In this week’s edition of the Arizona Coyotes 2021-22 offseason player reviews, we’ll take a look at two players this week and next with the season looming. Up this week are goaltender Karel Vejmelka and forward Lawson Crouse. After a breakout season last year, where Crouse recorded 20 goals and 14 assists for 34 points in 65 games, the Coyotes forward looks to bounce back from a season-ending surgery and build off last season. The goaltender — who’s nicknamed “Veggie” — on the other hand, looks to build off his rookie season, in which he surprised a lot of people on a not very good team.
Entering this past season, fans were eager to see if Crouse would take the next step after the team traded away some of their prolific goalscorers such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, and Christian Dvorak. But, perhaps the biggest question mark coming into last season for the Coyotes was Vejmelka, a 25-year-old rookie goalie who was making his NHL debut after spending his entire life/career in the Czech Republic.
Season in Review
This past season was quite the spectacle for the duo. First off, Crouse set new career highs in goals, points, and time on ice, while tying his career high in assists and taking on a bigger leadership role in the process. In addition, he tied career highs in takeaways, blocked 36 shots, and delivered 181 hits. He tied his high in shots and saw his shooting percentage increase by 9.6 percent. While not considered a breakout to most, Crouse took on a significant role this past season and it paid dividends, resulting in the Coyotes signing the forward to a five-year contract extension.
The biggest headline for the Coyotes this past season was not a player milestone, it was the shocker that was Vejmelka. After spending his entire career and life over in the Czech Republic, the Coyotes signed him, with the intentions of him spending the year in the American Hockey League (AHL). He had other plans, though, shocking everyone when the team named him to the roster as the backup to Carter Hutton. The role of backup didn’t last long, taking over as the team’s starting goalie when Hutton went down with an injury and was ultimately traded. As the team’s starter, Vejmelka finished the season with a record of 13-32-3, with a goals-against average of 3.68 and a save percentage of .898. While not eye catching, he caught people’s attention, and deservedly so, facing on average 40-plus shots a night, solely keeping his team in it most nights.
What The Two Can Improve On, Build Off Of
Despite taking a leap in his game, Crouse still has some areas he needs to focus on if he plans to continue to grow from last season. At times he struggles to be a disciplined player, failing to stay out of the box, registering 52 penalty minutes. In addition to a lack of discipline at points last year, he had issues with maintaining puck possession, turning the puck over 23 times. He registered a plus/minus of minus-9 and wasn’t so hot when thrust into the faceoff circle, winning only 33.3 percent of his draws. In the few areas that he did struggle, he made up for in plenty of positives. He set numerous career highs, took on a bigger team role, and cemented his place as a core player in the team’s rebuild.
For Vejmelka, there’s areas of improvement in his game. His glove side is particularly weak, and was exposed numerous times. While he worked on that issue, he still has areas to focus on. His goals saved above average of minus-14.8 was abysmal. He struggled at positioning and trying to adapt to the NHL game. While a year down in the minors could serve him well in terms of conditioning and growth, there’s no denying he played better than expected and was the sole reason the Coyotes were able to remain close in most games. He stole a lot of games, including a huge 46-save shutout over the Winnipeg Jets and a huge win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on prime time. This was a reason why the Coyotes signed him to an extension. He’s the team’s main man in the crease through this rebuild and the the team hopes he takes the next step forward this upcoming year.
Going forward, all eyes will be on Arizona next season in their tank for the highly coveted Connor Bedard. The Coyotes hope to see continued growth from both Crouse and Vejmelka this season. Both are viewed as pieces of the team’s core throughout their lengthy rebuild, and it’s no secret the team want them both here. Crouse brings physicality and skill to the team and Vejmelka has the ability to keep the team close and steal games. Whatever the case may be, this will be an interesting season nonetheless for the Coyotes.
What do you think of Vejmelka and Crouse? Let us know in the comments section below. Next week is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and forward Nick Schmaltz.
Mr. Evans is originally from Greenville, SC where he currently resides. Mr. Evans has been involved in hockey for the past 18 years now, following the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues. During his free time, Mr. Evans enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend as well as being up in the mountains or taking pictures. Prior to joining The Hockey Writers, Mr. Evans previously worked for The Puck Authority, covering the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and FanSided’s Bleedin’ Blue, covering the St. Louis Blues. You can find Mr. Evans on Twitter at @HaynesPEvans.