Coyotes’ drafting has improved, but they are in need of more prospects

Jun 18, 2018, 6:14 PM | Updated: 7:44 pm

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka is interviewed by The Doug and Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Ari...

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka is interviewed by The Doug and Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Feb. 12, 2018. (Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

When the Coyotes traded left wing Max Domi to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Alex Galchenyuk on Friday, it left defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (No. 6 in 2009), forward Laurent Dauphin (No. 39 in 2013) and goalie Marek Langhamer (No. 184, 2012) as the only players drafted in 2013 or earlier that are still with the organization.

Even if you offer a generous career length of 15 seasons to find players that could still be in the league, that means that of the 65 players drafted between 2003 and 2013, less than 5 percent are still with the team. Some like Blake Wheeler, Kyle Turris and Keith Yandle have moved on to success with other teams. Some like Michael Stone, Mikkel Boedker, Connor Murphy, Jordan Martinook and Domi are still in the league, but the vast majority fall into a different category.

They couldn’t carve out NHL careers.

“We’ve had to rebuild for a reason,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka, who will enter his third season in that role. “We haven’t drafted well enough. Now we’re trying to right that and make sure we draft better.”

One recent narrative surrounding the Coyotes has focused on its young core of players. Some of those drafted or acquired young pieces remain, such as Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun, Antti Raanta, Clayton Keller, Galchenyuk, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer and Dylan Strome.

With more resources – both in man-power across Europe and North America and money – devoted to the lifeblood of scouting the past four years, the Coyotes hope they have turned a corner with their past four draft classes.

Two players each from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 classes have already logged at least 28 games, and five of them have logged at least 80, but all those lean years of drafting have left the Coyotes in need of more cupboard stocking.

“We’re getting stronger and stronger,” said Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt, who is entering his fifth season in that role. “You want to get depth in the organization. You know they’re not all going to make it. You get seven picks in a typical NHL year and if you get a couple NHL players and a couple more playing pro in your system, you’re doing a good job. For the first time, this organization is getting some depth in the minor leagues and we finally have our own team in Tucson having success that I think will breed success down the road.”

The Coyotes have a handful of players with the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners that could make their mark at the NHL level soon, including forwards Lawson Crouse, Nick Merkley, goalies Adin Hill, Hunter Miska and perhaps defenseman Kyle Capobianco.

Junior players Tyler Steenbergen, Brayden Burke and defensemen Cam Dineen and Jalen Smereck will likely make the jump there next season, but top 2017 pick P.O. Joseph, 18, is probably not ready for pro hockey yet and the team could still use an infusion of more top-end talent.

The Coyotes have seven picks in the NHL Draft June 22-23 in Dallas, including the No. 5 overall pick and five picks within the first 74, so there is opportunity.

“I don’t see holes any more. I don’t see major deficiencies where we don’t have belief in certain players in those areas,” Chayka said of the system. “When I came in, we were looking to accrue premium players at premium positions and we feel confident about that plan. We just won the Western Conference in the American League. That was on the backs of a lot of our draft picks and a lot of the work the scouts did. We’re thrilled about that, but that’s the first step, really.

“It’s always got to iterate itself and it’s always got to be coming in waves. Whether you’re a good team or you’re rebuilding, you’ve got to have a good system. Whether you’re picking high or picking late you’ve got to find ways to manufacture players.”

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