With the season on hold, we continue our theme weeks. This week is “What If?” week, and to start we have decided to re-draft the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The Coyotes were the first team in the re-draft to change their selection, electing to draft the young, highly skilled winger Mitch Marner. Originally, the Coyotes went with size and position in drafting Dylan Strome, this time they get speed and offense.
Marner needed another year in the OHL with the London Knights so he isn’t going to provide an immediate impact. It would only be one season though, and he would start the 2016-17 season with the Coyotes.
As this past season with Phil Kessel has taught us, it is tough to take translate numbers from one team to another, but you can imagine Marner having similar numbers his first season with the team.
Marner starts the season in a more protected role with Knights teammate Christian Dvorak but quickly finds a spot with the Coyotes best shooter Radim Vrbata. Marner pushes Vrbata to greater success, although the line is incomplete without a full-time center.
In his sophomore season, the Coyotes play Marner with rookie Clayton Keller. Keller and Marner match each other perfectly, and with two highly skilled wingers, Derek Stephan is pushed to 20 goals for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Both players finish with points in the high 60s, and it’s clear that the Coyotes have two top wings.
After two very successful seasons General Manager John Chayka signs Mitch Marner long-term in the offseason for a max-year, high-dollar value deal. The Coyotes fanbase is skeptical but glad they aren’t going to have to deal with a potential hold out.
Although the Coyotes had a strong top line, everyone below still struggled. After a disappointing season, the Coyotes still ship Max Domi to the Montreal Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk plays slightly better with Keller and Marner, although Keller still hits a bit of a sophomore slump, and Marner still struggles without a high-end center. Instead of finishing with 94 points in 2018-19 Marner finishes with a respectable 75, although teams are quickly learning that if you shut down the Coyotes top-line they can’t generate much offense. The Coyotes make it to the playoffs, however, they are beaten in 5 games.
With Marner’s contract set to take effect, the Coyotes ship Antti Raanta out for a minimal return and decide to start Darcy Kuemper as a traditional stater with Adin Hill as a backup. The Coyotes can’t trade for Phil Kessel, so the team has Alex Galchenyuk mostly on the third line with Christian Dvorak as the de facto first-line center.
Unfortunately, with Marner locked up, Clayton Keller wants a similar deal. Management has been impressed with Keller, but they are unsure if his success is due to Marner. Keller has some chemistry with Stepan and Marner, but he hasn’t had much success with anyone else.
With Keller out to start the season, Marner also struggles. The team is top-heavy, and without Keller Marner doesn’t have much skill around him. The Coyotes do re-sign Keller, although any thoughts of trading for Taylor Hall are shot down due to the Coyotes’ lack of cap space.
Despite a rough start, the Coyotes improve vastly after the team re-signs Keller. Instead of slumping in the second half of this past season, the team surges and leads the relatively weak Pacific Division. The Coyotes look poised to make the playoffs for the second straight season before the season is postponed.