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Darryl Plandowski was on his way to scout a USHL playoff game in Sioux City, Iowa on Tuesday when the NHL Draft Lottery relegated the Coyotes to a familiar draft position — outside of the top two picks.
“It was a little disappointing,” the Coyotes’ director of amateur scouting said. “We know we’re going to get a good player at number three, but it’s nice to have number one. The nice thing about (presumed No.1 pick) Shane Wright was you knew you were getting a center iceman. It’s nice to have defensemen and center icemen because they’re just so hard to find. You know you’re going to get a guy that can affect your team in such a positive way.”
Back in the Valley, the sentiment was similar for GM Bill Armstrong, who apparently has the same addiction to tankathon.com as the rest of us.
“As a GM, we’re all competitors,” he said. “We all wanted to pick one, but then you look at it, you’ve got a 13-percent chance. I played the simulator a few times. I came to the conclusion that it was only a 13-percent chance of winning after playing it all day.”
With Montréal winning the lottery and New Jersey jumping ahead of the Coyotes into the No. 2 slot — the third time that the Devils will pick in the top two in the past six years — this marks the third time in Coyotes franchise history that the team will pick at No. 3. The selection has not been kind to the Coyotes, who chose Kyle Turris third overall in 2007 and Dylan Strome third overall in 2015.
More depressingly, the Coyotes still have never had a top-two pick in their 26-year Valley history, despite missing the playoffs in 16 of 25 seasons. There are many narratives spun around successful teams’ building brilliance, but perhaps the biggest factor in most of those success stories is luck: the ability to draft among the top two where players such as Marc-André Fleury, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Victor Hedman, Evgeni Malkin, Drew Doughty, Aleksander Barkov and Andrei Svechnikov have been selected.
“The best guys are usually at the top of the draft, but it’s still possible to find them lower,” Plandowski said. “The one thing that we’re always looking for is the character of the kid. In Tampa Bay, it was guys like (Nikita) Kucherov (No. 58 overall)) and (Brayden) Point (79th overall) and I know Tampa traded for (Ryan) McDonagh but McDonagh was a mid-first-round pick (No. 12) so they’re there. We just have to find them.”
That is where the experience of the Coyotes’ scouting staff will come into play. Armstrong spent 16 years as a scout with the St. Louis Blues so he understands that aspect of the business better than any of the Coyotes’ previous GMs. As he departed his introductory press conference 20 months ago, that realization struck him.
“When I walked across the parking lot after doing the interview, I thought to myself, ‘What makes me different than all the other GMs that have been here?’” he said. “By the time I got to the other side of the parking lot, I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be the first one that has the best scouting staff.’
“We were lucky to find Darryl and Ryan (Jankowski) and also adding Alan Hepple and Larry Pleau. We have four guys on our staff that have picked (number) one before so there’s a tremendous amount of experience there. And along with myself, it’s nice to be in that group.”
While the Coyotes didn’t land the ultimate prize in the draft lottery on Tuesday, they will still have seven picks among the draft’s top 45 selections. Here’s a look at those selections.
Plethora of picks
|Round||How acquired||Pick number|
|First||From Carolina via Montréal: Christian Dvorak trade||TBD: Depends on Carolina’s playoff performance|
|First||From Colorado: Darcy Kuemper trade||TBD: Depends on Colorado’s playoff performance|
|Second||From Philadelphia: Shayne Gostisbehere trade||No. 36|
|Second||From San Jose: Adin Hill trade||No. 43|
|Second||From New York Islanders: Andrew Ladd trade||No. 45|
Plandowski said that the Coyotes have narrowed the possibilities for the No. 3 overall selection to “seven or eight guys” into whom they will conduct deep analysis over the next two months before the draft.
“We’re gonna have some open dialogue, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing. “We just want to get the best player and we want to make absolutely sure we’re getting the best player.”
As for that group of tightly packed picks late in the first round and early in the second round, Plandowski said that instead of creating a challenge for the staff, it makes things easier.
“In that area of the draft there’s always guys you really like and you always wish you had another pick,” he said. “Usually, you’ve got about three or four guys you like and you get one shot at them but now we get a chance to scoop them all up. We have the ability to just take all the kids we like and then just wait to see how they develop.”
Armstrong noted that there is plenty of scouting work ahead for his staff with the playoffs still underway in the OHL, WHL, QMJHL and USHL. The 2022 IIHF World Championship will begin in Finland on Friday and the NHL Scouting Combine will take place from May 29–June 4 in Buffalo, affording the staff a chance to physically and mentally test prospects while getting a feel for their personalities and character.
“That’s an important time, and then we come back and have our meetings and really get to the point where you’ve got to make decisions and you get the right draft order and you go to work,” Armstrong said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
He also noted the Coyotes’ oft-stated plan of acquiring more picks and assets this summer by taking on other teams’ troublesome contracts and possibly dealing a top player or two, with Jakob Chychrun being the most likely.
At the same time, Armstrong and Plandowski both acknowledged that after a difficult season on the ice — and yes, an unexpectedly strong finish that may have robbed the team of the opportunity to pick No. 1 overall — it is nice to finally put phase two of the rebuild into action. Almost all of the pieces on that chessboard are now in place.
“It really is exciting to finally get the ability to stack players,” Plandowski said. “With all of those draft picks, I think in the next year, people are really going to be paying attention to this group because they’re all gonna be high draft picks and this draft class is going to be a pillar for us going forward.
“Fans can follow that. That’s what they can do. They can follow the next group of kids and get excited about them; track their progress. That’s the exciting part for fans and honestly, for scouts, too. We’re all excited about what can happen in the next two or three years.”
Top photo: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announces at the NHL Draft Lottery that the Coyotes will select third overall at the 2022 NHL Draft (Getty Images)
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