The Coyotes decided to make a strong push to improve their team last off-season when they went out and acquired Niklas Hjalmarsson and Derick Stepan. They also traded away aging goaltender Mike Smith to Calgary and brought in Rangers back up Anttii Raanta to be the teams new starting goalie. The Coyotes then proceeded to get off to a terrible start to the the season (largely due to the fact that Raanta got injured and the coyotes couldn’t get solid goaltending from anyone else), but did end off the season impressively. Raanta even earned himself a nice contract extension for his play. Why am I saying all of this? The Coyotes might have the 5th overall pick in this years draft, but I don’t know if they are exactly a bottom 5 team in the NHL.
With that pick though, if the 2nd, 3rd and 4th overall picks are all forwards, the Coyotes will have a choice between 3 very good defensemen. Adam Boqvist, Quinn Hughes and Evan Bouchard are all highly touted defensemen in this years draft, and the Coyotes might have their pick at any one of the three they prefer. I believe they will pick Adam Boqvist because he has a ton of upside (all three do) but he might be the most NHL ready out of the three. All three picks can be backed up with solid reasons, but if I were the Coyotes I would pick Boqvist. He has the ability to maybe even make the Coyotes next year and join another very talented Swedish Defensemen of their Blue Line.
Speaking of which, Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be a UFA next summer just like Erik Karlsson, however there is already a possible rumour of him signing a contract shortly after July 1st at around the 7 million dollars a year figure for a long term extension. He is a massive player for the Coyotes and he has stated he loves being in Arizona, I would say its more likely he signs an extension with the Coyotes then him leaving as a UFA. The Coyotes absolutely have the cap space available to sign him, but again who knows how much of the Cap the Coyotes are willing to spend, so the cap space we think they have might not actually be cap space they actually have.The defence on paper doesn’t actually look to bad. OEL is a solid top 2 defensemen, Goligoski and Hjalmarsson are both good top 4 defensemen (both in their early 30’s though) and Demers can still play top 6 minutes and produce offence, scoring at least 20 points in the last 5 NHL seasons. Jakob Chychrun is still young but has a lot of potential, plus a possible top prospect defensemen with the 5th overall pick. However, if they want to show OEL that they are committed to improving this team, they might want to look more to helping the offence out via free agency or by trades.
They have a couple good offensive pieces. Stepan is a consistent 50 point scorer, and Clayton Keller had an amazing rookie season and he should be even more dangerous offensively next season. Lawson Crouse and Nick Merkley are still very good prospects they hope will become NHL regulars very soon, and then there is Dylan Strome. The Coyotes are still hopeful that the former 3rd overall pick can still be there long term 1st line centre. He is still struggling a bit with foot speed, but showed that he might be ready to take on a full time role with the Coyotes next season as he posted 9 points in 21 games in the NHL last season. Not amazing numbers, but numbers proving he can play in the NHL.
Max Domi is another interesting case. He had an amazing rookie season with 18 goals and 52 points. However, he has really struggled to best those numbers in his previous 2 seasons. He has scored as many goals in the past 2 seasons combined as he did in his first season. He is an RFA this off-season and because of that, there has been some discussion that the Coyotes should trade Max Domi. Now that might be a good thing for the player, but I can’t see this being a smart move for the Coyotes. He is a young talented winger who plays with a lot of heart, and the Coyotes need players with offensive talent. It might just be an issue with the way the Coyotes are using him, and maybe they need to have him play with some more talented forwards. He has struggled a bit recently for sure, but are they really ready to give up on a 23 year old player? If they traded him this off-season, they would be trading him with really low value and might not get a ton back for him. He seems like the perfect player to leave for almost nothing, and then he finds his game and becomes a consistent 20 goal scorer. I would sign him to a bridge deal or something, because I don’t think the Coyotes should be giving up on him just yet.
The Coyotes should try to strike on some depth signings that could be great bang for their buck. UFA forwards like Lee Stempniak, Blake Comeau, Thomas Vanek and Kris Vertseeg are just a couple forwards that the Coyotes might be able to sign for 1-2 year contracts for about 1-2 million dollars per season. Each one of those players has the ability to score 10-15 goals a season, which are great numbers for players with cheap contracts.
So the Coyotes off-season plan should start at the draft (like almost all teams). If one of the forwards (Tkachuk or Zadina) happen to be available at the number 5 pick I would think the Coyotes would have to take them. However if the three defensemen are available at number 5 the Coyotes will have to be very smart on which one they pick. OEL has to be a priority as that is not a situation i’m sure the team wants to be dealing with all throughout next season. They have to decide on their plan with Max Domi and if they do decide to trade him, make sure they are getting enough back. Finally, they have a to acquire more cheap depth scoring to take some pressure off of Stepan and all the young forwards on the Roster. Both Keller and Strome have 2 more years left on their entry level deals so that is a problem that shouldn’t be of massive concern to the Coyotes just yet. I’ll say it again, this isn’t a great team, but they are not a bottom 5 team. They are showing progress and a motivation from management to get better. They shouldn’t rush it though, a future core of OEL, the number 5 pick in this years draft, and Keller and Strome in their prime should excite Coyotes fan very much, it’s just going to take some more time.