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5 guys whom the Coyotes could select if they pick No. 3 at the NHL Draft

Craig Morgan Avatar
July 5, 2022

Five Guys is the best fast casual burger chain in the nation. 

Now that I have your attention — and in some cases, your disdain — let’s talk about five guys whom the Coyotes might select if they keep the No. 3 overall pick in the NHL Draft in Montréal on Thursday.

Wait… if they keep the No. 3 overall pick?

Yes, if.

“We’re gonna look at every scenario when we get in there,” GM Bill Armstrong said Friday. “We’re gonna go through them all.”

Those scenarios include possibly trading down from the No. 3 pick if it allows the Coyotes to add an extra asset, or packaging their two, late first-round picks or their four second-round picks in some configuration to move up in the first round.

We won’t spend any time on those scenarios right now. Despite some rumored trades, it’s all just speculation. In the days leading up to the draft, a lot of the scenarios you read are misdirection created by NHL executives to throw their brethren off the scent or force them into rash decisions.

By now, you have memorized the top prospects in this draft. If the Coyotes remain at No. 3, it’s really not that much of a mystery which players they will target, but let’s look at the scenarios by which they could land each of the following five players.

Juraj Slafkovský (Getty Images)

Juraj Slafkovský

This one is the least likely. Slafkovský is projected to go No.1 or No. 2 overall in almost every credible mock draft in the hockey-playing world, but hear me out. What if Montréal GM Kent Hughes bows to the very real pressure of drafting the Kingston and Canadian kid first overall? And what if the defensemen-deficient New Jersey Devils opt for Šimon Nemec or even David Jiříček? Most scouts view Slafkovský as a wing, but some think he could be a center. At his size (6-4, 220), that possibility makes him an extremely intriguing prospect.

“He’s got everything you want in an NHL player,” The Athletic’s prospect analyst, Corey Pronman said. “He’s 6-4. He’s a good skater. He has great hands. He can make plays. He has a shot that can score from range. I wouldn’t call him a guy who is overly physical, but that’s not to say he gets pushed around either. He’s a big strong forward and just scores at a really high rate.”

Shane Wright (Getty Images)

Shane Wright

Midway through the 2021-22 season, this idea would have seemed ridiculous. Wright was the consensus 2022 No. 1 overall pick for almost two years. Now? A little bit of shine has worn off Wright, who did not overwhelm in the OHL this season, and who has some scouts concerned that his ceiling isn’t much higher. Pronman had Wright going to the Seattle Kraken at No. 4 in his latest mock draft. What once seemed insane now seems plausible.

“I can’t say there’s anything about his game that excites you,” Pronman said. “There’s nothing about his game that I think is truly elite, but he does a lot of things really well and I think he’s going to be a first-line center in the NHL; a guy who will help a team win games. I just don’t know if he’s going to reach that high, high echelon of the NHL; that top-five center in the league, that top-eight center in the league.”

Logan Cooley (Photo courtesy of USA Hockey)

Logan Cooley

Of all of the players on the board, Cooley seems to excite Coyotes fans the most with his dynamic playmaking abilities. The Coyotes have been searching for elite talent at the center position for two decades. At 5-10½, can Cooley fit that bill? The Coyotes may find out if the draft goes as many thought it would before the past couple of months’ reconfigurations.

“He’s among the most explosive skaters in this draft and has lightning quick hands to match,” Daily Faceoff prospect analyst Chris Peters said. “The only thing that Cooley doesn’t have is a big frame, but I do think he has arguably the best potential among forwards in this draft.”

Šimon Nemec (Getty Images)

Šimon Nemec

There is some disagreement over which defenseman earns the top ranking in this draft class. Some scouts like Jiříček, the big Czech, but injuries and lack of recent playing time have led most scouts and executives to drop him below Nemec. There also is not much confidence in Jiříček’s offensive upside and two scouts told me that his skating isn’t as good as draft analysts say it is.

As for Nemec, he is the top-rated defenseman on the Coyotes’ board with offensive abilities and good hockey sense, one of those qualities that scouts will tell you that you can’t teach. If the Coyotes’ top two forward prospects are gone, they could lean in this direction, especially when you consider that Jakob Chychrun could be traded, leaving their prospect pool nearly void of top-pair-potential defensemen.

“Šimon Nemec is probably the best puck-moving defenseman of all of them,” Peters said. “He had big-time points; a great postseason for Nitra (17 points in 19 games) in the Slovakian league. They made it all the way to the final and he was a big part of that.”

Cutter Gauthier (Getty Images)

Cutter Gauthier

Taking Gauthier would definitely represent going off the analysts’ boards a bit, but as GM Bill Armstrong often notes, analysts’ boards can differ from teams’ boards. The NTDP forward is big. Some scouts think he could be a center, and he’s from Scottsdale which would be an added cool factor. Oh yeah, he’s a big Clayton Keller fan.

“With the program, he ended the season on Logan Cooley’s wing, but even when he was there, he was taking a lot of faceoffs so I think there is a debate in the industry right now whether Cutter is going to be a pro center or pro winger,” Pronman said. “If you believe he’s a center, and with the size and the scaling of the offense, he’s a very interesting pro prospect for that reason.”

Joakim Kemell (Getty Images)

Wild card: Joakim Kemell

OK, I lied. I added a sixth guy to the mix just to confuse you even more. Kemell had 15 goals in 39 games in the Finnish Liiga this season; impressive production for such a young player. He also performed well on the world stage. He just turned 18 at the end of April. TSN draft analyst Craig Button had Kemell at No. 3 on his prospect rankings, and Pronman likes him, too.

“He’s an exciting player,” Pronman said. “He has great skill. He’s got a great shot, a really competitive player, too. He is not afraid to take a hit to make a play. He’s committed defensively; good skater. I think his size is the only kind of issue and he’s like 5-11, 6-0. He’s not the biggest, most imposing guy although he does play hard.

“He had a great year in Finland to score a lot of goals and points for a 17-year-old in that league, so you can see that he’s already had success versus men, which is not something you always see for these high-end first-draft eligibles.”

The gut feeling

I don’t know what Montréal and New Jersey will do with the top two picks so I cannot guess what the Coyotes will do at No. 3 (if they keep it). That said, my hunch is that Arizona is still looking for a forward and hoping for a center.

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Top photo via Getty Images: Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier address reporters at the Top Prospects Media Availability at the NHL Scouting Combine in June in Buffalo.

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