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Wanted: A successful Coyotes draft day to ease pain, suffering

CHICAGO — Coyotes general manager John Chayka needs to work some magic at this weekend’s NHL Draft in Chicago.

The longtime captain and face of the franchise is gone. The only coach who ever led this team to any kind of playoff success is gone. The goalie that spearheaded that playoff success is gone. The ownership group that saved this team from relocation is gone.

There still is no long-term plan for an arena. There is precious little veteran leadership on this roster. The fan base is in near-revolt and yet all they’ve heard from their debt-riddled owner has come through team-filtered statements because of what we are told is a league gag order pertaining to the sale.

All eyes are on the 28-year-old GM now to deliver something positive to a fan base that has been sold many promises, but handed few results.

“I hope to continue to build up the foundation of a very strong team,” Chayka said late Thursday night after the news broke that coach Dave Tippett and the team had parted ways. “Our scouting staff has done a very good job the last number of years making quality selections that have provided us with an exciting group moving forward.”

Uncertainty reigns at this year’s draft, and that could provide Chayka with opportunities to move up, move down or start dealing if the Coyotes truly want to accelerate their rebuilding process by adding some young but established NHL veterans.

“Trades are always a possibility to help support and stabilize the growth of our young players,” Chayka said.

Chayka could use one or both of the team’s first-round picks (No. 7, No. 23) to acquire existing players. The Coyotes would like to add another top-six center, with the Rangers’ Derek Stepan a potential target. They would like to shore up the right side of their defense and the right wing position, with Nashville’s Pontus Aberg once a possibility, and they need a No. 1 goalie after trading Mike Smith.

As for the draft, there are no players on the board with the abilities of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews or even Patrik Laine, the marquee picks of the last two years, so it’s a crapshoot predicting the order of selection, or which players will make a significant impact.

The Coyotes will not add to that uncertainty by focusing on an area of need.

“There are only going to be about 50 guys out of any draft that are going to play a regular role in the NHL,” Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt said. “It’s hard enough to predict which ones will make it. You make it that much tougher on yourself if you try to break it down by position.”

It sounds clichéd, but it applies this year: the Coyotes will take the best players available if — and it’s a big if — they keep the No. 7 and No. 23 selections in the first round. Centers Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are projected to be the top-four picks, but Bernhardt sees quality beyond those players, and quality in this draft, even if doesn’t possess a McDavid or Matthews.

“If you’re going by the last 10 years, this year’s draft is right there, it’s fine, it’s a normal draft,” Bernhardt said. “The last two years have kind of thrown us off because they had those franchise players and those were probably the first since [Pittsburgh’s Sidney] Crosby and [Washington’s Alex] Ovechkin.

“I think there are some good players beyond the top two centers. There are also good defensemen and good wingers. It’s just a matter of assessing and predicting which one you think is the best fit. Most of these players are going to take two to three years minimum to have any impact at all on your roster so with all the roster change you experience in that time period, it would be nuts to do anything other try to get the best player.”

Centers Cody Glass, Casey Mittelstadt, Gabriel Vilardi, Elias Petersson Nick Suzuki, Michael Rasmussen and Martin Necas are all lumped into that next group where the Coyotes should pick at No. 7. So are defensemen Timothy Liljegren, Juuso Valimaki, Callan Foote and wing Owen Tippett.

This marks the second time in Coyotes history and the third time in franchise history that the club has owned the seventh overall selection in the NHL Draft. The Winnipeg Jets chose Shane Doan seventh overall in the 1995 NHL Draft and Arizona selected Clayton Keller at No. 7 in 2016.

Coyotes selections in the 2017 NHL Draft

Round 1 – No. 7th and *No. 23
Round 2 – No. 35 (overall)
Round 3 – #No. 69 and *No. 78
Round 5 – No. 128
Round 7 – No. 190

* — From Minnesota in Martin Hanzal trade

# — From San Jose in Max Letunov trade

* — From Calgary in Michael Stone trade

Round 1 order of selection
1. New Jersey
2. Philadelphia
3. Dallas
4. Colorado
5. Vancouver
6. Vegas
7. Arizona
8. Buffalo
9. Detroit
10. Florida
11. Los Angeles
12. Carolina
13. Vegas (from Winnipeg)
14. Tampa Bay
15. Vegas (from NY Islanders)
16. Calgary
17. Toronto
18. Boston
19. San Jose
20. St. Louis
21. New York Rangers
22. Edmonton
23. Arizona (from Minnesota)
24. Winnipeg (from Columbus via Vegas)
25. Montreal
26. Chicago
27. St. Louis (from Washington)
28. Ottawa
29. Dallas (from Anaheim)
30. Nashville
31. Pittsburgh

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