The soon to be Arizona Coyotes are undoubtedly preparing for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, but the Florida Panthers have thrown an interesting little wrench into those preparations.
Florida GM Dale Tallon went on the record as saying that he would consider trading away the 1st overall pick the team acquired by winning the NHL Draft Lottery. With the needs the Coyotes have going into the off-season, it might be worth considering the benefits and drawbacks of trying to trade up.
The Prospect Pool
This year's draft is widely regarded as being relatively shallow in terms of high quality prospects outside of the top three. The consensus top three prospects according to the NHL's Central Scouting are Samuel Bennett of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, Aaron Ekblad of the OHL's Barrie Colts, and Sam Reinhart of the WHL's Kootenay Ice.
Bennett is not exactly what the Coyotes need, as he plays center. But he has been favorably compared to Doug Gilmour and Jonathan Toews, and has done nothing to dissuade hockey scouts from considering him the best prospect available in the draft.
Aaron Ekblad is an unlikely choice for the Coyotes, as he is a defenseman. He is arguably the most NHL-ready of the top three, but definitely would not be worth trading up for.
That leaves Reinhart. Reinhart is capable of playing on the wing or down the middle as circumstances dictate, and with 99 goals in three seasons in the WHL, the possibility of Reinhart playing alongside a dynamic playmaker like Mike Ribeiro or Max Domi is salivating.
So there are a couple of intriguing options at or near the top that Arizona might want to look into. There's another internal reason why making a trade might make sense.
The Defensive Logjam
Despite the departure of Rostislav Klesla and what appears to be the impending departure of Derek Morris, the Coyotes still have a glut of NHL caliber defensemen in their system. Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Zbynek Michalek, and Michael Stone would seem to be locks to stay with the parent club all year.
That leaves Chris Summers, David Schlemko, Connor Murphy, and Brandon Gormley all jockeying for two playing spots and the 7th defenseman spot. Given that General Manager Don Maloney might also consider adding a veteran shutdown defenseman along the lines of a Michal Roszival or Adrian Aucoin to shore up the back end and the PK, and the glut gets larger.
The Panthers have several young forwards still on their entry-level contracts, including Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Their only UFA forwards this summer will be Scott Gomez, Krys Barch, and Jesse Winchester, all replaceable.
On defense, the Panthers could use some more dynamic offensive talents. Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic are physical defensemen first, and Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski won't be around forever. Florida could use some of what the Coyotes have in their system to improve their horrendous power play and even-strength scoring.
Acquiring the first overall pick would not be cheap. The Coyotes would absolutely have to part with their 1st round selection (12th overall), and would probably have to send the 2nd round pick they acquired from Chicago in the David Rundblad deal as well. Florida would likely demand an established young defenseman, so someone like Connor Murphy or Gormley might end up going as well. That's a steep price for one prospect who has never played an NHL game before.
The Coyotes need more offensive talent, but there isn't a lot of that in the free agent market this year. The best available players like Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny, and Matt Moulson are likely going to command large salaries, and if the Coyotes want to re-sign Radim Vrbata, they're going to need to give him a raise.
An entry-level contract, even for the 1st overall pick, would be considerably less expensive than any of those options, and would create a buzz in the Valley that likes of which hasn't been seen since the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Justin Upton 1st overall in 2005.
Trading up to the No. 1 pick would be a huge gamble for Maloney. It would also seem to go against his style, which is to quietly build a roster with solid players at reasonable prices without depleting the team's future. Yet in this instance, with the team's needs and the draft's weaknesses, it may be worth his while to giving Dale Tallon a call and seeing what the price is.