For the 2020 THW Mock Draft, I was the general manager for a couple of teams, including the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes had no picks in the first round, so the second round was where I started my work for them. With these picks, I tried to use a mix of my scouting and the team’s general manager John Chayka’s usage of analytics to try to pick the best player in the given slot.
I am not a “best-player-available” drafter, nor am I a purely “draft-for-need” drafter. Instead, I try to prioritize adding players to improve the systemic weakness in the prospect system, along with taking into consideration a player who is available who would qualify as a “steal.” I like to think of it as a more fluid approach to drafting.
With that said, Arizona boasts a pretty balanced prospect pool. However, their last two top center prospects were pressed into NHL service before their 20th birthday. That’s a double-edged sword: the players make an NHL impact sooner, but it takes them out of the pipeline. One of my goals with the five picks that I had for the Coyotes was to beef up their center depth.
2nd round, 41st Overall: Roni Hirvonen
With their first pick at number 41, I had to try to find a 1st-round talent that might have slipped. Roni Hirvonen is on the small side, but his skill set is elite. His shot, vision, creativity are all considered on par or better than top-ten candidate Anton Lundell.
When I dug into the analytics of some of the players remaining for the second round, Hirvonen stuck out, big time. His high danger percentages are better than fellow Liiga player, Lundell. Chayka could not ignore the high danger chance generation that Hirvonen had while playing in Liiga, not juniors. Nobody else took him, and at pick 41 I got my guy. For more on this pick, check out our full 2nd Round Mock Draft.
4th Round, 103rd Overall: Zayde Wisdom
I had a long wait before picking again. Hirvonen was a good get for the Coyotes’ center depth but another center with some potential was in order. Zayde Wisdom is also on the smaller side height-wise but he is stout. At 5-foot-10, 201 pounds, he is built thick. He was also the center for the most dynamic line in the OHL through the back half of the season.
A lot of people will chalk his production uptick to playing with phenom Shane Wright, and 1st-round candidate Martin Chromiak, but those players saw their play improve once they were put with Wisdom. Watching him, it often felt like he was the glue holding his line together. In spite of his size, he plays a power game using his leg strength to battle for loose pucks and to create chances for himself and linemates. His foot speed has been improving, but powerful legs allow him to assert more physicality than one might expect from his small stature.
NHL teams are always looking for players that show Wisdom’s compete level and drive. I’ve seen him hanging around 100th in some rankings, and much lower in others, but I feel like he’s a steal this late. His motor, will to compete and drive for success are uniquely strong, (from ‘I want you to doubt me’: Zayde Wisdom’s against-all-odds journey to the draft,’ The Athletic, 3/30/2020). I think this kid is gonna go far.
5th Round, 134th Overall: Trevor Kuntar
The Youngstown Phantoms were tough to watch at times this season. Their -51 goal differential was second only to the Madison Capitals as the worst in the USHL. One bright spot for them was the play of Trevor Kuntar. Kuntar accounted for 28 goals and 25 assists in 44 games.
This was on a team that only scored 146 goals for the whole season. Kuntar was a direct scoring factor in 36% of Youngstown’s points this season. He has good offensive instincts and a top-notch wrist shot. He’s also got that prototypical NHL size that teams want, a 6-feet and 200 pounds. Kuntar is Harvard bound. That’s a very good NCAA program with a track record of producing some NHL talent and a good sign when picking in the later rounds.
6th Round, 165th Overall: Talon Zakall
Talon Zakall was originally picked in the WHL Entry Draft so he could have played for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Instead the Merritt, British Columbia native opted to play for his hometown Merritt Centennials of the BCHL. In the 6th and 7th rounds of the draft, you try to look under rocks that other people might not have looked under to find talent. The BCHL is one of those leagues where you can find hidden gems in the later rounds. Zakall has the frame of a smaller puck-moving defender, at 5-foot-11, 174 pounds.
This is exactly what he was for the Centennials this season. In spite of being on a team that struggled, his 30 points in 56 games were good enough for 3rd among first-year NHL draft-eligible defenders in the BCHL. What sticks out about Zakall, are traits that NHL teams are looking for: He’s got a good hockey IQ, makes smart (timely) decisions under pressure and has a good first pass. He’s also been good at initiating the breakout, either carrying the puck out himself or finding a teammate with that first pass. He also has a nice shot that I wish he would use more often.
It remains to be seen if he can continue to show those skills against higher levels of competition. I’d like to see an NCAA program pick him up, or maybe see him make the jump to the WHL and see how he does there, but his work in the BCHL this season was enough to catch my eye and give me the confidence to take a 6th-round flyer on him.
The Coyotes have shown a willingness to poke around the Canadian Junior leagues that fall outside the CHL, after selecting defender Patrick Kudla and Dean Stewart from the OJHL and MJHL respectively in the 6th and 7th rounds in 2016. Taking Zakall here would be very “on brand” for them.
7th round, 196th Overall: Mason Alderson
Mason Alderson is a 6-foot-3, 194-pound British prospect, who spent the year with Berwick Academy. Alderson was a big part of the Great Britain U18 team that advanced from D2A to D1B in 2018. In fact, on that 2018 team, he outperformed fellow Brit, and 2018 Arizona 7th-round pick Liam Kirk. Last season, a 17-year-old Alderson participated, with high merits, on the British U20 team. This season, he was the U20 team’s leading point producer as an 18-year-old, and may have also been considered for the Team Great Britain men’s roster at the World Championships that were to be held in Switzerland, but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Alderson’s best asset is his tremendously slick hands while carrying the puck. He makes a lot of opposing players look silly as they reach for poke checks and stick checks. He makes little subtle movements to move the puck a few inches to one side or another, keeping it on his stick and out of danger while he skates through or around opponents. As he grows into his frame and fills out a bit, Alderson’s stickhandling and fearlessness attacking the net could propel him to becoming a power forward for the modern NHL.
While pretending to be Chayka, with five picks, I drafted three centers, a winger and a puck-moving defender. In spite of his smaller size, Hirvonen looks like a bonafide steal at pick 41. With Wisdom and Kuntar, the Coyotes get some longer-term development centers in their system who have the potential to be more than just depth players. Zakall is an underrated, puck-moving defender from a league that gets glanced over sometimes, and Alderson is a British wild card. It’ll be interesting to see what the real Coyotes’ general manager does come draft day.