The Coyotes pulled a mild surprise with the No. 7 overall pick in the NHL Draft Friday when they passed on a pair of top defensemen and selected center Clayton Keller at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
Arizona had a reason.
Nine picks later, it traded the 20th overall pick, Joe Vitale and a second-round pick (53rd overall) to move up to No. 16 and select defenseman Jakob Chychrun, addressing two valuable areas of any organization.
To get Chychrun, the Coyotes also agreed to take Pavel Datsyuk’s contract off the Red Wings’ hands, absorbing the $7.5 million cap hit (but no salary) of the former NHL star who is returning to Russia and foregoing the final year of his deal. That means the most the Coyotes’ other players can amount to is $65.5 million in cap hit since the cap ceiling was set at $73 million, effectively setting their budget.
Arizona’s cap hit currently sits a little under $46 million per generalfanager.com and capfriendly.com, with only seven active forwards, three defensemen and one goalie on the books. The Coyotes expect to qualify five restricted free agents — forward Tobias Rieder: ($874,125), defensemen Connor Murphy ($874,125), Michael Stone ($1.45 million), Klas Dahlbeck: ($665,500) and goalie Louis Domingue: ($665,500) — at about $4.5 million total, assuming no raises. They also have to re-sign captain Shane Doan, who made $4.55 million last season and carried a cap hit of $5.3 million when he scored 28 goals despite missing 10 games. If those numbers remain constant, that’s almost $10 million additional in cap space.
In addition, the team is hoping to add a right-handed defenseman and a scoring forward in free agency and then must add two more forwards (presumably prospects) to fill out its roster. General manager John Chayka said he is confident the Coyotes will be able to fit all that in within their budget.
“I wouldn’t have made that move if I thought it hindered us in that way,” Chayka said. “The idea is we have cap space as an asset. We get a player that if he pans out the way we expect, he could be with us for 15 years.”
In Chychrun, the Coyotes believe they acquired a player with big upside. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound left-handed defenseman from Boca Raton, Florida suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 26 games during his 2014-15 rookie season, but he had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games with Sarnia of the OHL to finish fourth among OHL defensemen in points
“I think he’s a still trying to figure out exactly what he is,” Chayka said. “He’s a great skater, a smart player. He makes a good first pass and he’s got a real hard shot, but I think his feet are his greatest attribute.
“If I get a left-shot defenseman with the ability and size Jakob Chychrun has, I don’t find those in the free-agent market. To me, that’s the better use of resources than any free-agent signing.”
He admitted he got a little nervous when he didn’t hear his name called higher.
“It was a little bit of a wait,” he said. “You kind of have to prepare for anything… Whenever a team trades up to get you it’s special.
“Arizona was a team I really wanted to go to. Growing up in Boca Raton, it’s awesome to be going to another southern market.”
The Coyotes have five more picks on Saturday, the second day of the draft: No. 37 (second round), No. 68 (third round), No. 120 (fourth), No. 158 (sixth) and No. 188 (seventh).
The Coyotes expected to be more active on the trade front, looking specifically to add a right-handed NHL defenseman but that did not materialize on Friday.
“The last couple days were very active, of course, but there are logjams that occurred,” Chayka said. “Hopefully things shake loose after the first round.”
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