Draft prospect Connor Bedard — or even Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson — clearly have not been on the minds of the Coyotes coaches and players since mid-January. Arizona has points in its past six games and six of its past seven.
Over the past 10 games, the Coyotes are 4-3-3. They now lead the NHL’s last-place team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, by eight points. They lead the Chicago Blackhawks by seven and the Anaheim Ducks by four.
This is not prime tanking technique.
There is no guarantee that the team with the worst overall record will win the NHL Draft Lottery this spring. The odds below are far from ideal, but they are still better than all of the other positions. The worst record is also the only spot that guarantees a team will select one of the three aforementioned players, all of whom are rated higher than last season’s No. 1 pick, Juraj Slafkovský, by a bevy of scouts and analysts.
We don’t mean to throw bad karma into the mix, but as it stands right now, the Coyotes have a good chance of drafting in the four-eight range, rather than the top three. As depressing as that sounds for a franchise that has not had a so-called franchise player for two-plus decades, we decided to cover our bases and get a sense of the next group of players available beyond that elite group.
That group includes Will Smith… no, not the guy at the top of the page although we know he can fight.
We leaned on well-respected prospect analysts Chris Peters and Craig Button for insight. Here’s a look at 11 guys whom the Coyotes could select in the four-eight range. Some stats are combined, depending on the team situation.
It is interesting to note that neither Button nor Peters thinks that there is a defenseman in the top 10 picks, but teams may have different opinions so we have included a pair of the top defensive prospects.
Draft prospect Matvei Michkov
Team: HK Sochi (KHL)
Height/weight: 5-10, 172
2022-23 stats: 21 games, 7 goals, 13 points
Peters’ take: “The gap between Michkov and the rest of the guys after him is pretty big. The four guys at the top are so good. “Nobody knows how that situation is going to play out in Russia, so they’re basically saying, ‘If we’re going to take him, it’s because the opportunity to get him into our team is better than what we would get in the next couple of picks.’ I think there’s a chance that he could even slip down to like seven or eight. If you’re there, especially if you’re the Coyotes and you’re picking eighth and you have a chance to land the elite of the elite in terms of hockey sense and offense, you have to consider it and then you wait and you say, ‘Well, eventually.’ But there is no doubt in my mind that the Russian factor is going to matter more than it ever has. If I can have Will Smith and he feels safer to me by a large margin, I would take him.”
Button’s take: “Even if there weren’t complications with the situation in Russia, there’s still complications with his contract (Michkov signed a five-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg that runs through the 2025–26 season). But here’s the big one I’m going to drop your way. The Arizona Coyotes are flush with really good prospects and the Arizona Coyotes are in the middle of a rebuild where it’s going to take a few years. If there’s any team that could draft Michkov to try to hit a home run and wait, is it not the Arizona Coyotes? There’s no telling what else might come the way of the Arizona Coyotes with Jakob Chychrun and the other trades they might make but how does this work with their timeline? Well, 2026 might work perfectly. You’re sitting here on a potential superstar.
“The last time he was seen live was a year ago. Everybody saw him at the World Junior Championship for a few games. Key decision makers need to see the player, whether that be chief scouts, or whether it be general managers. You want to watch progression. You have seen progression with the other players because you’ve been able to monitor them. That all becomes really, really important in terms of building your confidence. But that being said, they’ve had eyes on this guy for a few years now. So what’s the upside in terms of drafting this player? I look at teams that have multiple picks as possibilities, but outside of that group, the Arizona Coyotes might be as best positioned to draft Michkov as anybody.”
Draft prospect Will Smith
Height/weight: 6-0, 178
2022-23 stats: 53 games, 40 goals, 100 points
Peters’ take: “This is the guy that I have at five. I just think that he is super dynamic and incredibly intelligent. I think his compete level is fine. It can wane a little bit from time to time, but I think part of that is because the game is just seemingly so easy for him right now. He’s got good pace and he processes the game super fast. The question is, is he going to be a center or a wing? I think he could be a play-driving center. He needs to get a lot stronger, but aside from that, I think he’s really good.
“I don’t know if he has the defensive skill to be a big-minute center. The comp for me with him is Trevor Zegras. You’re not really going to rely on him in tight games. It’s not like you’re gonna put him out there against tough matchups late in the game. I think that’ll be the same thing with Will Smith, but I see the dynamic skill element and the vision. In the best case scenario, he could be a 1C, but most of the time when you’re getting into that fifth, sixth, seventh, you are already down to the second line.”
