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The surprising hot start for Coyotes’ Michael Carcone

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest surprise on the Arizona Coyotes this year isn’t their star rookie Logan Cooley or the stellar defensive play we are seeing from Sean Durzi. It isn’t veteran NHL players like Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, or Nick Schmaltz. All of those guys are doing fine, but the player who came out of nowhere to have as a 27-year-old is Michael Carcone.

A native of Ajax, Ontario, Carcone has gone from being a perennial AHL forward to leading the Coyotes with 14 goals in 26 games. All the more impressively, he is doing it while averaging just 11 minutes per game and primarily playing on the Coyotes’ third line.

Michael Carcone had an unusual path to the NHL. He went undrafted, and after two seasons in the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, he signed a three-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks, where he played for their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. He was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs for Josh Leivo and assigned to the Toronto Marlies for the remainder of the season.

The Leafs would send Carcone to the Ottawa Senators as part of a six-player trade that also included Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, and Aaron Luchuk, and he would play 59 games with the Belleville Senators. At this point, he had still not yet made his NHL debut.

The following season would prove to be pivotal in Carcone’s career and life. The Senators would trade him to the Nashville Predators, but with the Milwaukee Admirals’ season going on hiatus during the pandemic, Carcone would get loaned to the Tucson Roadrunners. He played well in the shortened season with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate and finished with 25 points in 35 games, second behind Kevin Roy.

After his contract expired, Carcone signed a deal with the Coyotes and continued to impress. Last season, he led the AHL in scoring with 85 points in 65 games, winning the John B. Sollenberger Trophy. He was also named an All-Star and won gold as part of Team Canada at the World Championship, where he registered six points in ten games.

Carcone came ready to play this season, making the Coyotes out of training camp. Few people would have predicted that Carcone would have a roster spot over 20-year-old Dylan Guenther, but Carcone earned a spot, and it didn’t take long for him to have an impact.

It took just three games for Carcone to get his first goal of the season, scoring what would be the game-winning goal in a 6-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on October 19th. He would follow that up with a four-point night that saw him register his first NHL hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks later that month. Carcone’s previous career highs were four goals and two assists in 21 games during the 2021-22 season, and he matched that in just seven games.

Carcone did not stop there and has been providing offense for the Coyotes since. After his hat trick, he has had two multi-goal games, and as of writing, he has goals in six of his last seven. And he is doing all this with limited power play time.

Among Coyotes’ players, Carcone is ranked 14th in power play time, playing just 12 minutes and 30 seconds despite being the Coyotes’ leading goal scorer. He isn’t playing much short-handed either, just 3 minutes and 43 seconds. 

With Carcone being an out-of-nowhere success, it is essential to ask if this can continue. Of Carcone’s 13 goals this season, 12 have been scored 5-on-5, which is a point in favor. But Carcone is also shooting at an insanely high 34.2%, second highest among players with at least ten games and highest among players with at least 20, which suggests he is due to regress a little.

I don’t think anyone sees Carcone as a major awards candidate. He is too old for a Calder nod, and it is unlikely he will continue at a pace that sees him eligible for the Rocket Richard. He may have a case for the Masterton Trophy; grinding it out for years in the NHL before making it to the NHL at age 27 certainly shows perseverance and dedication to hockey, but that also seems unlikely.

But Coyotes fans, and hopefully hockey fans in general, can see something special in Carcone having a career year. We don’t often see an AHL player make the jump at 27 to become a team’s leading goal scorer, on pace for a 44-goal season. 

At a certain point, fans tend to think that they will never make it, or if they do, they will be serving as a bottom-six role player. But watching Carcone’s start has been inspiring, his every game is a testament to the idea that it is never too late if you keep working at it and that you shouldn’t give up.