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Is the Coyotes rebuild still on track? Short answer, it's complicated

The Arizona Coyotes made plenty of moves leading up to the trade deadline, but they were mostly for picks not prospects.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 27 Michigan State at Minnesota

The trade deadline is over, and if yesterday’s results are any indication, the Arizona Coyotes are going to be really bad for the rest of the season. The Coyotes’ roster included multiple call-ups from the Tucson Roadrunners, and not surprisingly, the result was a 6-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Coyotes made several moves in the leadup to the, mostly looking for picks over prospects. If General Manager Bill Armstrong was looking to maximize the team’s draft capital, he definitely succeeded

Given the state of the tank battle, it makes sense for the Coyotes to do what they can to maximize their lottery odds. The Chicago Blackhawks, who are below them in the standings, do not have two players who collectively have the same number of points as Clayton Keller, and they also got worse at the deadline.

But while the moves help the Coyotes in the short term, how do they affect their long-term plans? If the plan was a five-year rebuild starting when Bill Armstrong took over, are they still on track?

Unfortunately, the answer is it is too early to say.

The Coyotes’ forwards are in good shape. Clayton Keller continues to improve every season, and Lawson Crouse is in his second straight 20-goal season. Also, Barrett Hayton is progressing well as a number-one center with Keller and Nick Schmaltz, and Matias Maccelli is in the midst of a great rookie season and currently has 30 points in 44 games with the Desert Dogs. There were rumors the Coyotes would trade either Crouse or Schmaltz, but GMBA has stated that things were never serious, and the Coyotes’ core was kept together by design.

Unfortunately, the rest of the team could be looking better. On defense, the team has young players like J.J. Moser, Victor Söderström, and Juuso Välimäki, who look good but are not ready for top-pairing duties. In net, Karel Vejmelka has proven inconsistent, and it is still too early to tell what role Connor Ingram will play in the future.

The Coyotes have a few excellent prospects in their system, but they also tend to be forwards. Logan Cooley and Dylan Guenther could make the jump next season, and adding two high-offense forwards could give the Coyotes a legit top-6 as a foundation for the rebuild.

But again, that is just the forward group; the Coyotes still need to build their blue line. Artem Duda is their best chance of a top-pairing defenseman in their pipeline, and the Coyotes got only one defensive prospect in the leadup to the trade deadline, Michael Kesselring. Kesselring is an intriguing prospect, one of the top AHL goalscoring defensemen, but he won’t turn the Coyotes’ blueline around single-handily.

Picks are inherently going to take longer than prospects to develop, especially the latter picks that Bill Armstrong acquired. Players typically spend years in Juniors or the NCAA, then time in the AHL before they are ready for NHL duty, especially players outside the top ten.

This past season we saw the prospected number one overall pick Shane Wright get reassigned back to Juniors, and three of the first four players selected last year are not currently playing in the NHL. So fans shouldn’t be disappointed if the player the Coyotes select needs a year or two before they are NHL-ready.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the rebuild is off track. The Coyotes are currently on pace to have a top-five pick and depending on who they get, it could speed up the timeline. In addition to their own selection, the Coyotes’ have a top-five protected first-round pick from the Ottawa Senators, and depending on where that lands, it could change everything. After all, Jakob Chychrun was drafted 16th overall by the Coyotes and was ready to make the jump immediately.

The picks also give Bill Armstrong assets to trade. He could use them to move up at the draft or acquire NHL players or prospects to help the team in the coming years. But like Ottawa’s pick, we don’t know how potential trades will affect the rebuild.

Unfortunately, the Coyotes may not have had these problems if they had gone heavier on defensemen at last year’s draft. The Coyotes traded up for Conor Geekie, but maybe they should have targeted Denton Mateychuk or Lian Bichsel. Or, instead of Julian Lutz, they could have grabbed the offensive dynamo that is Lane Hutson.

But there is no changing the past, and the future is unknown. The Coyotes’ rebuild may have taken a step back, or it could be on pace depending on what happens at this year’s draft. We’ll know much more about the Coyotes’ future in June, and we can only wait now.