It’s no secret that, after years of being touted as owning one of the league’s deepest prospect pools, the Arizona Coyotes now lack high-end offensive talent in the organization. The club’s scoring woes, which kept the team out the playoffs despite allowing the fifth-fewest goals in the league, were well-documented last season.
With that said, it felt like a pretty safe bet that the organization would select a forward with their first-round pick at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
General manager John Chayka had other ideas, though, as he ultimately traded up to select Swedish defenseman Victor Soderstrom at No. 11 overall on Friday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Arizona originally owned the No. 14 pick in this draft, but they sent this selection, along with pick No. 45 in Saturday’s second round, to the Philadelphia Flyers for the right to move up three spots to select Soderstrom.
As far as the rankings go, there seemingly was no consensus on where Soderstrom “should” have been selected – NHL Central Scouting had him as the third-best European skater available in the draft, while TSN’s Bob McKenzie had him as the 14th-best prospect on the board. Here at THW, Brandon Share-Cohen had Soderstrom at 18th overall, Ryan Pike had him ranked 13th, and Larry Fisher put Soderstrom at No. 17. In THW’s annual Writers Mock Draft, Soderstrom went to the Montreal Canadiens at No. 15.
At the draft in Vancouver, Chayka and the Coyotes had Soderstrom as the No. 3 overall player on their board.
Outside of the organization, the pick came as a bit of a surprise to some, especially when considering Arizona’s scoring troubles and the fact that several potential top-six forwards, such as Matthew Boldy, Peyton Krebs, and the USA NTDP’s 72-goal scorer Cole Caufield, were still on the board at the time. Additionally, one could have made the argument that Arizona did not have to trade up in order to select Soderstrom, but, at any rate, the Swede was ranked as the No. 1 right-handed defenseman in the draft, and, as was previously mentioned, was ranked as the No. 3 skater on Arizona’s draft board.
Chayka did what he had to do in order to get his man.
Whether it’s via trade or in the unrestricted free agent market, top-four, offensive-minded, right-handed defensemen (RHD) typically are expensive to acquire in this league. It’s far easier to draft and develop players at this premium position, so you can’t fault Chayka for addressing it with his first-round selection, especially when factoring in that Arizona’s current right-handed NHL defensemen, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Jason Demers, are on the back ends of their prime years at 33, 32, and 31 years old, respectively.
Soderstrom should shore up the RHD position going forward.
Who is Victor Soderstrom?
Soderstrom, standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 179 pounds, spent most of the 2018-19 season playing with Brynas IF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). The SHL is Sweden’s highest level of professional hockey, meaning Soderstrom, who didn’t turn 18 until Feb. 26, gained valuable experience by doing what few other players in his draft class did in 2018-19 – he played nearly a full season in a men’s league against other pros.
Soderstrom also won a gold medal for his country at the 2019 U18 World Junior Championship, recording an assist and a plus-two rating in four tournament games.
With Brynas IF, Soderstrom held his own while playing in 44 of 52 regular-season games, recording four goals (two of which came on the power play), three assists, 22 penalty minutes, 48 blocked shots, 11 hits, and a minus-11 rating while averaging 17:06 of ice-time per night.
As is evidenced from the highlight reel, Soderstrom projects as an offensive, finesse-type defenseman at the next level. He likely won’t be playing in the NHL in 2019-20 due to Arizona already having eight NHL defensemen under contract, so another year in the SHL, or a campaign with the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL, seem like Soderstrom’s most probable scenarios this season.
What’s Next for Coyotes?
Since the Coyotes included their second-round selection in the Soderstrom trade, they will be waiting quite some time until they are able to make another selection, which will come in Round No. 3 at No. 74 overall. The Coyotes will then pick again at No. 76 before finishing out the draft with picks 107, 174, 176, and 200.
With his two third-round picks slotted so closely together, don’t be surprised to see Chayka package both selections in a trade to move back into the second round if a player they like falls into their range.
Either way, Saturday should be an interesting day in Vancouver – the Coyotes still need to address their organizational depth at forward, and a number of projected first-rounders remain on the board after falling out of the top-31. Will Chayka move up and nab one of them? We’ll soon find out.