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With ‘requisite patience’ given, Coyotes move on from Strome and Perlini

(AP photos)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A few years ago, then-Coyotes general manager Don Maloney had the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Would-be superstars Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were off the board. Maloney and his staff selected a forward from the OHL’s Erie Otters named Dylan Strome, who had 129 points in 68 games the season before.

In 2014, Maloney spent his first-round pick on Brendan Perlini. And the year before that, it was Max Domi.

And as of Sunday night, in the John Chayka era of the Coyotes, those three players are in other uniforms. Their time in Arizona, though, didn’t go to waste.

Three first-round picks have turned into Alex Galchenyuk and Nick Schmaltz — who themselves were selected in the first round once upon a time — and while Strome and Perlini’s success with their new team remains to be seen, Domi has played well thus far with the Montreal Canadiens.

A change of scenery can do that.

“For us, there’s a key difference between patience and hope,” Chayka said Monday in explaining why he traded Perlini and Strome to the Blackhawks for Schmaltz. “I don’t think hope is a good long-term strategy. I thought we showed the requisite patience for these guys in terms of their development.

“You go through the checklist as an organization, make sure you provide a player with all the tools and support in helping them through their development path, but at the same time they have to show progress along that path, eventually become the players you would’ve hoped they were when you drafted them. In this scenario, with these circumstances and this situation, we felt that we were being more hopeful than anything.”

Chayka added that the team runs the risk of having its assets “expire.”

And therein lies the principal reason why Strome and Perlini are no longer with the team that drafted them. A general manager inherited two players who showed promise and ability, but haven’t done what the team would’ve hoped by now. They will get the opportunity to fulfill their potential elsewhere, while the Coyotes try to refine the abilities of Schmaltz, a 22-year-old playmaking center.

“Ultimately, you have to decide when you’re picking players in the top 12 (of the draft), is this a player that’s going to be a core player for a long time, and when we reach that conclusion we’ve extended players and we’ve committed to players and we have no issues doing that,” Chayka said. “But, ultimately, if the answer is you’re unsure or you’re not convinced that that’s the case, then I think you have to look at what are the alternatives, and in this case we were able to get a player that we’re more sure of and believe can be a core piece for a long time. So that’s kind of the process.”

Sunday’s trade could end up benefitting both the Blackhawks and the Coyotes.

In the short term, maybe any change at all will give Arizona a spark it needs. The Coyotes have gone 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and were outscored 11-2 in the final two games of their recent homestand.

“I think sometimes when you make a trade at certain points in the season, for whatever reason — even when teams are going good, some teams make a trade — it kind of wakes up a lot of guys,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I’m not saying we have a lot of guys like that, but entitlement, the ho-hum type of thing — we should be very lucky to be playing this game, and we should act it on the ice sometimes. We get a trade here and there, maybe for Strome and Perls, they go there and get a little spark and it can help both teams.”

But getting Schmaltz, in particular, was an acquisition that Chayka has tried to make before.

“When I’ve asked about Nick in the past, which I’ve done, he’s been an untouchable,” Chayka said. “I don’t know whether it was the slow start or what occurred, but at some point he became available. When a player like that becomes available, you’ve got to give to get.”

In that sense, there’s a commonality between what the Coyotes gave up and what the Blackhawks gave up in this trade: Both teams gave away one or more players that were drafted in the first round and still have potential, but are being given a fresh start elsewhere.

“I think like any young kid, inconsistency,” Tocchet said when asked what happened with Strome and Perlini. “Both terrific kids, loved coaching them. They’re trying to figure out a few things. And like I said, both teams had needs, and they went after it.”

Fans may balk at the Coyotes for parting ways with players that could have an impact one day — but could the same not be said about the Blackhawks trading Schmaltz?

“I think [Schmaltz] adds another element and dimension to our team that we’ve been missing,” Chayka said. “Our offense hasn’t been what we would have hoped through a quarter of the season, so hopefully he can give us a boost in that regard. Really elusive player, makes high-end and complex plays.”

Schmaltz can play wing or center. The Coyotes lost Strome in a trade and are missing Christian Dvorak because of injury, so a fit at center — at least to start with — would seem natural for Schmaltz. Chayka said they’ll start him there for now.

The former 20th overall pick hesitated to say that he had a preference between wing or center, but said his comfort level is probably higher with center, since he’s played there for most of his career.

“I like using my speed up through the middle of ice, making plays and kicking it out to the wingers and stuff like that,” Schmaltz said. “But I’m comfortable playing any position so wherever I fit in, I’m going to make the most of it.”

Chayka said that when Dvorak returns from injury and this year’s first-round pick, Barrett Hayton, eventually carves out a spot in the NHL, it could change the equation at center. For now, the Coyotes have Schamltz, Derek Stepan, Alex Galchenyuk and Brad Richardson to work with, with a couple others who can “pinch hit” there.

Tocchet was asked whether the acquisition of Schmaltz could give Galchenyuk a break from playing center.

“We’re going to have to revisit that, what we’re going to do with that, with who we want at center,”  Tocchet said. “We’re struggling in certain areas of our game and that’s something we’re going to have to look at.”

Schmaltz comes to a team filled with former Blackhawks, including Nik Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta and Jordan Oesterle. Others, like Vinnie Hinostroza, have been acquainted with Schmaltz even before they ever found their way to the Blackhawks. Schmaltz also played with Christian Fischer and Christian Dvorak on the AAA Chicago Mission.

“There’s a lot of anxiety when people get traded,” Tocchet said. “You go into a new place, now you’ve got to find a place, your new team, is your coach going to like you. There’s a lot of anxiety, and I think when you have people you’re familiar with, it kind of helps the anxiety lessen a little bit.”

“[The trade] was a shock,” Schmaltz said. “But you know at the same time, I know a lot of players on the Coyotes and guys I’ve played with in previous teams, so really exciting. It’s a young group and a lot of skill up front, so I’m really excited to get started and get going here in the next couple of days.”


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