After seeing top-line winger Radim Vrbata depart this offseason, Arizona Coyotes’ winger Lauri Korpikoski will now become one of a very select few who will benefit by undoubtedly seeing his playing time rise to a possible career high. This rise in play time, along with the opportunity of playing alongside top-line centers and wingers every day, should theoretically see a rise in his offensive output as well. Given this string of good news headed Korpikoski’s way this offseason, one thing has now become certain: With his age and lack of scoring on a consistent basis, paired with a flurry of up-and-comers, this year could now be a make-or-break one for the 28-year-old.
The 2010-11 season saw Korpikoski reach a career highs in goals (19), assists (21), total points scored (40) and plus/minus (plus-17) in a season, but the speedy left winger has seen his production slide almost every year thereafter. At age 24, after “Korpi” reached those career highs, the Coyotes signed him to a two-year/$3.6 million contract extension. During those two seasons, his average points per game (PPG) dropped from a career high .51PPG in the 2010-11 season to a .45PPG in 2011-12 and then to a .31PPG in 2012-13. Hoping to see his production rise to 2010-11 levels again, the Coyotes re-signed Korpikoski to a four-year/$10 million contract before the start of last season.
After signing the aforementioned extension, Lauri Korpikoski saw his average points per game inch up to a .39PPG. “Korpi” may now be one of only five total players on the Arizona Coyotes roster signed through the 2016-17 season, but making an average of $2.5 million every year, and with Vrbata departing, his production will be expected to be more consistent and rise back to career highs.
Also known to fans as the “Korpedo,” the Turku, Finland-native will come into this season with a big chance to make another big splash on the scene. Although, should he continue to struggle, the time allotted to him among the top lines could be limited. With youngsters like Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson nipping at the heels of potentially becoming second line forwards, along with the arrival of Sam Gagner and a full season of Martin Erat, the pressure to finally pull the trigger and put points up on the board could make-or-break the veteran player.
Korpikoski, who is known for his speed and versatility, has often lacked confidence in his ability to score. This streaky confidence has shown up quite obviously in his streaky scoring spurts. Last season, while battling through injury at various times throughout the year, Korpikoski was able to string together several games of scoring outbursts.
For example, in four games during the second week of November, “Korpi” was able to nab five points, which included a three-point game against the Tampa Bay Lightning; that was just before subsequently getting injured that very same contest. After missing roughly a month of playing time, Korpikoski was able to get 12 points in 15 games played in January. Thereafter, he suffered a nine-game scoreless drought. The winger followed that drought by scoring four points in six games. Again, the streakiness continued and in his last 12 games played last season, Korpikoski was only able to muster up one assist, while going a terrible minus-8 in the process.
There is a lot riding on Lauri Korpikoski evolving into the kind of player the Coyotes front office, fans, and coaching staff knows he can become and it is not just “Korpi’s” personal confidence levels. With leading scorer Radim Vrbata gone this year, along with the influx of new talent (young and old), the six-year veteran will need to have a breakout performance as the team attempts to fit its newbies into coach Dave Tippett’s system. So coming into preseason, keep an eye on Korpikoski and his development, because although this could be a make-or-break year for him, the same could be said about the entire team.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Arizona Coyotes