Coyotes Trade Ekman-Larsson in Blockbuster, Select Guenther in Round 1

Things have been crazy across the National Hockey League over the course of the past few weeks, as teams attempted to maneuver around the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft while simultaneously positioning themselves to compete for a Stanley Cup in either the near or distant future.

The Arizona Coyotes and general manager Bill Armstrong were no exception, as multiple trades involving the ‘Yotes went down between July 17 and July 22. The organization had already been busy prior to the start of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, but, on a rainy, gloomy Friday afternoon in the Valley of the Sun, things quickly escalated, as a massive deal went down between Arizona and a former Pacific Division rival which set Twitter ablaze.

Ekman-Larsson, Garland Sent to Vancouver

The Coyotes started their draft day with an absolute blockbuster of a trade, sending their captain and third-highest scorer to the Vancouver Canucks:

Arizona Coyotes receive:

  • 2021 first-round pick (No. 9 overall)
  • 2022 second-round pick
  • 2023 seventh-round pick
  • LW Loui Eriksson
  • LW Antoine Roussel
  • C Jay Beagle

Vancouver Canucks receive:

  • D Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($990,000 [12%] of his $8.25 million cap hit retained by AZ)
  • RW Conor Garland (restricted free agent)

Wow. Where do we even start with this one?

Both Garland and Ekman-Larsson’s names had been mentioned in trade rumors, since, well, before the regular season concluded, and, in the end, both players were moved in the same transaction. Losing the fan-favorite Garland is going to be a tough pill to swallow for Coyotes fans, but it didn’t sound like there was any interest from the team in re-signing him to a contract extension.

Conor Garland Arizona Coyotes
The loss of Conor Garland will sting Coyotes fans for some time. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 25-year-old just finished a two-year deal with an average annual value of just $775,000, so there’s no doubt he’s looking for a big raise. He’ll likely get between $5 and $6 million on his next contract, with a potential term of four to six years. The ‘Yotes clearly weren’t interested in committing to this player, so it’s not surprising to see him be traded this summer.

As for Ekman-Larsson, his departure signals the end of an era in Arizona, as he was the last remaining player from the 2012 Western Conference Final team. However, he hasn’t been good over the course of the past few years, and certainly isn’t worth the $8.25 million cap hit he’d have carried through the 2026-27 season.

At any rate, it certainly was time for both parties to move on – John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7, who initially broke the news of the trade, stated on local Phoenix radio on Friday afternoon that the Coyotes were close to healthy scratching Ekman-Larsson at points during the 2020-21 season, and would have stripped the captaincy from OEL had he returned to the team in 2021-22. The fact that the ‘Yotes were able to get rid of most of his contract, retaining just $990,000 of the $8.25 million he’s owed for the next six seasons, is a huge victory for the club.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson Arizona Coyotes
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, now a member of the Vancouver Canucks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When it comes to Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel, they, at this stage in their careers, are all bottom-six forwards at best. They each have one year remaining on contracts with a combined $12 million cap hit, and they’ll all likely spend just the 2021-22 season in Arizona before becoming unrestricted free agents. The Coyotes had to take these contracts back from the Canucks in order to make the money work, and, in doing so, forfeited cap space in the short-term to add some financial flexibility in the long run. They’ll spend $8.1 million in actual salary on these players this season, but they’d have spent $50 million on Ekman-Larsson in the next six seasons, including $10.5 million this year alone.

As mentioned above, the Coyotes also acquired three draft picks as part of this trade – a 2021 first-rounder (more on this later), a 2022 second-round pick, and 2023 seventh-round choice. The second-round pick from the Canucks gives Arizona eight picks in Round 2 over the next 12 months or so – they’ll have three such selections on Saturday when Day 2 begins, and, as of this writing, own five second-rounders for the 2022 draft next June. They’ve amassed a lot of picks, so don’t be surprised to see the Coyotes use some of them to make other transactions, especially when it comes to next year’s draft. If there’s a player they like, they could easily secure another first-rounder on draft day in 2022 by dipping into their vast stockpile of draft pick compensation.

Coyotes Draft Guenther at No. 9

As we discussed earlier, the Coyotes landed a 2021 first-round pick in the Ekman-Larsson/Garland trade, enabling them to get back into Round 1 after losing their own selection via league sanctions for their prospect fitness testing scandal, which took place under the watch of former GM John Chayka.

With the Vancouver pick, the Coyotes opted to select forward Dylan Guenther from the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL:

A 6-foot-1, 181-pound right-winger, Guenther was rated as high as No. 3 in pre-draft coverage by various hockey publications and generally was expected to go in the top 10. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had Guenter as his seventh-overall pick (from ‘NHL Mock Draft 3.3: Coyotes get Canucks’ first-round pick, while Sabres take Flyers’ selection’, The Athletic, 7/23/2021), while Hockey Sense’s Chris Peters had the Edmontonian as the No. 5 prospect in the draft (from ‘Hockey Sense final 2021 NHL Draft rankings’, Hockey Sense, 6/25/2021).

