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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Arizona Coyotes don’t need Connor McDavid. They don’t need Jack Eichel.
Sure it would have been nice if the Edmonton Oilers didn’t win the draft lottery and one of those two generational prospects ended up in the desert.
But judging by a pair of rookie games where the Coyotes prospects drubbed the Los Angeles Kings young guns 5-3 and 4-1, Arizona appears to be set for several years with the requisite amount of speed, skill and grit at forward.
“There’s some neat things coming,” general manager Don Maloney said. “It’s whether it shows up this October or next or the year after. We know it’s on its way.”
There’s Max Domi, Arizona’s 2013 first-round pick (12th overall) who combines the attitude and determination of his pugilist father Tie with skill the gods didn’t import into his father’s body. Max Domi scored a slick goal by whipping a one-timer past Kings rookie netminder Patrik Bartosak.
“There was some skill for Tie that he gave on to Max. But I still think Max, even on Tie's best day, still beats his dad,” Coyotes director of player development Steve Sullivan quipped. “I played with Tie, and I’m sure Tie would tell you the same thing.”
There’s Anthony Duclair – a guy the Coyotes acquired from the Rangers last year for Keith Yandle – with speed and power moves to the net.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy skate like that,” Domi said. “It’s pretty apparent out there that he’s a lot faster than everyone and not afraid to take the puck to the net either.”
There’s Dylan Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, who is more of a project than McDavid and Eichel, but still should turn into a slippery big center with playmaking ability and a long reach.
He scored a goal against the Kings prospects by finding open ice and tapping home a feed into an open net.
“We think he’s a silent threat every time he’s on the ice,” Sullivan said. “One of those players that you may not notice from shift to shift but at the end of the night has made a huge impact at the end of a hockey game.”
And then there’s the guys you may not have heard of. Christian Dvorak, a second-round pick in 2014 who has the skills to be a nice two-way forward for the team’s future. Brendan Perlini, the 12th overall pick in 2014 showed a whip of a wrist shot with a goal past Bartosak's glove
Tack those guys onto some solid younger players on the 'Yotes – Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker – and there’s a decent core with this group, albeit a little thin on defense except for OEL.
“One of the things we really tried to emphasize is we have to enhance our skill and the skill level of our organization,” Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. “To see these young players come in and the skill they have and the speed they play at, it’s very encouraging.”
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, these skills were displayed against a team that’s picked in the first round just twice since 2010. Adrian Kempe and Valentin Zykov were LA’s two big-name prospects in this game, and they did play reasonably well.
Hockey’s Future recently listed the Coyotes as the No. 5 team prospect-wise on their rankings.
The Arizona Coyotes have slowly amassed an underrated prospect core through a series of trades. The emergence of Christian Dvorak and the acquisition of Anthony Duclair from the Rangers gives them superb left wing depth.
“Our amateur scouts have done an amazing job these last couple of years drafting players and coming up with some great talent,” Sullivan said. “We have some depth to our talent pool there.”
The amount of players coming through Arizona’s system doesn’t hide some of the disappointment with the Coyotes that they were not able to land Eichel or McDavid.
While the Coyotes don’t need those players, they could have been important on and off the ice.
Either player could have led to a buzz and an excitement around the team that has made more news for its struggles landing ownership stability than its on-ice exploits.
Also, again, these guys are prospects. They’re not finished products and the payout will be steady and uneven. Domi and Duclair should make the team this year but will have growing pains in finding the consistency a player needs to play in the NHL.
Whether Strome becomes a better player than either down the road – hey, Jonathan Toews and Michael Jordan were both No. 3 overall picks, right? – he’s not there right now.
Eichel and McDavid are NHL-ready and could produce 60-plus points this year. Unless Strome has a tremendous training camp, odds are he’ll go back to the Erie Otters for another year of junior seasoning.
He understands he’s not McDavid and he’s not Eichel. Strome said he was in the “second-tier” of prospects in last draft.
“They’re world-class players,” he said of McDavid and Eichel. “You don’t want to be in that second-tier. People put you in that second-tier I guess.
Does not having McDavid or Eichel lend to some sort of rallying cry for these guys? If so, Domi is the perfect leader to head the charge.
He’s a powder keg on the ice and the Coyotes rave about his leadership qualities
He has a bit of a ‘who gives a rip?’ attitude as well as a laser-like focus on the task at hand, which is key for an NHL player.
Ask him about big picture items following a prospects game, and he turns the conversation back to what just happened.
Said Domi, “We’re happy with the group we have here. We won tonight and that’s all that matters.”
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