There is one word that no professional sports fan wants to hear, and that is rebuild. As the 2014-15 NHL season comes to an end, there will be more than a handful of teams that will face an uphill battle this offseason as they continue to plan their futures, both in the short-term and long-term. One of said teams is the Arizona Coyotes, who will miss the playoffs for the third season in a row after winning the Pacific Division in 2011-12.
While the team is ‘battling’ for the worst record in the NHL, there is one thing that is becoming obvious: the Coyotes do not have to be in a rebuilding situation this summer.
Rebuild. That taboo word that separates the good franchises from the bad. Some refuse to use it their vocabulary (Philadelphia Flyers), some just aren’t any good at it (Edmonton), and others fully embrace it (Pittsburgh). Arizona has managed to stay composed as their record has plummeted and the Coyotes front office, led by Don Maloney, has decided to add a few key pieces to the core as compared to essentially starting from scratch in a process that can take up to five seasons to be successful. Rebuilds also typically are time-consuming since assets need to spend time in lower-level leagues such as the AHL in order to become seasoned and master their trade.
Let’s look at the reasons why Arizona will be ready to contend again (perhaps next year) without suffering through a complete rebuild.
1. Max Domi
Max Domi was the team’s first round pick in 2013 (12th overall) and is finishing his final season of junior hockey with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The first-year captain posted 102 points in 57 games as he has seen his point production rise in all four seasons (49-87-93-102). The versatile forward can be a game changer as other teams are usually always on their heels when he has the puck.
— Dave Zorn (@davezorn72) March 30, 2015
Domi will undoubtedly be in the NHL next season and will look to contribute in the same manner that Filip Forsberg (Nashville) and Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary) have thus far. If paired with the right linemates, Domi can put up some fairly potent numbers due to his elite stick-handling and speed.
2) Anthony Duclair
Anthony Duclair, the New York Rangers third round pick (80th overall), may end up being one of the right linemates referenced above to play with Domi.
The two youngsters are no strangers as they each played on gold medal winning Canada’s top line in the 2015 WJC along with Sabres top prospect Sam Reinhart. Domi recorded five goals and five assists in seven games while Duclair put up four goals and four assists in seven games. He has been an assistant captain for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL and has recorded 249 points (116 goals and 133 assists) in 203 junior games.
Duclair’s speed and accurate shot earned him a spot in the Rangers lineup to open the season and scored a respectable seven points in 18 games before being sent back to the ‘Q’. With the Rangers in need of some offense on the blueline, General Manager Don Maloney was able to send fan favorite defenseman Keith Yandle to Broadway in exchange for Duclair, John Moore and a 2016 first round pick. Just like Domi, Duclair has a real shot at breaking camp on the Coyotes roster next season and contributing right away.
3. Additional 2015 1st round pick & 2016 OR 2017 1st round pick
Besides Arizona’s own 1st rounder this year, they also acquired the Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick along with Klas Dahlbeck for Antoine Vermette. While the 2015 pick will be towards the end of the round, it will be extremely valuable nonetheless. Let’s guess that Chicago’s pick will be 25th overall or so. Last year’s 25th pick was David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, which isn’t too shabby. As part of the Keith Yandle trade to New York, Arizona will receive a lottery protected pick. If the Rangers make the playoffs in 2016, the pick goes to the Coyotes. If they miss, the pick goes to Arizona in 2017.
Regardless of the year, Maloney has managed to stock up on first round picks in either 2016 or 2017, a strategy that will maintain depth and contention for the organization.
4. Arizona’s own 2015 1st round pick
The Coyotes will most likely pick in one of the top four positions and will have anywhere from a 9.5% to 20% chance of winning the top overall selection which will be Erie’s Connor McDavid. McDavid is the real deal and as Don Cherry pointed out is a “once every 10 year” type of player.
Thanks to Anders Lindback's 49 save performance for Buffalo, chances of McDavid joining Arizona's Max Domi & Anthony Duclair are very strong
— Scott Moffatt (@ScottMoffatt21) April 7, 2015
If the Coyotes are somehow able to win the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes, they will automatically be inserting three NHL-ready offensive prospects into the mix that could put the team into contention for years to come. If, however, they do not win the lottery and the right to select McDavid, who has scored 285 points in 166 OHL contests and is the consensus top player, they will still have the opportunity to draft a franchise player with either the 2nd, 3rd or 4th pick overall. Some players they will likely choose from are:
- Jack Eichel (Boston University). Eichel is the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award as top collegiate player and led the nation in scoring as a freshman this past season. Eichel has helped BU to the Frozen Four where they will attempt to win the NCAA Championship.
- Dylan Strome (Erie Otters). McDavid’s teammate in Erie led the OHL in scoring this past season and has recorded 162 points in 127 games for Erie. Strome, who has a few seasons of junior eligibility left, will help lead the Otters against Domi and the London Knights in the next round of the OHL playoffs.
- Noah Hanifin (Boston College). The two-way defenseman is a college freshman at BC and is considered by most analysts as the top rated defenseman in the draft. He could make sense in Arizona as a future replacement of Keith Yandle since Yandle was not known as a stellar defender.
- Lawson Crouse (Kingston). Crouse is the true definition of a power forward at 6-4 and almost 220 pounds. His draft stock has been on the rise after a solid performance for the Canadian team at the 2015 WJC. Playing a checking role, he was routinely one of the better players on the ice.
- Mitch Marner (London). Max Domi’s teammate put up 126 points in his second season in London and is likely the 5th or 6th best player on the board. He is as close to a complete player as there is with phenomenal hands and extraordinary vision in all three zones. The intangibles could lead him to be selected higher.
One must not forget that the Coyotes already have one of the league’s top offensive defensemen in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who just reached the 23 goal mark, as well as other young pieces such as Sam Gagner, Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker. With an improvement in goaltending and the imminent youth movement, Arizona could position themselves as staples in the Western Conference playoff picture for seasons to come… rebuild-free.
What are your thoughts on the Coyotes and their future? Let me know in the comments below and/or on twitter @healedbyhockey