The Arizona Coyotes addressed their offensive woes in a big way at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by selecting six forwards out of a possible nine picks this year. The headliner of course was center Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters, but there are a couple of other very intriguing choices among the new Desert Dogs too.
Nick Merkley seems to have fallen a bit to the Coyotes at #30, as he ranked in the 15-20 range on five of six prospect lists (the NHL's CSS was the exception, but they placed him as the 23rd best North American skater). Merkley had more than triple the number of assists as he did goals this past season; and as he turned 18 about a month ago, there is no rush to bring him up to the NHL.
The other forward that intrigues me quite a bit is fifth round selection Conor Garland. He's an inch shorter than both Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau, but he put up better numbers in his third season with Moncton than Johnson did in his last WHL season. He will need to gain some weight, but his speed and vision on the ice are not teachable, and both are becoming more and more critical in today's NHL.
So what are the Coyotes' needs moving into 2016? Unless they are one of the lucky three Lottery winners this season, Arizona is in need to high end defensive prospects again. Kyle Capobianco was the sole defenseman taken this year by Arizona, and there are a lot of reasons to like him. But apart from Dysin Mayo and Philip Samuelsson, the cupboard is pretty bare.
Arizona addressed its primary need this year with the forwards it took. The key moving forward will be to develop them on timelines that get their best years all at the same time.
- I'm not wild about the Nicklas Grossmann for Sam Gagner trade. It certainly could have been worse, but it doesn't really feel like a step forward either.
- The Coyotes basically gave up a guy who produced decent totals at even-strength - eight goals and nineteen assists at 5v5 - despite being misused at center for a dead weight contract, a draft pick, and a third pairing defenseman.
- Even with relatively slim pickings in free agency this summer, a third pairing defenseman should not be tremendously hard to find. So why give up future assets - and a current one - for a relatively inexpensive piece?
- If there is an argument to be made for getting rid of Gagner, it's that trading/buying him out opens up a top six slot for a younger forward.
- If you're a believer in the idea of bulletin board material, Don Maloney is not going to ingratiate himself to you with comments like this.
- Craig Cunningham and Andrew Campbell appear to be the two non-trade acquisitions that played their way into roster contention for the Coyotes. Both would likely serve as injury call-ups next season should they stick around.
- It is interesting that the front office seems to have made up its mind about Mark Arcobello not returning. On the one hand, all of his numbers suggest he is a competent bottom six center. On the other hand, the eye test seems to say what Arcobello accomplished is not sustainable.
- The Grossmann and Pronger deal has brought the Coyotes to within $13 million of the salary floor, according to NHL Numbers. They have three defensemen (John Moore, Brandon Gormley, and Klas Dahlbeck) and two forwards (Mikkel Boedker, Craig Cunningham) who need RFA contracts. They'll get to the cap floor with ease.
- Speaking of Boedker, Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona suggests that a four year, $16-20 million contract is a "middle ground". Boedker's agent suggests that $5 million per year is what Boedker could command on the open market. Based on all of this, it doesn't seem like the two sides are very far apart.
On a non-hockey related note, I wanted to take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of bass guitarist for Yes Chris Squire, who passed away Sunday morning of leukemia at the age of 67. I came to know Yes through my dad, who had been a fan of the band since the early 1970s. To this day some of my fondest memories of my dad and I involve sitting in a theater drinking in the thunderous bass notes that emanated from Squire's amplifiers. I couldn't help but feel a little bit of pride knowing that Squire chose to call the Valley of the Sun home in his final few years, but it saddens me to know that there are very few with the talent, persistence, and showmanship Squire demonstrated in his 45+ years with Yes. Rest in peace.