Button’s take: “Another talented right-shot centerman and the thing about Will is he can beat you multiple ways. He can beat you with speed. He can beat you with his shot. He can beat you with his playmaking and when you close down one area, he opens up another area. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s so smart. It’s like the game is really slow for Will. When you watch the way he’s able to generate opportunities and then to be able to strike when the iron is hot, it’s really, really impressive.”
Draft prospect Eduard Šalé
Team: HC Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Height/weight: 6-2, 174
2022-23 stats: 36 games, 6 goals, 11 points
Peters’ take: “He is big time. He’s going to be one of those guys in the top eight. He has decent size, plays pretty well down low, he’s a good playmaker with a really good shot and he has a lot of tools.”
Button’s take: “This is the point of the draft where it comes to evaluating your own prospects. I think there’s top-two [line] forwards. I think there’s top-three defensemen available, although I don’t see a defenseman in that top group so let’s stay with the top six. You know you have Dylan Guenther in your system. You know you have Logan Cooley. You know you have Conor Geekie. You know where that prospect pool looks good so how do you supplement that? How do you add to that?
“Eduard Sâlé is a really good player. People might look at him and say his numbers are down a little bit. Don’t worry about his numbers. I heard the same thing about David Pastrňák. I think Eduard Sâlé is one of those players you had better be really careful about evaluating because is excellent.”
Draft prospect Zach Benson
Team: Winnipeg (WHL)
Height/weight: 5-9, 160
2022-23 stats: 47 games, 28 goals, 74 points
Peters’ take: “There’s no real consensus with this area of the draft, but I would say that there is at least a growing belief that Zach Benson won’t slip out of the top 10. He is undersized. He is an OK skater, but he is maybe one of the most competitive forwards in this entire class. Despite his size, he has a tremendous stick. He takes pucks off people all the time. He is one of the top scorers in the WHL. He has enough skill and he is on one of the best junior teams in the world, but he is also a major part of it. I think he’s awesome. The issue is that he’s not very big.”
Button’s take: “Zach Benson is a smaller player, but a really top-notch player. So when you look at your prospect pool, you have Logan Cooley who is a little bit of a smaller player, do you have enough support where you want to add a higher skill — maybe a little bit smaller player — or are you looking to add more power?”
Draft prospect Brayden Yager
Team: Moose Jaw (WHL)
Height/weight: 5-11, 166
2022-23 stats: 53 games, 22 goals, 62 points
Button’s take: “I think he’s such a strong two-way player. I don’t think there’s anything in Brayden’s game that I would say is eye-popping. His skating is really good. But I don’t need eye-popping to be impressed. What I would say is Brayden is big-time time competitive everywhere on the ice. I think you’re looking at a top two-way player who can contribute offensively, contribute defensively, can skate, can play at the tempo and the pace of the game.
“With Logan Cooley and Conor Geekie in the pool, if everybody develops like you hope they can, now you’re sitting here looking at a group of players that really feed off of one another at the center ice position, which is really important. Brayden to me, is probably a 1B or 2A. Connor Geekie is 2B, 3A. All of the sudden, now you’ve got Cooley leading the way and the next two guys just slotting in beautifully at center. That’s how I would project it.”
Height/weight: 5-11, 188
022-23 stats: 56 games, 28 goals, 66 points
Peters’ take: “Moore is probably like Dylan Larkin-ish in that he is the best skater in the draft in terms of pure speed. He is very skilled. I think sometimes his brain doesn’t move as fast as his feet, which is not terrible. It’s something that he can adjust to and I think he has gotten a lot better. He’s probably one of the better two-way centers as well. He’s got good defensive sense. Last year, he didn’t have enough strength to do anything about it. This year, he put on a lot of weight and muscle. He’s incredibly lean, too. He’s just an immense athlete. He’s kind of average size but because of his speed and because of his physical strength, he’s exceptional in terms of the different things that he can do.
