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MONTREAL — Bill Armstrong knew that the Coyotes were in position to be a player at the 2022 NHL Draft. They had seven picks among the draft’s top 45, affording them a chance to make deals. They had a ton of cap space to offer cap-strapped teams looking to shed problematic contracts, and they had a blue-chip defenseman whose wishes for a new home they hoped to honor.
The only one of those scenarios that didn’t bear fruit was the latter one, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first a look at what the Coyotes accomplished on Day 1 of the draft after taking Logan Cooley at No. 3.
Before the draft, TSN’s Bob McKenzie had this to say about Winnipeg Ice center Conor Geekie.
“He’s a top-10 pick all day long, but if you think there might be some offensive limitations or that his speed is just average and therefore, he might not be as productive, then maybe you drop him down a little bit, but everybody loves a big center that can play both sides of the puck.”
The Coyotes are willing to work on the skating part with Geekie, but when they saw a top-10 pick drop out of the top 10, and when they saw the opportunity to further bolster their center depth with a 6-feet-4, two-way player, they sprung into action, sending a first-round pick (No. 27) and two second-round picks (Nos. 34 and 45) to San Jose for the No. 11 pick.
“If you saw him on his good nights, you had him in the top five,” Armstrong said of Geekie, whose brother Morgan plays for Seattle. “He had some dominant performances with his size and ability and just his energy and how hard he works. For a big guy, there’s a little bit of inconsistency where he’s got to work on that. I think that’s a maturing process where he can be good like that every single night, but he has what we love. He’s got the size and he plays physical, and he’s got the skill. For us, he’s got a chance to be a second-line center.”
Geekie understands that skating will be a main focus of his development but he believes that he has other skill sets that are harder to learn.
“Obviously I want to try and crack the team when I’m 18, but I think with how good our Winnipeg team is gonna be, I think I’ll maybe stay one more year and kind of mature; get a little bit faster and a little more pace to my game,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m too slow by any means. When I get going I know I’m a decent skater, but again, like I said, you can always get faster, you can always get stronger, you can always get smarter. There’s a lot of different things you can do.
“It’s transitioning and explosion. You kind of just go through the process. I was always told that IQ and vision, you can teach early but not late. Skating, you can teach late and early. You can do both, but my dad was pretty stern on ‘Let’s get everything else down and skating will come.’”
The Coyotes still had the No. 32 pick in the first round after selecting Geekie, but when Oilers GM Ken Holland approached Armstrong, that changed quickly. Edmonton was desperate to shed cap space for more flexibility and Zack Kassian’s name had been at the top of their list.
Armstrong made it clear that he was ready to take on other teams’ problematic contracts if it also meant acquiring assets. It’s the same approach that he used last summer to stock his scouting staff with picks.
By agreeing to take Kassian’s two remaining years ($3.2 million AAV; $5.8M cash outlay), Armstrong also got the No. 29 pick in the draft, a second-round pick in 2025 and a third-round pick in 2024 in exchange for the No. 32 pick.
“It gives us another second rounder in 2025 and we’re already building that draft,” he said. “Now we have three second rounders. The goal is just to continue on that pace of building picks and going to the draft and just going at it.”
With the 29th pick, the Coyotes looked to a position that many draft analysts thought might produce value late in the first round: defense. Following senior advisor Larry Pleau’s insistence that there is always one good player that comes out of the QMJHL, the Coyotes selected 6-feet-7 Drummondville defenseman Maveric Lamoureux, a physical, right-hander whom Armstrong said reminds him of Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, whom Armstrong helped draft.
“He’s a big guy,” Armstrong said. “He goes up and down in his play a little bit, but Larry was just on him with the rest of our scouts; Quebec league scouts. They were always talking about him and pushing him. He finished number one at the combine. He’s an exciting guy. He’s a project. It’s going to take some time. When you’re that big, it takes a while to kind of put all the pieces together and get going and Parayko was the same way when we drafted him.”
There was some feeling within the organization that the Coyotes needed to shore up their defensive pipeline, especially if they planned to trade disgruntled defenseman Jakob Chychrun, leaving them without a player with top-pair potential.
There was all sorts of chatter surrounding Chychrun early on Thursday, with multiple teams including Columbus, Vancouver and Ottawa reportedly in discussions with Armstrong. Per sources, the Coyotes actually had a deal in place to send Chychrun to the Blue Jackets but it never reached fruition. Per those same sources, Chychrun’s camp wasn’t wild about the idea of going to Columbus and that scared off the Jackets.
Although he has no trade protection, Chychrun has made it clear that he wants the chance to compete in the playoffs. None of the teams that were rumored to be in the mix for his services are a lock to do so, so with his options too limited to strike what he considers a fair deal, Armstrong has altered his stance on Chychrun.
“Jakob is going to come back and play for the Coyotes next season,” Armstrong said. “That’s our plan and we expect him to be a big part of our team.”
If you hear finality in that statement, you hear correctly. The Coyotes do not intend to trade Chychrun now, but you can bet that Armstrong and Chychrun will sit down for a long discussion on why the 23-year-old defenseman was unable to take another step forward in his development under coach André Tourigny while forwards Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, Nick Schmaltz and Barrett Hayton all did so.
Armstrong didn’t say much about Chychrun, but he made it clear that he expects him to regain the form that saw him score 30 goals in 119 games between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
With all of Thursday’s moves, the Coyotes currently have five selections on Day 2 of the draft. Here they are:
Round 2: No. 36 (from Philadelphia), No. 43 (from San Jose)
Round 3: No. 67
Round 5: No. 131
Round 6: No. 163
Top photo of Jakob Chychrun courtesy of Getty Images