Character coyotes

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:06 PM ET

Ed Jovanovski had his pick of the litter and he chose to head to the desert and run with the Phoenix Coyotes.

As an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, the longtime Vancouver Canucks blue-liner surprised many when he opted not to stay on the Left Coast or head back to Florida, where he began his career.

"Free agency is kind of a unique situation, you have your options," said Jovanovski, who is expected to suit up for the Coyotes against the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the MTS Centre. "There were plenty of opportunities around the league, but looking at the defence and the group of guys here in Phoenix, I thought it was a good fit. I would put this (corps) up against any D in the league."

A NICE TOUCH

That revamped defence corps is highlighted by Derek Morris, youngster Keith Ballard and newcomer Nick Boynton.

Jovanovski admitted being recruited by head coach Wayne Gretzky was a nice touch.

"Having Wayne call you is overwhelming," said Jovanovski. "I've had the opportunity to work with Wayne before (with the 2002 Canadian Olympic team and 2004 World Cup of Hockey). The passion and emotion he carries with him is contagious. That's a part of my game that I feel I'm good at. I care a lot about my teammates and about the game itself. Hopefully, we can combine all that stuff into a winning team here."

Coyotes captain Shane Doan says playing for The Great One is a lot of fun.

"As a player, it's such a unique opportunity to have the greatest player who ever played coach you," said Doan. "You couldn't ask for anything better than that. I'm sure last year was as disappointing for him as it was for us on the team because we never made the playoffs.

"I know how competitive he is and how much of a desire he has to get into the playoffs and make things happen. The novelty of him (coaching) might be gone a little bit, which will be a good thing for the players and for him. He's involved in the game, he shows his emotions and cares. He wants to win."

Jovanovski is one of several key free agents who general manager Mike Barnett believes will help get the Coyotes back in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"We needed more character," Barnett said from the Coyotes prospects tournament in California earlier this week. "We're going to be a harder team to play against this year. There's reason for optimism. You never really know exactly what you've got until you hit the ice."

If veteran forwards Jeremy Roenick and Owen Nolan can chip in offensively, the Coyotes should feature plenty of depth up front to go with their solid blue-line.

"Their physical presence, their leadership skills and their intensity should make us a better team," said Barnett. "These are two guys who, for much of their careers, didn't leave anything on the table when they hit the ice."

The Coyotes also re-signed goalie Curtis Joseph and brought enforcer Georges Laraque in to play a bigger role than he did last season with the Oilers.

"Big Georges is going to have a big year and he's going to give us something we haven't had here in a long time," said Doan.


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