Even for the eternal optimist, it’s hard to look at the Arizona Coyotes as they currently stand and think positive thoughts. The team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the organization was forced into trading two of their core players in Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette, and now a messy and frustrating legal situation is front and center.
Worst yet, the Coyotes were passed by the Edmonton Oilers during the draft lottery, enabling the worst case scenario for the team, as they will miss out on both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. With all that said, one look at the Coyotes prospect pool offers the light at the end of the tunnel for a deserving fanbase that has stood by their team admirably.
That light is about to get brighter, as the Coyotes currently hold the 3rd and 30th selections in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The offseason began early for Arizona, who will have plenty of time to assess their organization heading into one of the best drafts in recent memory.
Here is a look at where the team stands heading into the draft.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Max Domi, C
2. Anthony Duclair, LW
3. Brandon Gormley, D
4. Henrik Samuelsson, C
5. Brendan Perlini, LW
6. Christian Dvorak, LW
7. Lucas Lessio, LW
8. Laurent Dauphin, C
9. Ryan MacInnis, C
10. Mark Visentin, G
As a whole, the Arizona Coyotes are not in a position to turn down any particular position in the draft. It should be stated, however, that the Coyotes do have an incumbent number one prospect at each position, a testament to the team’s drafting history and recent trade acquisitions like Anthony Duclair and Klas Dahlbeck. The team has a surplus of centers within the organization, though it could be argued that after Max Domi, the group could use a true potential first line option. The team is similarly equipped at wing, with Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, and Duclair offering high-end potential.
On defense, the next-in-line appears to be Brandon Gormley, who has taken a slow and circuitous route to the NHL. Beyond him, however, there does appear to be a need for additional depth, something that could easily be answered early in this draft. In goal, Mark Visentin missed the entire 2014-15 season due to injury, and Louis Domingue passed him temporarily on the depth chart, earning a handful of games in the NHL. With respect to those two, the organization desperately needs a future franchise caliber goaltender to go along with their depth at forward and on defense.
The Coyotes system is primed with top-end talent, and is expecting contributions as soon as next season from top prospects like Domi, Duclair, and Gormley. It will be a shift in thinking of sorts, as aging veterans and lumbering skaters will be tossed aside in favor of younger, faster counterparts. The real strength of the Coyotes system lies within its ability to create and produce NHL-ready talent, even in times of desperation where the team is devoid of scoring threats.
Recently, the team has turned to young, in-house prospects to contribute for the Coyotes. Tobias Rieder didn’t look out of place this season, and neither did Connor Murphy, who appears to be a candidate to eat up the icetime void left by Yandle’s departure. With this season lost seemingly early in the year, the Coyotes began to call up numerous players for a cup-of-coffee and a look at what daily life in the NHL is like. The team turned to a staggering 38 skaters and four goaltenders, so they should have a grasp on who is ready to contribute full-time next year, trimming the need for depth players and offering regular spots to young skaters.
The goaltender with the best statistics for them this season didn’t even finish the campaign with the Coyotes, as Devan Dubnyk was dealt to the Minnesota Wild, where he enjoyed a resurgent season. Mike Smith is the incumbent number one goaltender, but a disastrous start of the season and lack of faith down the stretch raises questions as to why the Coyotes signed him to a gigantic six-year contract in 2013. Louis Domingue was a nice story this year, briefly offering a glimpse of his ability, though it’s widely understood that he will not be “the guy” going forward. The team does have Mark Visentin is the system, but he missed the entire season due to injury, and it’s tough to rely on him as an option with a major injury concern in his rear-view mirror. Marek Langhammer recently finished his WHL career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, and enters the system as a potential starter with the team’s AHL affiliate. Mike Lee hasn’t been able to carry his success from his collegiate days with St. Cloud State and is nothing more than an organizational filler at this point.
With a number of skaters at other positions ready to step in, a strong group of forwards considered as potential franchise-caliber players, and a sturdy group of defensemen, the Coyotes must acquire a top-flight goaltending prospect to fill their lone weakness among prospects.
General Manager Don Maloney has been at the helm since 2007, which is an interesting place to start looking at the Coyotes’ draft history and tendencies. With the third pick in 2007, Maloney took Kyle Turris and again will have the third selection in what could potentially be a make-or-break season for him.
Throughout his tenure, Maloney has drafted heavily out of the CHL, with 13 of a possible 21 selections coming from the Canadian junior ranks in the first three rounds. That said, he has not shied away from taking a European in the first round, though he hasn’t done it since Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2009. More recently, Maloney has been difficult to get a read on, truly evolving his drafting style to take the best player available, despite positional needs or outside pressure.
With Tim Bernhardt at his side as Director of Amateur Scouting and John Chayka, a new Assistant General Manager who will oversee a newly founded analytics department, this draft will continue an exciting organizational shift in player assessment and development.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
3. Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
After falling down to the third spot in the draft, the Arizona Coyotes will miss out on generational talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. With the disappointment of that situation behind them, the Coyotes are faced with what could potentially be the most important draft pick in team history.
There may not be a consensus behind McDavid and Eichel, but differences between available players at the third pick are relatively negligible. Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin is going to make a fine player, so too is London Knights winger Mitch Marner, but it is Erie Otters center Dylan Strome who offers a complete package of ability, hockey sense, and an astute understanding of the game well beyond his years that makes him an attractive option.
Strome helped lead the Erie Otters to the OHL Championship Series, led the OHL in scoring, and finished tied for first in CHL scoring lead with 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games. He’s smart, and rarely makes an egregious mistake that will cost his team. With his size and ability to play the game at a high level, the Coyotes can’t ignore Strome as a potential franchise center.
Understandably, Strome has a reputation as an average skater, not unlike many big-bodied prospects who have gone before him, even including John Tavares. Strome’s brother Ryan, a New York Islanders forward, had issues of his own but now features with the aforementioned Tavares in the NHL.
30. Ilya Samsonov, G, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk
At the end of the first round, the Arizona Coyotes will be faced with a situation where they can afford to take the best player available, especially considering they will select just a couple spots later in the second round. With the Buffalo Sabres clearly in a position of need to acquire a goaltender both now and in the future, the Coyotes open the run on goaltenders and beat the Sabres to Ilya Samsonov, the top-ranked European goaltender by NHL Central Scouting.
It would be something of a surprise at this point of the draft, not because Samsonov would be the first goalie off the board, but because the Coyotes would be taking a goaltender in the first round for just the third time in franchise history. That move carries a bit of up-front risk, especially knowing that Samsonov has a three-year contract in the KHL and recently skipped out on the NHL Draft Combine.
With all that said, Samsonov is a decorated international competitor that has garnered attention everywhere he has gone. With his MHL team, Samsonov finished with an 11-4-1 record, 2.66 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage, including two shutouts. He carried Russia to a 2014 World Junior-A Challenge victory through a 46 save shutout over Canada East, and earned Top Goaltender honors during the 2015 U-18 Five Nations Tournament.
Samsonov would go immediately to the front of the line for the Coyotes, and would represent the future of the team in goal. With the Coyotes’ window to compete a few years off, the immediate concern over the “Russian factor” could be shelved in favor of his long-term development and the Coyotes’ long-term success as their prospects mature.