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An early look at the Coyotes’ NHL Draft options at No. 5

Boston's Brady Tkachuk (27) handles the puck against Cornell's Alex Green (6) and Matthew Galajda (35) during the first period of an NCAA college hockey regional tournament game in Worcester, Mass., Saturday, March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Coyotes general manager John Chayka didn’t hesitate when asked what the team’s philosophy would be for the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“We’re going to take the best player available,” he said. “We need to continue to get better in all positions.”

If you had crossed left-handed defenseman off your list of possible picks, you can undo that strikethrough. At least publicly, the Coyotes are leaving all options on the table as they continue to build their draft board and evaluate talent over the next month-plus before they convene at American Airlines Center in Dallas from June 22-23.

The Buffalo Sabres are going to select Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick. While there is no consensus on the picks that follow, it’s a fair bet that the Carolina Hurricanes will select Barrie Colts (Ontario Hockey League) forward Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 pick. Svechnikov had 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games last season. He is widely considered the best pure goal scorer in this year’s draft.

“He will definitely put up a lot of points in the NHL,” Chayka said.

Halifax Mooseheads (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) wing Filip Zadina is a potential pick at No. 3 for the Montreal Canadiens, who need help everywhere. It’s unlikely he’ll slide to No. 5.

If he does, the Coyotes would likely take him because they need more skill and scoring on the wing, and he is a top-five rated player on just about every board you’ll see. The Czech native won the Michael Bossy Trophy as the top professional prospect in the QMJHL after leading rookies with 82 points (44 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games in his first season in North America.

After that it’s a crapshoot, dependent on each team’s evaluation of the players that follow. The Coyotes will do more scouting at the World Championship (May 4-20) and the NHL Scouting Combine (May 27-June 2) before finalizing their draft board, but here’s an early look at some of the possibilities at No. 5.

RD Adam Boqvist, Brynas (Sweden) Jr.: He’s right-handed, he’s dynamic, some scouts say he has the offensive toolbox of a forward and he’s been compared to Erik Karlsson. OK, that last part is probably a stretch, but Boqvist is the second highest ranked international skater behind Dahlin after scoring 14 goals and 24 points in 25 games last season. Elite-skilled, right-handed defenseman are unicorns in the NHL. Boqvist won’t turn 18 until August so he’ll need time to develop, but he is an awfully intriguing prospect.

LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University: If you’ve been living in a yurt in Mongolia, here’s a refresher: Tkachuk is the son of former Coyote Keith Tkachuk and the brother of Calgary Flames wing Matthew Tkachuk. That won’t carry nearly as much marketing weight as some would suggest (nothing close to what Auston Matthews would have brought to Arizona), but Tkachuk is a top-10 pick who has size (6-3, 196 pounds), skill, speed, a quick release and a power forward’s mentality that would likely sit well with coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet talked this season about needing more players who can create net-front presence. Tkachuk plays that game. He had eight goals and 31 points in 40 games as a freshman at BU. He was Team USA’s captain at the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship. He’s probably NHL ready.

RW Oliver Wahlstrom, U.S. National Development Team: Wahlstrom is a pure goal scorer whose talents may only be bested by Svechnikov. He had 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games for the USNDT last season; 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games with the U.S. U18 team. At 6-1, 205, Wahlstrom is a two-way power forward. Way back in 2009 when he was 9 years old, he also did this while playing for the Portland Junior Pirates.

RD Evan Bouchard, London Knights (OHL): Bouchard was the fifth-highest player on Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. At 6-foot-2, he has a good frame into which he can fill. He had 25 goals and 87 points with the Knights last season. Scouting reports tout his excellent skating skills, his ability to join the rush (Tocchet loves this) and a polished offensive skill-set. And yeah, he’s right-handed. Past Jason Demers, the next best right-handed prospect in the system is 2017 second-round pick Filip Westerlund.

RD Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL): Another right-handed defenseman about whom there were offensive questions before he put up 17 goals and 69 points in 62 games in the QMJHL this season. At 6-foot-2, he has a good frame. He skates extremely well in the transition game. He’s still below other defensemen on most draft boards, but it’s a near consensus that he is a top-10 pick.

LD Quintin Hughes, University of Michigan: Here’s what NHL Central Scouting David Gregory told NHL.com about Hughes: “Quintin is a smooth-skating, mobile defenseman. He carries the puck very well and can transition from defense to offense with his feet or by making a pass. He reads the play very well and lets things develop to make a play. He uses good positioning and use of his angles to defend.” Most teams are more interested in Hughes’ brother, Jack, a forward that wowed Chayka at the U18 World Championship in Chelyabinsk, Russia, but won’t be draft-eligible for another year. Quinn Hughes had five goals and 29 points in 37 games as a freshman for the Wolverines last season. A lot of analysts think he’ll be a top-five pick. Two facts that give us pause. Hughes is listed at 5-foot-10 and may not be that tall. He’s also a left-handed defenseman who is close to NHL-ready. The Coyotes already have left-handed defensemen Oliver-Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun and Alex Goligoski under contract (not to mention Niklas Hjalmarsson), plus top prospects P.O. Joseph, Kyle Capobianco and Cam Dineen in the system. Despite Chayka’s best-player-available approach, it’s fair to question whether the Coyotes would draft yet another left-handed defenseman with so many greater organizational needs. If they did, they might be looking at another possibility…

A trade: Here’s what Chayka said when asked if he would trade the No. 5 pick. “I find it far-fetched to believe that I would trade two top-10 picks in back-to-back years, but you never say never. Almost anything is for sale and if someone is going to pay us a higher value than what we perceive the value of that pick to be then you’ve got to listen.” We’re just spit-balling here but suppose a team a few slots below the Coyotes really likes a player such as Hughes or Tkachuk. Would the Coyotes be willing to move that pick, reasoning that they could still land a right-handed defenseman or a forward in a draft where Chayka and director of scouting Tim Bernhardt have both said the difference between players in the top 10 is marginal after Dahlin?

Of course, the No. 5 pick could also be part of a package to land that coveted top-six center but now we’re getting way ahead of ourselves in our speculation.

One more thing to remember. The weeks before the draft are filled with lies and misdirection. Take everything you hear from NHL executives with a grain of salt. The truth is something they keep close to the vest.

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