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Eight questions as Coyotes prepare for busy NHL Draft

Newly appointed Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka speaks at a news conference announcing his promotion as head coach Dave Tippett listens, Thursday, May 5, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. Chayka is the youngest GM in NHL history. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett promised a quiet two days following the free-agent signing of coveted defenseman Alex Goligoski on Wednesday. Call it the calm before the storm. Arizona is expected to be among the most active teams when the two-day NHL Draft commences at 4 p.m. Arizona time on Friday at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center.

“We’re going to continue to exhaust all options to improve our team. There’s organizational growth coming from within and there’s still the flexibility and prospects and capital to make the moves, ” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said after the Goligoski signing. “Hopefully, it’s the first domino and it sets off a series of moves that leaves us in a better spot. There’s a lot of opportunity to make moves as the draft comes up.”

The Coyotes have eight picks for the time being, after acquiring a fourth-round pick from San Jose in a deal that sent center prospect Maxim Letunov to the Sharks. Chayka said the team will likely send that pick to Philadelphia to complete the Nicklas Grossman trade, but he won’t decide until Saturday in order to keep options open.

As the draft approaches, here are eight questions to ponder.

  1. What is the team’s greatest need?

Most teams need a franchise center and the Coyotes still aren’t sure whether Dylan Strome (or Christian Dvorak) will become that player, or if he is better suited as a No. 2 center. That said, the organization has a yawning need for top-four blue line prospects. Chayka said the team will have to weigh that need with choosing the best player available, but if it’s a virtual tie between the two, he’ll probably opt for a defenseman. He also said the Goligoski signing would not impact the team’s thinking.

“I see these moves as mutually exclusive,” he said. “We’re a team that needs to improve defensively. We need to build up our defensive pipeline. That’s a consistent quality of good teams. Do we need to address it at No. 7? That’s a question our scouting staff is trying to answer.”

Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachyov, Jakob Chychrun, Jake Bean, Charlie McAvoy and Dante Fabbro are the highest rated defensemen in the draft.

  1. Will the Coyotes try to trade up for Auston Matthews?

The team has likely already had those conversations and it is highly unlikely the Toronto Maple Leafs will trade the No. 1 pick, given the critical importance of franchise centers to winning Stanley Cups.

Chayka has said before that he won’t trade both No. 1 picks and a series of prospects to land Matthews, which would likely be the asking price. One trade idea that has not been floated — and we’re just spitballing here — is the idea of dealing Strome and the two first-round picks to land Matthews. Matthews is a higher rated center than Strome and this may be the last chance the Coyotes have of drafting a franchise center before they improve too much to draft this high. It’s unclear if they would make that deal, or if they have even considered it.

  1. What is the future of center Martin Hanzal?

Hanzal has one year left on a deal that will pay him $3.5 million this season. Chayka said Hanzal is arguably the most impactful forward on the team when he plays. The problem is, Hanzal hasn’t played more than 65 games in a season since 2009-10. That’s not an anomaly; it’s a trend that the Coyotes should expect to continue. Hanzal turns 30 in February and will want a pay raise. How much is he worth to the Coyotes as he crosses the 30-year-old threshold, given the fact that he misses so many games each season? With former GM Don Maloney gone, Hanzal could be in play if his contract demands are too high or the Coyotes feel they can get requisite return. A lot of teams inquired about him at last year’s trade deadline and a number of teams have reportedly been inquiring about him again.

  1. Which other positions will the Coyotes address in this draft?

Arizona wants to strengthen the blue line depth in its system, but it never hurts to draft more centers and Arizona also needs more goalies in the pipeline, although it will likely sign a veteran to play in the AHL as insurance against the goaltending issues it had last season when Mike Smith and Anders Lindback were both hurt. Beyond the No. 7 pick, the likely logic is to take the best player available, but Arizona must balance that thinking with some of its organizational needs. Even though teams insist they don’t draft for need, in reality, they often do.

  1. What draft-day trades might the Coyotes be pursuing?

In an ideal world, the Coyotes would like to add a right-handed NHL defenseman to play with Goligoski on the second pairing, allowing Michael Stone to slide to the third pairing alongside Klas Dahlbeck or a free-agent signing that includes Kevin Connauton, who played here last year. Some of the top trade targets would be St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba and New Jersey’s Adam Larsson, but Arizona could go a cheaper route if none of those players are available, or if the asking price is too high. The Coyotes could also look to add more scoring on the wing, or a top-six center if they choose to move Hanzal. New York’s Derek Stepan has been the subject of trade rumors.

“We’re going to try to improve our team but it takes two sides to make a deal or sign a player and I don’t know what the other side of that equation looks like,” Chayka said. “If we stay at seven and 20, we’re going to get great players. We’re happy to stay firm but if something makes sense we’ll do that, too.”

  1. Which players could be available in trades?

The only player who should be considered untouchable is defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Franchise defensemen are just as critical as franchise centers, but if the Coyotes can pry Matthews out of Toronto (again, highly unlikely) by dealing Max Domi or Dylan Strome, they should consider it. You don’t get many chances to land a franchise center.

  1. Will the Coyotes move up if it’s not to No. 1?

Chayka has said he is open to moving up to another position if the offer is right, and he has also received offers to move down, but the team hasn’t committed to anything at the moment. Much of what is being said right now is the usual pre-draft chatter, which often includes a healthy dose of misdirection. This time of year, you should fully expect to hear lies, or at least partial lies from your team’s management staff. It’s all part of the game.

  1. Who is the Coyotes’ most likely pick at No. 7?

Matthews and Finnish forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are the presumed top three picks. Beyond that, it gets tricky.

“I think there’s some unpredictability. Everybody’s list is a little bit different in these groupings 4-8 and 8-12,” Chayka said. “Were looking at trying to understand all the different variables that go into it all the different options.”

Among the players the Coyotes could choose: defenseman Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachyov, Jakob Chychrun or forwards Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc DuBois, Alex Nylander and Logan Brown.

NHL Draft

When: Friday 4 p.m. (1st round), Saturday 7 a.m. (rounds 2-7)
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV: NBCSN (Friday); NHL Network (Saturday)

Coyotes picks
No. 7 (1st)
No. 20 (1st from NYR)
No. 37 (2nd)
No. 53 (2nd, compensatory)
No. 68 (3rd)
No. 120 (4th)
No. 158 (6th)
No. 188 (7th)

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