So, the balls have fallen and fate has spoken. Once again, it’s decided not to give the Coyotes a break, dropping them to 7th in the NHL Draft while promoting the deserving perennial struggling teams like…er… NJ, Dallas and Philadelphia to the top three.
But here’s the thing. Seven is lucky for a reason. It’s the number pick that saw the Yotes snag Clayton Keller last off-season. History tells us that while it is by no means a guarantee of success in an NHL draft class, it’s still the home of some very good players indeed.
These are the names of the 7th overall picks since 2009. Not a bad group of players there, is it?
These are names that argue very much against the opinion of some, which is basically “if it’s outside the top five in the draft, you may as well trade the pick because it’s a coin toss, particularly in this one.”
But since we’re here, let’s take a look at the arguments for the possible options the Coyotes have right now.
Trade The Pick.
This is an argument being espoused loudly and long by some commentators, with the main plank of the argument being that “it’s time for the Coyotes to stop collecting assets and make a run”. They will back this up by pointing to the fact that this is supposedly a “weak” talent class compared to the past few drafts, and that most picks will probably have more of a value as trade chips to bring in “established” players than taking a risk on youngsters.
These commentators are wrong, have no patience, are driven by traditional and therefore utterly flawed hockey thinking, probably have no concept of how teams are built in today’s NHL, and you should not listen to them.
They are also failing to take into account that the first round of the past few drafts have been historically strong. We’ve gone through a golden age of talent entering the league through a large part of this decade, and this draft contains some very good players indeed who are arguably analogous to those in the stronger drafts. Gabe Vilardi, in a player who is considered to have next-level playmaking talent but needs to work on his skating, is basically Dylan Strome. The same one being lauded as a “blue-chip prospect” by those who are arguing the Coyotes shouldn’t take note of the very clear warning signs in his progression.
The defensive crop in this draft is not one that’ll see players step into the NHL right away (at least according to conventional wisdom) but it’s one that has real talent. Cale Makar, Timothy Lilljegren, and many others are almost flying under the radar thanks to many people’s attention already being taken by the phenomenon that is Rasmus Dahlin looming on the horizon for next years’ draft.
Ironically, the very argument that these people are making (that the draft is weak so picks have less value and should be traded) is the reason that they shouldn’t be. These picks are far more valuable taking a prospect than underselling them for, at best, a decent role player.
Keeping the pick
The talent available at 7 for the Coyotes – indeed right through the first round – is perhaps not quite the headline-grabbing level of previous drafts, but it is reliable. Players like Liljegren and Casey Mittelstadt or Michael Rasmussen are strong, solid players with a ton of potential in themselves – players that are worth stocking up for down the line.
And thus we come to the second argument – that the Coyotes need to stop hoarding assets and start making a run. Here’s the thing, they don’t. The vast majority of the young assets the Coyotes have who’ve already made the step to regular NHL action, with the possible exception of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, aren’t even close to their full potential. This is not Toronto, either, where success is measured on instant impact and haste. It’s a place where value is key and where assets are used to their maximum potential (which is why there’s an argument for trading Dylan Strome before the questions about him get louder still this off season, but that’s a topic we’ve already dealt with elsewhere).
To make a run now and start throwing things into the hat for a fast change, with the Coyotes still in a transitional period (the Shane Doan/Mike Smith era is coming to an end, and there will be bumps along the road to the future as the Yotes look for ways to replace them this offseason) almost seems counterproductive. You can never have enough young assets in the tank, and recent history proves that taking a player outside of the “glamour” positions doesn’t really affect how they’ll turn out, and in some cases actually means they’ll turn out better with less pressure upon them.
Then there’s the argument that the only reason the Coyotes would get more from making a big move if they’re willing to use the assets they’ve already got (we’re back to Strome again), in which case keeping picks allows them to restock the cupboard with prospects while at the same time building at the top end.
The way forward for the Coyotes here is to keep the pick, keep stocking the cupboard, and wait for the right moment to make a charge. They have time and opportunity this offseason to take another step along the road towards the “new” Yotes.
With John Chayka at the helm, Yotes fans can be more confident than most teams that it’ll be used wisely.