coyotes’ Conor Garland-One of the NHL’s Most Underrated Talentsby Dom Lunardo February 5, 2021 0 comments
Hockey’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Glendale, Arizona, now is it? Located “deep in the heart” of the desert houses one of the most least-talked-about organizations in professional sports-the Arizona Coyotes.
After qualifying for the (expanded) postseason last summer, the Coyotes are out to prove that their showing, which included a series victory against the Nashville Predators inside the NHL bubble was no fluke. At the head of the Coyotes remains one of the most underrated and least talked about players in the National Hockey League. His name is Conor Garland. What makes him such an underrated talent, and why is he beginning to turn heads in a city that receives minimal hockey coverage at best? Let’s read on and find out.
Diamond in the Rough
Diamond in the rough? Oh, you can say that again. Drafted in the fifth round, 132nd overall back at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Coyotes, it’s taken Garland a few seasons to really get his feet wet at the National Hockey League level. Born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts (you may need to read that name again), Garland has worked hard to gain exposure, credibility, and respectability at hockey’s highest level. Standing at just 5’10, 165 pounds, one would think that a swift wind would knock him right over. But let me tell you, hockey fans, this kid is worth a second look.
After bursting onto the scene tallying 13 goals as a rookie in 2018-19, Garland is coming off a career-best 22-goal, 39-point season last year in the desert, which led the team in scoring. For a team as anemic offensively as Arizona is, this is all the more impressive from “the little engine that could”. Now at 24 years of age, he has started this season with a bang with four goals and 10 points in ten games thus far to go along with a plus-three rating.
The Coyotes are also playing some competitive hockey posting a 4-5-1 record in a challenging (and newly-aligned) West division. Although they’ll be “up against it” to finish in a top-four spot, you just know that Garland and his teammates will do whatever they can to hopefully “squeak” into the playoffs with hopes of going on a run. We’ll just have to wait and see how the season unfolds.
The Wile E. Coyote
As a player, Garland possesses a unique skillset mimicked by so few youngsters in the game. On his feet, he’s quick, shifty, intelligent, and knows exactly where to position himself on the ice for success. With the puck on his stick, he’s a real quick thinker and makes plays with tons of speed and pace. When I watch him play, I’m instantly reminded of a combination of Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens and Kailer Yamamoto of the Edmonton Oilers. From a sheer skill perspective, Garland also has a little bit of Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning in him as well with his direct, “in your face” style of play.
Slated to become a restricted free agent (RFA) at the start of next season, and due for a fairly big jump in salary, the Coyotes may have to fork up some significant cash to retain his services. For a player as underrated and under-the-radar as he is, in addition to putting an impressive amount of points and overall production on the board, this will certainly be an interesting negotiation process.
New general manager Bill Armstrong will be under the microscope in what promises to be an interesting piece of business on so many fronts. Needless to say, the Coyotes and the entire organization from top to bottom are absolutely thrilled to have Garland at their disposal. This promises to be must-see TV if you’re a fan of the “Yotes”. If you just so happen to tune into a Coyotes game at some point during the 2020-21 campaign, keep your proverbial eyes glued to number 83.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images