Move over, Buffalo. The Arizona Coyotes accelerated their rebuild and brightened their future with their big trades over the weekend.
Don’t sleep on them Desert Dogs.
The Buffalo Sabres sure have held our attention this year, plummeting into the standings abyss in an unofficial push to win the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes. The Edmonton Oilers tire fire has populated plenty of headlines in Canada, as has the Toronto Maple Leafs’ shift toward a full rebuild.
But these Arizona Coyotes, I’ll tell ya. They struggle to fill their own building, so it’s no wonder they get lost in the noise. Yet in a span of 24 hours, they’ve set themselves on quite the path toward a bright future.
The Coyotes have a franchise defenseman to build around in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 23, already one of the best in the game at his position and with lots of room to grow. He’s joined by promising albeit unproven Connor Murphy and Brandon Gormley as talented young pieces to watch on the blueline. The forward corps’ hopes rest on Max Domi’s shoulders and in the palm of Brendan Perlini’s surgically repaired hand. Both were standout OHLers chosen 12th overall in consecutive drafts over the past two years. Christian Dvorak, Domi’s London Knights teammate, looks like a nice find, too. Scoring has been a problem for this franchise over the past few years. It needed to continue setting itself up to add more offensive potential, and it truly has this weekend.
The Antoine Vermette trade gives Chicago exactly what it needs but also qualifies as a coup for ‘Zona. Klas Dahlbeck is a decent addition. Securing a first-rounder for a pending unrestricted free agent was key. Now the Coyotes have two picks in the first round of a titillating 2015 draft class.
A top-five pick could amount to a lottery victory and one of McDavid or fellow dominant center Jack Eichel. It could net all-around stud defenseman Noah Hanifin at No. 3, or another OHL offensive dynamo like Erie’s Dylan Strome or London’s Mitch Marner. Toss in a second pick from the Hawks late in the first round and those are some nice building blocks.
And then came Sunday’s Keith Yandle blockbuster. In Anthony Duclair, Arizona gets a speedy, skilled goal scorer likened to Marian Gaborik when the Rangers drafted him in 2013. He was a THN favorite and a pick many of us thought saved the draft for the Rangers. In our upcoming THN Future Watch release, Duclair cracks the top 15 overall prospects, as does Domi, giving Arizona a pair in the top 15. Like Domi, Duclair significantly boosted his stock with his efforts at the 2015 world juniors. One of his linemates on the dominant unit? Domi. Hardly a coincidence to see the Coyotes target Duclair.
Since the Rangers went for broke on Yandle, they tossed in a 2016 first-rounder, giving the Coyotes two more cracks at top-notch talent next year. A 2015 second-rounder, too. Wow. The deal is worth eating some of Yandle’s salary for one more year. The Coyotes aren’t a wealthy franchise, to say the least, but they’ve taken a hit for extreme long-term potential.
We’ll see how long the franchise lasts in Arizona, but for now, Coyotes fans should applaud GM Don Maloney for finding that oasis in the desert. The scary part? He may not be finished working. Paging Zbynek Michalek.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin