But then two curious things happened. First, the Coyotes sent Maxim Letunov to San Jose in exchange for a pair of draft picks, one of which likely will be going to Philadelphia to preserve a 3rd round selection next year.
Then, almost immediately afterwards, the Coyotes traded for Alex Goligoski’s negotiating rights. It was something of an unexpected move, made even more surprising when it totally paid off.
How do these moves affect Arizona’s needs on Draft Day? And should we expect a surprise when Arizona’ name is called for the first time on Friday evening?
Scenario #1: Nothing Changes
At this juncture, I still think Arizona will perform as expected and draft a player like Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun, or Mikhail Sergachev. Their prospect pool is not getting better by itself, and Goligoski will be 36 by the end of his contract. Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be 29, which means there’s a non-zero chance he goes elsewhere, particularly if he commands the massive paycheck Coyotes fans think he deserves.
That leaves the Coyotes in a bad position without young defensive talent. And unless Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary all pass up on players like Matthew Tkachuk or Pierre Luc-Dubois, at least one of the three defensive talents will be available at #7.
So there’s still a decent chance Arizona holds pat and takes it time developing its defenseman of choice. Given how controversial the demotions of Dylan Strome and Max Domi were the past two years, its the least sexy, yet safest option.
Scenario #2: Arizona Drafts a Forward
Center depth is not something Arizona particularly needs. Dylan Strome is expected to be the cornerstone down the middle in just a year or two, while Christian Dvorak put up some absurd stats in the OHL. Lurking behind them are Ryan MacInnis and Tyler Gaudet, who would both slot in quite nicely at the 3C and 4C positions, respectively.
But might the Coyotes pick another forward at #7? It’s not that outlandish.
Pierre Luc-Dubois is a pretty strong selection at #4, but Edmonton doesn’t really need another forward. Vancouver could use help pretty much everywhere, which leaves Calgary. The Flames are probably the least likely to draft a defenseman given their core of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton. But Giordano and Brodie will be 33 and 27 by the start of the 2016-17 season, respectively. That’s not exactly young.
So would the departure of Maxim Letunov give the Coyotes’ brass pause when looking at their forward depth? Logan Brown could be Arizona’s next Martin Hanzal (with hopefully some better injury luck), while Matthew Tkachuk and Alexander Nylander would give the Coyotes some more skill on the left wing, which is a less discussed need, but a need nonetheless.
In some ways it’s the classic "best available vs. need" debate. Luc-Dubois is as close to a consensus top-five pick outside the big three as there is, but beyond that, there’s no clear front-runner.
And with no real front-runner, there might be one final option...
Scenario #3: Trade Down
There have been very few trades involving the top seven picks in the Draft in the Salary Cap Era. Teams have largely embraced the cost controlled talent that comes via the top of the Draft, and so don’t give those picks away lightly anymore.
Arizona needs defensemen, but more specifically, they need right-handed defensemen. OEL and Goligoski are both left-handed, so it makes the most sense to put both on the left side. That potentially means a defensive draft pick might be stuck on the third pairing for a few years, unless someone switched sides.
And as good as the offensive forwards are in the #7 range, it’s hardly the most pressing issue for Arizona to address. They might be able to extract more value by dealing the pick to another team rather than using it themselves.
The Coyotes might want a player like Dante Fabbro, a highly talented right-shooting defenseman with an excellent season in the BCHL. Picking him at #7 would be a reach, especially given how the last BCHL player the Coyotes used a top ten pick on panned out. And there’s a decent chance Fabbro would be gone before Arizona picked again at #20, as his aggregate ranking places him at #17.
The St. Louis Blues reportedly turned down an offer of Boston’s first round pick at #14 overall in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk. Arizona dangling the #7 pick would be far more attractive to the Blues right off the bat then Boston’s offer.
Maybe a team like the Carolina Hurricanes (who have the #13 and #21 picks) might have their eye on a dynamic forward or a partner for Noah Hanifin. Maybe the Nashville Predators (who sit at #17), might be willing to put together a blockbuster involving a pick swap, some offensive prospects (to Nashville), and perhaps someone like Ryan Ellis (to Arizona).
Some of these trades are more realistic than others. But if the Coyotes are not overwhelmingly enamored with anybody at #7, perhaps trading down is the best way to go.
As I mentioned before, teams rarely trade high picks. If they stuck with their slot at #7, they would get a very good prospect who could help the team down the road.
But this summer has been highly unusual. The looming specter of an expansion draft is causing teams to shuffle contracts around more so than usual. And once Las Vegas is officially welcomed to the NHL, some teams (including Arizona) are going to lose decent players.
Arizona needs to be prepared to get as much value out of this draft as possible. An Alex Goligoski deal might not change the priorities much, but it throws just enough of a wrench into Draft Week to make the Coyotes a very fun team to watch over the next couple of days.