Arizona Coyotes, Karel Vejmelka

Vejmelka & Coyotes Aim for Big Season

If the Arizona Coyotes are going to make a statement in 2023-24, goaltender Karel Vejmelka will have to become a star. Does he have what it takes to be a top-tier NHL goaltender? At 27 years old, he could carry the team for years to come. However, is the team strong enough to make the playoffs?

Vejmelka Key to Coyotes’ Success

The Trebic, Czechia native had a career season in 2022-23 as the Coyotes took another step forward in their rebuild. With head coach Andre Tourigny back for another season, the team is focused on climbing the Central Division standings.

Karel Vejmelka Arizona Coyotes
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 6-foot-4 and 203-pound Vejmelka has had an interesting journey to the NHL. He played in Czechia from 2010-11 until 2021-22, when he made his NHL debut. He was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the fifth round (145th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, but both sides could not agree on a contract. He skated on NHL ice for the first time as a free-agent invitee to Coyotes training camp, and at that point, his career took off.

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Vejmelka made his NHL debut in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 17, 2021, stopping 32 of 33 shots. With an injury to Carter Hutton, he became the starter and played well under the circumstances. He then became the permanent starter for Arizona and has not looked back. He went from being an unknown to carrying his team almost overnight.

Related: Reviewing Vejmelka and Other Goaltenders in 2022-23 Season

In two seasons, he has averaged 51 games per season, well above his workload in Czechia. With the Coyotes turning the corner on being competitive, he continues to keep games close enough or hold the lead, as he continues to be a force between the pipes. He is consistent, motivated, and ready to take on anything the opposition throws at him.

Vejmelka Sets Career Highs in 2022-23 Season

In 2022-23, Vejmelka set career highs in wins with 18, goals against average of 3.43, and a save percentage of .900. He earned five more wins than in 2021-22 and dropped his GAA from 3.68 while raising his save percentage from .898. He also had three shutouts last season compared to one in 2021-22.

Karel Vejmelka Arizona Coyotes
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With 31 wins, he ranks 13th in Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes franchise history. Vejmelka has played so well that he signed a new three-year, $8.18 million contract extension (with a $2.725 average annual value) in March 2022. The Coyotes had locked up their number-one goaltender for the foreseeable future.

While he has been consistent between the pipes, the rest of the roster, although competitive, has not. The team has a few stars, but for the most part, they are made up of bottom-six players who have not contributed enough offense. The defense has also been subpar, finding themselves scrambling in their zone and unable to get the puck out. But management addressed that problem this summer by signing Sean Durzi, Matt Dumba, and Travis Dermott and re-acquiring Troy Stecher.

Coyotes’ Improvements Could Lead to Big Season

The core defense improved this summer, and that should make a difference this season. The offense was also upgraded with the additions of Jason Zucker, Alex Kerfoot, and Logan Cooley to add more goal-scoring. This could help Vejmelka record 25 or even 30 wins by the season’s end.

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Management also needed to improve the defense to support their goaltending. The team ranked ninth in goals against, which is not horrible, but they also ranked 27th on the penalty kill (74.6 percent) and third in shots against (35.0). But they made the necessary moves to do so.

After a slow October start to the 2022-23 season, Vejmelka rebounded and went 5-2 with a 2.15 GAA and a save percentage of .936. – who? He also had a winning 6-5-2 record against Central Division opponents. He played his best at home, posting a record of 12-9-3, a GAA of 3.23, and a save percentage of .907.

Vejmelka is in his prime and determined to help his team to a winning record in 2023-24. He is still young enough to remain focused, and his new contract could be a factor in him playing at a new level this season. On paper, the team is better overall, so expectations are high. The Coyotes are full of promise and could sneak up on the rest of the league, and with the upgrades and another season with Vejmelka and Tourigny, they could make a serious run at a playoff spot.

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