At THW, Guenther went third overall to the Anaheim Ducks in the writers’ mock draft. Peter Baracchini ranked Guenther at No. 8 in his top 160, while Matthew Zator had the same result in his top 128. Andrew Forbes had the forward ranked higher, at No. 4 in his final 160.

Guenther is said to be the best goalscorer in his draft class, and his numbers last season did nothing to dispel that notion. Although he played only 12 games, the 18-year-old scored 12 times and added 12 assists for 24 points in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign. Guenther also participated in the 2021 U18 World Junior Championship for Team Canada, scoring four goals and three assists across seven games en route to a gold medal. In his age-17 season, Guenther played 58 games with the Oil Kings, posting 26 goals and 33 assists to average just a tick over a point per game.

Dylan Guenther Edmonton Oil Kings
Dylan Guenther should be the Coyotes’ top-line winger of the future. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

He’s clearly a big-time scorer, and he’ll hopefully have a chance to show off his abilities in 2021-22. Barring any COVID-related setbacks, we should have as close to a normal season as possible when hockey kicks off again in October, so Guenther should get the opportunity to play a full regular season, appear in the World Junior Championship, and see action in the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup Playoffs. Even if he shows NHL ability during training camp in September, there’s no way the Coyotes should look to rush this player to the league – 2021-22 projects as a rebuilding year for the club, so there’s not really anything to gain by forcing an 18-year-old into the lineup and burning a year off of his entry-level deal.

Expect to see Guenther back with his junior team next season, and look for him to keep WHL scoreboard operators busy all year long.

Looking Ahead to Day 2

Assuming the Coyotes don’t complete further trades (which, as we’ve seen in the last few days, is far from a guarantee), they’ll be on the clock relatively early in Day 2 of the draft on Saturday, as their next selection will come just five picks in. Here’s a look at all of their remaining choices in this draft, as of press time:

  • Round 2, Pick 5 (No. 37 overall)
  • Round 2, Pick 11 (No. 43 overall)
  • Round 2, Pick 28 (No. 60 overall)
  • Round 4, Pick 11 (No. 107 overall)
  • Round 4, Pick 26 (No. 122 overall)
  • Round 5, Pick 11 (No. 139 overall)
  • Round 6, Pick 11 (No. 171 overall)

When it comes to potential draft targets, I’d expect Armstrong to continue to look toward the best player available. The Coyotes aren’t in a position to get picky and restrict themselves to a specific position group – they need help everywhere on the ice.

Bill Armstrong Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong has amassed a large stockpile of draft picks through recent trades. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With their first two picks of the day, they should be able to get solid value – whether it’s players with first-round grades who fell past Day 1 or guys that Armstrong and his staff are high on, Arizona will be able to get two solid prospects at No. 37 and No. 43.

Josh Doan, Arizona Coyote?

We stated above that the Coyotes need to focus on taking the best player available every time they’re on the clock on Saturday. However, if the club has an opportunity to draft Chicago Steel forward Josh Doan with their final pick of the second round at No. 60 overall, they should pull the trigger.

The son of the legendary Captain Coyote, Shane Doan, Josh just wrapped up his second year with the USHL’s Chicago Steel and had a breakout campaign, collecting 31 goals and 39 assists in 53 games played. He went undrafted last year as an 18-year-old, but he’ll certainly be taken in Round 3 (or earlier) in his age 19-season. The younger Doan wasn’t quite blessed with the size and pure physical strength of his father, as he’s 40 pounds lighter with the same 6-foot-1 frame, but he still finds a way to impact the game on every shift.

Per The Puck Authority’s Costa Rontzocos, Doan is “a strong 200-foot center with a knack for scoring. He possesses numerous abilities, including a strong defensive IQ, quick decision making and a quality shooting ability.” Doan has success “due to the way he handles the puck. He’s not a dangler like Patrick Kane, nor does he stickhandle a dozen times a second. He’s efficient and calculated when he’s in possession of the puck and slows the game down to his pace. While he has all these tangible skills, he has a great hockey sense. He’s a student of the game, and with that, he gets better as the game goes on.”

Josh Doan Chicago Steel
The Coyotes should consider selecting Josh Doan on Day 2 of the draft. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

If these traits sound familiar, they should, as Shane Doan was one of the NHL’s premier two-way power forwards for more than 15 years. Josh clearly has learned a lot from his father when it comes to playing the game the right way, and he’ll be drafted by an NHL club on Saturday as a result of his hard work.

That club should be the Coyotes.

Josh was born and raised in Arizona, is committed to Arizona State University for the 2021-22 season, and is the son of a franchise legend who has his number hanging in the rafters of Gila River Arena. If Arizona passes on him and he goes on to become a key forward for another organization, or, even worse, lands with a rival like the Los Angeles Kings or Vegas Golden Knights, it’ll put the organization and its fans in the uncomfortable position of rooting against a player with the last name of ‘Doan’ for the first time ever.

Stay tuned to THW for coverage of Day 2 of the draft, which kicks off at 8:00 AM Arizona time and will be televised on the NHL Network. We’ll have a recap of the Coyotes’ picks (and further trades, if any) here Sunday morning.