Vinnie Hinostroza is leading the Coyotes in point production (20) over the past two months as they’ve made a serious charge to earn the team’s first playoff berth in seven years.
“He’s really pushing the pace,” Head Coach Rick Tocchet said recently. “He’s just putting a lot of heat on the other team’s defensemen. He’s got a good shot. He can score. His game’s gotten to a different level.”
Hinostroza, 24, already has set career highs for goals (15), assists (19) and points (34) this season, his first with Arizona. He said discovering ways to be consistent and sticking to a daily routine has helped him evolve as a player.
“I’ve found that helps me,” Hinostroza said. “As you mature as a player you learn how to take care of your body away from the rink so you can play the game more consistently. Working out, stretching, stuff like that, it all helps.”
Skating on a line with veteran forwards Brad Richardson and Michael Grabner also has fueled Hinostroza’s emergence as an all-around player.
“Playing with ‘Richie’ and ‘Grabs’, a lot of the year we’ve been matched up with top guys on the other team, and I’ve never done that in my life,” Hinostroza said. “I’ve loved that role and I’ve learned so much from my linemates. I love playing with these guys and they’ve been great to me, and they get on me when I make a mistake, which is also great. As a young player you need to be held responsible. I think that’s helped me improve.”
Tocchet has been wowed by Hinostroza’s forechecking, his speed through the neutral zone, his puckhandling and, most noticeably, his 200-foot game.
“It’s totally night and day from when he first got here,” Tocchet said. “He’s doing all the hard stuff that we’ve asked him to do and that’s why he’s having success right now. There’s been some games where he’s really won us the games with the way he’s played.”
Most recently, Hinostroza notched his first NHL hat trick to lead Arizona to a 6-1 win over Anaheim on March 14. In St. Louis two nights earlier, Hinostroza tallied the game-winning goal.
“He’s really picked up his game and he’s playing great with ‘Grabs’ and ‘Richie,'” defenseman Jason Demers said. “They’re kind of the engine for our forward unit. He’s doing the right things and he’s getting rewarded for playing so hard. More power to him.”
Tocchet’s lone critique is he’d like to see Hinostroza take more shots on goal; he’s launched just 128 in 63 games.
“I remember when (General Manager) John Chayka called me after he made the deal (for Hinostroza),” Tocchet said. “He said this guy’s got high-level talent and potential … I’ve been playing him more the last five weeks than I did in the beginning of the year and he’s earned it. There’s offense to his game and, like I said, he can shoot the puck and we want him to shoot more.”
For whatever reason, Hinostroza has been a more effective goal scorer on the road this season than at home. Of his 15 goals, he’s scored 10 away from Glendale in three fewer games. In his NHL career, he’s scored 21 of 28 goals wearing the road sweater. With three critical games remaining on a trip at Eastern Conference teams this week, the Coyotes are hoping he can continue that trend.
Hinostroza, a Chicago native, is enjoying his time with Arizona after spending the first three years of his NHL career with his hometown Blackhawks.
“It’s a great atmosphere here,” Hinostroza said. “I love every guy in here. They’re all awesome off the ice, and fun to be around, and then on the ice everyone wants to work for each other and win. I think what’s really great about our team is that every game it seems somebody different steps up and plays the key role. When you have that, it’s easy to win games. We’ve just got to keep that going.”