Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What To Watch For On Draft Day(s)

If you’re taking in the NHL draft on Friday afternoon (4PM, Versus) there are several things to be watching for as the Coyotes are scheduled to pick at #6 and #36. Here are some things keys to look for as the draft develops.

The Bombshell Trade – There’s only one available player out there worthy of the Yotes’ #6 draft pick and that’s Boston Bruin Left Wing Phil Kessel. If there is going to be a major trade at the top of the draft, it will almost certainly include Kessel. The Coyotes have interest in trading for the 21-year-old and if the Bruins are inclined to move him, a package of #6 plus Chris Summers could get it done. Kessel might not last this long because Atlanta at #4 and Los Angeles at #5 could also be interested. If he’s going to be moved, it will almost certainly be to a team with a high draft pick as the salary cap constrained Bruins will be looking for non-NHL assets in return. This could be where Don Maloney drops his second annual draft bombshell (see Olli Jokinen) Of course, this could depend on…

The First 5 Players Picked – Most NHL observers think that John Tavares (no relation to Tony), Victor Hedman, Matt Duchesne, Brayden Schenn and Evander Kane are the top five players available in the draft. If all 5 go before the Coyotes pick at # 6 a trade down becomes more likely. Don Maloney would love to see one of these players slide to #6 so he can select that player or extract a high price from another team to trade down. And that team might be…

The Toronto Maple Leafs – Colorful Leafs GM Brian Burke wants to make his team tougher and more North American. He also wants to move up in the draft to select John Tavares or Brayden Schenn. If Burke cannot get into the top 2 and Schenn falls to 6, he and Maloney could do business. If not the Leafs, the Coyotes are unlikely to trade down below the #9 pick owned by Ottawa because players they value highly will still be available…

And The Coyotes Select – Either Defenseman Jared Cowen of the Spokane Chiefs or Forward Nazim Kadri of the London Knights. Listening to Don Maloney speak earlier this spring, he talked about the top players in the draft as “Tavares, Hedman, Duchene, Kane, Cowen and possibly Kadri”. When it became clear that the Coyotes were drafting at six and that five players were getting the most press (Tavares, Hedman, Duchesne, Kane, Schenn) he changed his tune to list those 5 players. June is liar’s month in the NHL. Players do move up and down the draft board. But it makes sense that Maloney took the easy way out by saying there are 5 great players and we get the next best. Maloney is always thinking.

What unites Cowen and Kadri is the 2008 Memorial Cup. Cowen’s Spokane Chiefs bested Kadri’s (and Mikkel Boedker) Kitchener Rangers in a terrific series. Maloney scouted that tournament heavily, went on to draft Boedker and brought along high opinions of both players. Cowen missed the second half of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury. Kadri was traded to the London Knights where his game really took off in the second half of the season.

Maloney has also alluded to cutbacks in scouting expenses this year. That could mean a less than thorough vetting of the two Euros (Oliver Ekman-Larson and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson ) ranked in the next group of the top 10 available players. That translates to a higher comfort level with players the team is more familiar with.

Cowen is rated higher in most mocks and by NHL Central Scouting. If the Coyotes pick at 6 or 7 he could be the pick. If they go lower or if Cowen is gone, Kadri will likely be the choice. And then on Saturday morning…

The Coyotes Pick at #36 – Or at least they are scheduled to. The early second round choice could go in a number of directions. Maloney has talked about possibly trading down in the 2nd to pick up an additional third round choice. The Coyotes sent their third round choice to Calgary in the Jokinen/Lombardi trade. It could also be packaged, perhaps with Calgary’s #1 in 2010 to move into the second half of the first round. If a player Maloney really likes starts to drop, he could try to trade back into the latter part of the first round.

And don’t discount the possibility of this pick being packaged with other assets to bring back immediate help. This pick won’t realistically help the big club for 2 or 3 years. For a win now team, that may not be good enough. Our guess is that whatever the course, Maloney won’t be picking at #36. He’ll either add assets by trading down or pursue a win now strategy by trading for a younger roster player or a late first round draft choice.

It will be an interesting draft. With uncertainty about how aggressive the Coyotes will (or can) be in the free agent market, trading and drafting are the keys to improving the team. With the pressure of new ownership and the urgency to win sooner rather than later, the Coyotes will be active this weekend. It will be interesting to see how active they are.

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