The 2023 NHL Draft Lottery has come and gone, and to no surprise, the Arizona Coyotes did not land the first overall pick, let alone a top-three pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Despite the continued lottery unluckiness for the Coyotes that seems to plague them, there were some positive takeaways from Monday night’s event. The Coyotes remained locked in with the originally projected sixth overall pick, and thanks to the Jakob Chychrun trade back in March, they also secured the 12th overall pick in the draft via Ottawa.
With just a little over a month left before the draft takes place, general manager Bill Armstrong and his team begin the process of scouting and scouring prospects leading up to the June 28 event to determine the next two future Coyotes. With plenty of intriguing prospects set to hear their name called come June, we look at some likely players to keep on your radar this summer.
There are two names to keep tabs on as the Coyotes approach the podium with the sixth overall pick. The first is U.S. U-18 US Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) right winger Ryan Leonard. The six-foot winger out of Amherst, Massachusetts, is coming off a monster year with the NTDP in which he recorded 94 points on 51 goals and 43 assists in 57 games. In addition, he added eight goals in seven games en route to a gold medal at World U-18s. Aside from his skill set, Leonard plays a physical game reminiscent of Matthew Tkachuk. He’s committed to Boston College for the upcoming 2023-24 season.
Another name to keep tabs on heading into the draft is left-winger Zach Benson. Benson is coming off a 98-point season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Winnipeg Ice, where he registered 36 goals and 62 assists in 60 games. A skilled skater and relentless forechecker, the Coyotes could look to add his services to their core. A nice bonus for Armstrong and company would be the added chemistry between him and his teammate, current Coyotes prospect Conor Geekie.
The biggest focus for the Coyotes as they get to their second first-round pick, 12th overall, should be drafting a defenseman. With a rather shallow defensive pipeline currently, the Coyotes could look to add defenseman David Reinbacher. A 6-foot-2 right-handed defenseman, Reinbacher competed with EHC Kloten of the Suisse National League (NL) this past season, registering 22 points on three goals and 19 assists in 46 games.
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He also represented his home country of Switzerland in the 2022 World Junior Championships, adding two points in five games. He’s a strong skater for his size, who actively gets himself involved, and is an effective passer. Scouts have compared his game to Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider.
Another option for Arizona with the 12th overall pick is right winger Gabriel Perreault of the U.S. National Development Program. An all-around great hockey IQ made Perreault the all-time greatest NTDP U-18 player, breaking Auston Matthew’s record with a whopping 132 in 63 games on 53 goals and 79 assists this past season.
Add in his 45 points in 23 games in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and 18 points in seven games at the World U-18’s this year, and you have yourself an effective two-way player. Being paired on the top line with fellow prospect Leonard could play a role if the Coyotes decide to draft his teammate with the sixth overall selection.
Not knowing what routes other teams will go with their selections leaves the Coyotes with other interesting options at the sixth and 12th picks. Forwards such as Matvei Michkov and Will Smith remain viable options as the sixth pick. Smith is coming off a 127-point season in 60 games on the top line of Leonard and Perreault as a member of the U-18 National Development team. Michkov, on the other hand, brings every offensive tool you could want to the table while also adding 34 points in 39 games in Russia between four clubs and three leagues. His contract though currently runs through the 2025-26 season, so if he winds up as Arizona’s pick, patience will be needed.
Then you go back to the defensive side of the draft. The Coyotes undoubtedly will be looking to add some defensive depth at the draft, and another name to keep on your radar is Axel Sandin Pellikka. With 41 points in 53 games split between the SHL and J-20 Nationell, Pellikka is a reliable blue-liner who still needs some development to play against NHL forwards. While rather small, he makes up for it with his hockey smarts and overall understanding of the game.
Truth be told, no one knows who the Coyotes will take with the number six and twelve overall selections. This year’s draft is one of the deepest in years. With a generational talent in Connor Bedard leading the draft, expect Armstrong and the Coyotes to have no issues with finding some future talent and some hidden gems. With just 49 days left until round one of the 2023 NHL Draft kicks off, don’t be surprised to see teams calling, and perhaps Armstrong moves up from 12th overall. Until we hear that first name called, all thoughts and speculation sit on the table.