The Arizona Coyotes have been engaged in a legal squabble with the city of Glendale over arena issues, but for the 2015 NHL Draft weekend, General Manager Don Maloney and company were able to put those business headaches aside in favor of adding to one of the deepest prospect groups in the NHL.
The Coyotes may not have had a marquee name on top of their prospect pool, but that situation changed with the addition of Dylan Strome. The Erie Otters center will step out of the limelight behind Connor McDavid and be presented with an opportunity to prove worthy of the selection. In the Pacific Division that features a number of big-bodied and highly-skilled first-line centers, Strome fills a need.
Beyond Strome, Maloney had the final pick in the first round and held on to two second-round picks as well. One of those second-round picks was moved in favor of a short slide down the draft board in order to add two third-round picks, thus deepening the Coyotes prospect pool further.
Overall, Maloney capped off an impressive weekend of drafting by staying the course in his rebuilding efforts. Fans in Arizona will soon be clamoring for many of these prospects to be given time at the NHL level but rest assured: the team’s patience in prospect development is the right course and will be worth the wait.
Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
1st round, 3rd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 170 lbs
Amidst rumors and speculation that the Arizona Coyotes were going to trade the third overall pick away, the Coyotes stayed true to themselves and passed on franchise-caliber defenseman Noah Hanifin (CAR) in favor of Erie Otters center Dylan Strome.
Strome led the OHL in scoring this season, and was a durable and strong-willed two-way pivot that was more than just the “other guy” behind Connor McDavid. With Erie, Strome was tested in many capacities and was a breakout star in the OHL.
Leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, Strome was able to lean on his older brother, Ryan, a forward who enjoyed a renaissance of his own with the New York Islanders.
“He helps me whenever I need anything, and he’s always there for me,” Dylan said of his older brother. “He’s doing so well with New York, and I hope to play against him someday.”
Amongst family members, Ryan was drafted fifth overall in 2011, so Dylan’s selection at third overall bested his brother by two spots, something that wasn’t lost on Dylan: “I’ll let him know after, it’s pretty surreal.”
He brought his Mom and Dad to the draft, with Ryan right by his side, as well as youngest brother Matthew, who was recently drafted and signed by the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL.
“I’m happy to share it with them, and it means a lot to me,” he said.
In the history of the NHL draft, it’s not very often that a small group of friends are selected in the same round, yet alone in the top few selections. That’s exactly what happened to Strome, who shared the experience with long-time friends Connor McDavid (EDM) and Mitch Marner (TOR).
“It’s pretty cool, it doesn’t happen very often. It’s an honor to get drafted with some of my best friends, and it’s an honor to be in a category with those guys,” Strome said of the process.
The Coyotes are getting a potential franchise center, the type of player that teams develop, covet, and hang onto for years. They have proven to be patient in developing young players, as seen by the development path of fellow Coyotes prospects Max Domi, Brendan Perlini, and Christian Dvorak. It’s unlikely that Strome will stick with the team next year, but that’s not a knock on him, but rather just a part of the rebuilding process. Despite the sentiment that he may be back in the OHL next year, that couldn’t contain Strome’s excitement.
“It feels amazing, I didn’t know what to expect today. I’m proud and honored to be selected by Arizona, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Strome took part in 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in early June. He met with the media following his testing session, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
The Kelowna Rockets made news shortly after the holiday season when they acquired Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl, signifying their intent of winning a championship. Fast forward a few months later, and that’s exactly what the team accomplished, thanks in part to Nick Merkley, a fiery winger that sparked the offense on many occasions.
Merkley was among a few shorter players that were considered in the first round of the draft, and while he plays a game much bigger than his size would dictate, Merkley still had some nerves in the twilight of the first round.
“There’s only a few guys who are 5’10” or 5’11”, so I was kind of getting nervous about that,” Merkley said of the supposed size bias. “All the tall guys were going, but I got selected, so I’ll try to take it as it is and just enjoy the moment.”
Merkley shared the moment with his parents, who had some trepidation of their own in wondering if they would be coming back for day two of the draft weekend.
“My parents were a little nervous, they were kind of freaking me out a little bit. It’s amazing though, and I’m super pumped to be selected.”
Merkley brings a lot of elements that the Coyotes like in a center, including a tenacious and aggressive forecheck, an intelligent and witty hockey mind, and a top notch work ethic that elevated those around him this year. Merkley finished the regular season with 90 points, and added another 27 in the playoffs as the Rockets clinched the WHL title.
Looking ahead, Merkley knows it’s a long road to the NHL, but he is well aware of the type of team that the Coyotes are working towards becoming.
“I know it’s a young team, kind of rebuilding and obviously they are going to be a really good team in the future.”
Like Strome, Merkley also went through the testing at the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. He met with the media after his testing session, with his comments being included in this HF video.