Jeremy Roenick is hockey's best player—a dynamic skater, a bruising checker, a smooth puck-handler. He is everything you would want a star to be, say the eight geeks who still own EA Sports' NHL '94, a video game in which Roenick was programmed with every skill imaginable. As for the earth's other inhabitants.... "I think Jeremy would admit that he didn't have a great first half last year," says teammate Rick Tocchet, who is being polite considering that many hockey observers feel that Roenick, a four-time All-Star, performed like a has-been. "We need him to play all-out, two-way hockey for a full season, like Yzerman or Fedorov. If he does that, things are good."
That is a Gorilla Monsoon-sized if. Another big question for the Coyotes (35-35-12 last season) has to do with their captain, star forward Keith Tkachuk, who reported to the team in late September after a highly criticized holdout for a contract extension. The pressure on Tkachuk would be eased if someone—ahem, Jeremy—steps up to shoulder some of his load. In '97-98 Roenick had the worst season of his 10-year career, finishing with just 24 goals and 56 points. In the off-season he abandoned his customary as-much-golf-as-possible workout for a summer of lifting weights and running. Roenick, who weighed 170 pounds at the beginning of last season, is up to 206. "I'm on a team that can win a lot of games," he says, "but I have to do my share. I don't think I'm done just yet."
Coach Jim Schoenfeld has a solid collection of forwards, but none who can, like Tkachuk or the Roenick of five years ago, take over a game. Phoenix improved its defense by signing free agent Jyrki Lumme, a good move because goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was spotty last season. "If you look at the best goalies, they're consistent," says Tocchet. "I'd like to see Niki take that next step."
If the Coyotes hope to take that next step, Roenick will need to take a step back in time.