Conner Bleackley was selected 23rd overall in 2014 by the Avalanche and traded to the Coyotes in the Mikkel Boedker deal, but he won’t be signing an entry-level contract before Wednesday’s deadline. That means Bleackley, 20, will re-enter the 2016 draft.
Conner Bleackley’s NHL career has yet to begin, but the 20-year-old center has already been a first-round draft choice and a throw-in asset for a trade deadline deal. Now he’s about to be drafted again.
Bleackley was originally drafted 23rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 after putting an impressive 29 goals and 68 points with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels during the 2013-14 campaign, but he was never locked up to a deal by the Avalanche. Over the next two seasons, during which Bleackley scored 40 goals and 95 points in 106 games, he remained unsigned, even after he was moved to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Mikkel Boedker deal.
And with a 5 p.m., June 1 deadline to sign with the Coyotes approaching, Arizona GM John Chayka has decided his club will be going a different direction. Instead of signing Bleackley, the Coyotes are going to take the compensatory draft choice — a second-round pick, 53rd overall — and let the Rebels center re-enter the draft.
“We’re going to take the compensation pick,” Chayka told NHL.com. “There’s a lot of value in that pick. That’s not to diminish anything Conner has done or the type of player he is. He had a good Memorial Cup. He’s a good player, but at this point [the draft pick] is a more valuable asset for us.”
The compensatory pick now gives the Coyotes eight picks in the upcoming draft — two in the first round, two in the second round, and one in each of the remaining rounds besides the fourth round, in which the Coyotes do not currently have a selection. The four picks in the top two rounds make Arizona one of only four teams to hold four selections in the first two rounds of the draft. The others are the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Having a bevy of picks can help Chayka and Co. add to the already strong group of prospects the Coyotes have built. In THN’s Future Watch 2016, a panel of scouts selected Arizona as the team with the best group of prospects, with Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini among those showing great promise.
For that reason alone, Bleackley not signing with the Coyotes isn’t awfully surprising as it’s going to be a tough lineup to crack. Add to it that he had previously said he wasn’t “expecting anything” when asked about the contract and one got the sense where this was headed. Bleackley and the Coyotes were probably well aware he wouldn’t be signed by Wednesday’s deadline.
Where Bleackley fits in the upcoming draft is tough to say. He likely won’t be a first-round selection again, especially given his dip in production this past season as an over-ager in the WHL. In 55 games, he managed 13 goals and 46 points, both of which marked his lowest production since his first full season in Red Deer.
Bleackley was supposed to be out for the remainder of the season following a gruesome injury that saw a skate blade slice tendons on his wrist. However, he returned for all four Rebels games at the Memorial Cup, which was hosted by Red Deer. He managed two assists in the tournament.