The anguish visibly swept across the face of Anthony LeBlanc, the Arizona Coyotes’ president.
Here was LeBlanc, standing before a band of loyal Coyotes fans and explaining the franchise suffered one of its most difficult moments.
Finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL, the Coyotes were duly rewarded with placement in a lottery which guaranteed that each team would play competitively down the stretch. The overall first pick was not assured to the team which the worst record, and only the lottery would decide at reality.
After the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery Saturday and moved ahead of the class to draft at number one in the up-coming June draft, all teams slipped down one position in the order of which they finished the season.
The Coyotes then fell to number three, and thus deprived of selecting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Instead, the franchise will select a player which will likely be developed over the course of the next few years, and probably returned to his junior club after an invitation to training camp in the fall.
“It was like a tremendous kick in the stomach,” LeBlanc told Dave Vest of arizonacoyotes.com. “Would we have prefer to pick at number one or two? Of course, but now we have to regroup and get ready for the draft.”
At this point, LeBlanc, who represented the Arizona franchise at the lottery proceedings in Toronto, indicated the Coyotes’ pick at number three is “a hockey decision,” and will be made by general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett.
Given the essential need for scoring, the decision should be “a scoring decision,” and if the scouts and projections are correct, the Coyotes could be leaning toward Dylan Strome, McDavid’s teammate at Erie in the OHL. For this past season, Strome scored 45 goals, assisted in 81 others for 129 points in 68 games, and led the league in scoring. Keep in mind, though, McDavid played in half the games and still scored 120 points in 47 games.Still, LeBlanc said the Coyotes, at number three, will get a substantial player. If they select Strome, who is 17-years-old, Maloney and Tippett will likely agree that Strome is at least two to three years away from the NHL. That continues to put the burden on finding scorers and catalysts for the power play on the shoulders of Maloney and Tippett.
‘ significant pick’ at number three
“We are getting a significant pick at number three,” LeBlanc said. “It’s not like we’re drafting at 10 or 15 and remember a player like Jonathan Toews (in 2006 draft) was taken at number three. At number three, we’re getting one of a heck of hockey player”
At number three, the Coyotes could also go after Noah Hanifan, a 6-2, 205 defenseman, who is verbally committed to Boston College. That may be unlikely because Tippett told reporters just after the season ended that the Coyotes are in the market for a veteran defenseman. At this point, the Coyotes would have little patience to wait for Hanifin to develop.
If they have to wait for any player to develop, they would wise to take their chances on Strome or Mitch Marner, the latter played with Max Domi, the Coyotes number one pick (at 12) in the 2013 draft, at London.
In addition to the third overall pick, Arizona also gets Chicago’s first round pick. The number of this first round selection will be determined based on the Hawks’ finish in the current Stanley Cup playoffs.
In previous franchise history, the Coyotes had the number one pick overall once, and that was skating as the Winnipeg Jets. The pick was Dale Hawerchuk in the 1981 draft.
Other picks in the top five selections within franchise history include, Dave Babych, at number two in 1980 for Winnipeg, Stu Barnes, at number four in 1989 for Winnipeg, Aaron Ward, at number five in 1991 for Winnipeg, Blake Wheeler at number five in 2004 for Arizona, and Kyle Turris at three in 2007 for Arizona.
The draft is scheduled for June 26 and 27 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers.
Follow Mark Brown omn Twiter, @journalis193
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.