Arizona Coyotes at Florida Panthers game preview

Arizona Coyotes at Florida Panthers game preview

Published Mar. 23, 2017 10:07 p.m. ET

TV: FOX Sports Florida

Time: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.


SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Arizona Coyotes were eliminated from playoff contention on Monday, and the Florida Panthers likely are not far behind.

Welcome to the world of the Panthers, a franchise that shockingly won the Atlantic Division last year and then made a bunch of changes, including firing their head coach about a month into the season.

Florida, which has had a worse winning percentage under interim coach Tom Rowe than it did under the fired Gerard Gallant, is still alive in the playoff chase -- but barely.

The Panthers would have to create a nearly perfect 11-game finish to have any hope of leapfrogging the four teams that are in their way for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Arizona (27-37-9) is 4-2-1 in its past seven games as it tries to finish strong at the end of a fifth straight year with no playoffs.

"We want to start off now, building for next year," Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson told "It's important."

This is Arizona's first season under general manager John Chayka, who is attempting to achieve a massive reconstruction built around youth.

So far, the results are mixed.

Rookie wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair combined to score 38 goals in 162 games last season. This season, the two 21-year-olds have combined to score just 12 goals in 100 games.

However, Ekman-Larsson, 25, is emerging as an elite NHL defenseman. Another young defenseman, 20-year-old rookie Jakob Chychrun, has played 60 games and is 11th on the team with 19 points. Among Coyotes defensemen, he is third in points.

Anthony DeAngelo, 21, is another young defenseman Arizona has given an opportunity to, using him in 32 games this season.

Offensively, Tobias Rieder, 24, has 15 goals, third on a team that has no 20-goal scorers.

The Coyotes have four rookie forwards who have played in the NHL this season, led by Brandon Perlini, a 21-year-old first-round pick in 2012 who has blossomed this season with 13 goals.

Christian Dvorak, a 20-year-old center, has 12 goals, maturing into a versatile two-way player.

Dylan Strome, a 19-year-old who was the third player drafted in 2015, has played seven games and is still looking for his first goal.

Two other 19-year-olds to watch are Lawson Crouse, who has five goals in 63 games this season; and Christian Fischer, who has three goals in four games.

Crouse was the Panthers' first-round pick in 2015, the 11th player selected overall, but he was traded to Arizona for two draft choices last year.

Add it all up, and that's nearly a dozen 25-and-under players the Coyotes are planning on for their future.

The Panthers have young talent as well. Offensive standouts such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad are all under 25. And the same goes for defensive standouts Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson and Alex Petrovic.

And even though the Panthers have a lot of veterans such as Jaromir Jagr, Derek MacKenzie, Jussi Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, Shawn Thornton and Thomas Vanek, Rowe seems to blame his younger players for Florida's inconsistent season.

"We had a ton of chances," Rowe said after the Panthers' 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. "These are the trying times you have to go through when you have a young group like we have."