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Phoenix’s not-so secret weapon: Defense

Philadelphia Flyers v Phoenix Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 03: Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates with the puck under pressure from Matt Carle #25 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the thrid period of the NHL game at Arena on December 3, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Flyers defeated the Coyotes 4-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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When you look back on what the Phoenix Coyotes did last season, a lot of the credit will fall on goalie Mike Smith’s shoulders and for good reason. He had an outstanding year in helping the Coyotes reach the Western Conference finals but the one thing that helped him out the most was his defense. While Michal Rozsival is gone from last year’s team, what they’ve got going on in the desert is impressive.

Phoenix’s blue line is amongst the most impressive corps in the league. Veterans like Derek Morris, Rostislav Klesla and newly re-acquired Zbynek Michalek pair up with a smooth puck mover and scorer in Keith Yandle as well as future stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Larsson’s play in the last season and in the playoffs helped give him the kind of national attention he’ll start earning the rest of his career breaking out with 13 goals and 19 assists in just his second season, the first in which he played a full year. While Larsson could wind up being a special kind of franchise player, there’s more youth on the way.

With great players like Yandle and Larsson, there’s more help on the way. 2010 first-round pick Brandon Gormley will be emerging from junior hockey in 2012-13 and get a long look in training camp. His eventual arrival has also helped Phoenix GM Don Maloney feel a bit more at ease with taking calls on Yandle’s availability.

Things along the blue line are great right now for the Coyotes, but they might just turn out even better in the very near future.