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Morgan: Draft offers Coyotes a chance finally to get it right

Craig Morgan Avatar
July 6, 2022

Assuming that the Coyotes keep the No. 3 overall pick at the NHL Draft, or that they don’t move down too far, Thursday will mark the 10th time in the franchise’s Arizona history that it has selected a top-10 pick.

A dive into that history is where things get depressing. 

Only two of Arizona’s first–round picks have ever been selected for an NHL All-Star Game as Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2015 and 2018, and Clayton Keller in 2019 and 2022. 

Three of the top-five point producing draft picks — Danny Brière, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Turris — enjoyed the majority of their offensive success with other teams.

And the top point-producing draft pick in the team’s quarter-century of seasons in the Valley? A defenseman, Ekman-Larsson, with a whopping 388 in a Coyotes jersey.

We have recounted the many challenges that the Coyotes management staff faced in past years to build a winner. GM Don Maloney was saddled with a shoestring budget that allowed him one part-time scout in Europe and basically no development staff. Maloney and GMs Bobby Smith and Mike Barnett were also tasked with winning on that tight budget to help the team remain afloat financially, and alive in this difficult sports market. 

There were mistakes aplenty in the first round, including Wheeler, who wouldn’t sign here; Turris, who thought too highly of himself when he was still young; Dylan Strome, who never had the foot speed to be a true impact player; and outright misses such as Dan Focht, Brandon Gormley, Patrick DesRochers, Scott Kelman and Brendan Perlini, who never came close to warranting their draft position.

There were also mistakes in the development process, most notably that the Coyotes didn’t focus enough attention on it, or rushed it. Still, the bottom line is a simple read. Arizona’s draft history is a gong show in which only three draft picks (Ekman-Larsson, Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle) have produced at least 300 points in a Coyotes jersey, leaving 23-year-old Clayton Keller as the fourth-highest point-producing Coyotes draft pick (again, in a Coyotes jersey) in franchise history.

GM Bill Armstrong hopes to change that narrative, and the scout by trade has accumulated a lot of assets to do just that, both in the form of draft picks and in what is perhaps the most complete scouting staff that the franchise has ever boasted.

Credit for the latter number goes to owner Alex Meruelo for agreeing to invest the resources in an experienced and diverse group that has done things the old fashioned way by getting out and viewing hundreds of games, rather than becoming too reliant on video as the past group was. 

As for the picks, Arizona has seven in the first two rounds, with all of them coming in the first 45 picks. The Coyotes have never had more than four picks in the first two rounds in any previous draft, and no team in NHL history has boasted seven picks among the draft’s first 45.

“You get excited because you’re gonna walk out with some really good players on both days,” Armstrong said. “You want to be in the situation that we are. There is pressure, but you want to feel that. It’s like a home-run hitter. You can’t do it from the dugout. You’ve got to get up and swing. You want to be in that scenario and that’s what our staff is made for.”

It remains to be seen whether the Coyotes will execute all seven of those picks in the first 45. Armstrong is open to all scenarios, and that includes trading up with the glut of picks near the end of the first round and the start of the second round, or trading down from No. 3 to gain another asset.

What Armstrong can’t control is what happens in front of the Coyotes’ picks, but he believes that his staff has put in the work so that it can be both nimble and prepared should opportunities arise.

“You hear a lot of people talking about this and that and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. I saw the player,’” he said, chuckling. “But sometimes, miracles happen where teams decide to take somebody different in front of you. In this business, the harder you work, the more you’re prepared, the luckier you get. You can’t choose sometimes who teams pick in front of you, but you can have the right list that if they do miss on somebody or pick somebody else, you’ve got the right guy.

“The preparation leading into it has been outstanding from our group. We’ve been on it right since the start of last summer and it’s just continued to kind of push forward. We’re gonna get a good player at three. That’s the truth of it. So we’re just going to sit there and wait and let the other guys make a decision for us.”

At this point in the evaluation, there do not look to be any franchise-altering players in this draft, but Armstrong had planned all along to play the patient game, to stockpile picks over the next three or four drafts, and to develop those players properly, rather than rush them to the NHL to appease the impatient.

“The rebuild takes a long time,” he said. “If you want true numbers, I think the quickest team to do it is probably, I think, Chicago. They didn’t make the playoffs for seven years, and in their eighth year they won it. But normally, rebuilds from Tampa Bay to Washington and the St. Louis Blues are somewhere between 11 and 14 years to actually win the Cup. But if you’re going to make the playoffs, you’re looking at anywhere from five to six years out from the time the rebuild starts. That’s the reality of it.”

The Coyotes scouting staff is operating with that timeline in mind.

“The next couple of drafts we think are gonna be pretty good so as long as we can keep picking high, we’re gonna get good players,” director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski said. “It really is exciting to finally get the ability to stack players. The kids at the front of the draft usually are the better ones, but if you look through the history of the draft, there’s kids that come from everywhere. Now it’s just figuring out what your identity of your team will be and what you want and the experience that we have as a group of scouts and then plugging those players into what Bill wants and what André (Tourigny) wants to be successful.

“That’s the exciting part is drafting them and then watching them develop.”

Here is the NHL Draft schedule and some key additional information:
Thursday: Round 1 begins at 4 p.m. Arizona time.
Friday: Rounds 2-7 begin at 8 a.m. Arizona time.
Television: ESPN, NHL Network
US Stream: ESPN+
Draft order: Here is a link to all seven rounds

Coyotes picks:
Round 1: No. 3; No. 27 (from Carolina); No. 32 (from Colorado)
Round 2: No 34; No. 36 (from Philadelphia); No. 43 (from San Jose); No. 45 (from New York Islanders)
Round 3: No. 67
Round 5: No. 131
Round 6: No. 163

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