“There are definitely some people out there that would have him over Smith. I am not one because I value Smith’s skill and hockey sense over the speed and tenacity of Moore, but it’s certainly a lot closer than it was at the beginning of the season. He’s a guy that I think looks like an ideal No. 2 center where he can be a tough matchups guy, he’s going to score for you. It’s basically playing the role that he’s playing right now as the No. 2 center on the U18 team team. If Oliver Moore had the same linemates that Will Smith did, he would probably have at least 15, maybe even 20 more points than he does right now.”
Button’s take: “I think Oliver Moore is just like Dylan Larkin. Dylan was fast and quick, but Dylan had an all-round game, which is exactly what’s translated to the NHL. Oliver doesn’t play with the same level of talent that Will Smith gets. Oliver doesn’t get the same luxury to play with the same level of skill and yet he generates opportunities and chances and his motor revs at high RPMs. I don’t go loosely on comparing somebody to Dylan Larkin.”
Draft prospect Colby Barlow
Team: Owen Sound (OHL)
Height/weight: 6-0, 193
2022-23 stats: 47 games, 38 goals, 67 points
Button’s take: “I don’t know what the disagreement is about him. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s skilled. He’s a scorer. He’s powerful. He can kill penalties or play on the power play. He can play on the wall or play to the net. I can’t speak for anybody else. I love the kid. The way I hear people talking about Barlow is similar to what I heard about BradyTkachuk and I call bullshit on all of it. He doesn’t have the same edge as Brady, but he’s a powerful player who can be a big deal. He’ll score 50 goals in the OHL this year and he’s a well-rounded player.”
Draft prospect Ryan Leonard
Height/weight: 6-0, 190
2022-23 stats: 48 games, 39 goals, 76 points
Peters’ take: “I don’t think he’s in the top 10; not far off, but I don’t think he’s in that mix, for me. He might be for some teams.”
Team: AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Height/weight: 6-1, 201
2022-23 stats: 30 games, 4 goals, 12 points
Button’s take: “Dalibor is very interesting to me. I’ve watched him for a number of years now. He’s a really good player, a really smart player, but I don’t know what his offensive upside is. I see a Michael Backlund type. Michael Backlund has been a really good centerman in the NHL for a lot of years. He’s not going to put up big numbers, but he’s going to be able to play in the hard games, the heavy areas and contribute in a lot of different areas of the game. That’s what I see in Dalibor. Is there a chance that his offense could be better? Maybe. He’s another player who I need to get more looks at and become more confident in my assessment of him, but that’s where I’m at on February 14.”
Team: Skellefteå AIK (SHL, Sweden)
Height/weight: 5-11, 176
2022-23 stats: 44 games, 16 goals, 33 points
Button’s take: (Button also lists D Tom Willander ahead of David Reinbacher, who is listed below): “I think [they] are the two best defensemen in the draft. The combination of skating, brains, playmaking ability, poise, they got it. Obviously, if I would have had reason to believe that earlier I would have had them higher, but those two kids are big time difference-makers.”
Draft prospect David Reinbacher
Team: EHC Kloten (Swiss National League)
Defense Shoots: Right
Height/weight: 6-2, 185
2022-23 stats: 40 games, 3 goals, 21 points
Peters’ take: “He is productive. He skates really well. He does a lot of things. I think he’s probably the most easily projectable guy. There’s a lot of Moritz Seider-esque elements to his game and similar to Seider, there’s just not a lot of precedent for the kind of player that he is in the league that he’s in. You don’t normally see a 17-year-old defenseman playing in the Swiss NLA and playing top-four minutes and producing. Reinbacher already has more points than any defenseman has ever had in that league.
“Seider (DEL) was a similar thing. How do we gauge that because we don’t have a lot of guys that were defenseman in the German Elite League so we didn’t really know exactly what he was. And also, he was playing in low level World Junior events, which is where I kind of bought into him because he was so much better than everybody at that level.
“Unfortunately, for David Reinbacher, his team was in the top level of World Juniors, and unless they were playing Germany or Latvia, you couldn’t notice him because his team never had the puck. You have to try to figure out on your own, based on what you’re seeing, is that enough? Is what he’s doing in the Swiss League big time? I think it is. I think what he has done is pretty special.
“What I would say is that once you get past seven or eight, or maybe even 10, we go from talking about this draft as this amazing draft to it just being like every other draft. The quality of this draft is based on the top four guys more than anything else, but then Smith, Benson, Sálé and maybe Moore are guys that will be impact players.”
Top photo of actor Will Smith via Getty Images