GLENDALE -- It might be the off-season, but it sure didn't feel like it on Friday evening.
Hockey fans from across the Valley packed into Gila River Arena for an eventful night that saw the Desert Dogs unveil their new uniforms while also making two first-round draft selections.
The new-look jerseys were met with approval from the audience as Connor Murphy, Max Domi, Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak modeled them on stage.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
At that point, the draft began and the drama started. Not with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, of course. Those both went according to script, as Edmonton somehow took a few minutes before selecting Connor McDavid and Buffalo quickly scooped up Jack Eichel. Holding the third pick in a year when the top two choices have been known for eight months, the Coyotes essentially controlled the draft.
There was an audible pause among the crowd as the TV broadcast flashed a "trade alert" on the screen, but that was referencing a deal between the Sabres and Avalanche. Despite numerous rumors of teams looking to make a deal with Arizona and slide into that No. 3 spot, the Coyotes stayed put and took Dylan Strome from Erie of the Ontario Hockey League.
It's a pick that works on many levels for this team - as well as one that reiterates the club's stance of making the right decisions for the future. Strome led the entire OHL with 129 points in 68 games this past season, and that's just not something you do by accident. Maybe more importantly, he posted 18 goals and 17 assists in the 21 games that McDavid - his teammate with the Otters - missed.
The Desert Dogs were looking to add more offense, and they got it.
On top of his scoring touch, the simple fact that Strome stands 6-foot-3 and plays center put Arizona in an enviable position of being able to select the best player on the board while also addressing needs. The Coyotes have a very strong core of up-and-coming forward prospects in the system, but they didn't have anyone quite like Strome until tonight.
Judging by the reaction of the audience when the pick was announced, Strome was certainly the fan's choice. In today's Western Conference, a big pivot who can make things happen is an absolute necessity. And the possibility of lining him up alongside someone like Domi, Perlini or
Anthony Duclair in the future should make for some entertaining hockey.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
Of course, there were other strong options available when the Coyotes selected Strome, but the key here is upside. It's possible to acquire big, physical defensemen through free agency or trades - or even later in a draft where Arizona holds six of the first 81 picks. Maybe not easy, but possible. If Strome becomes the player that many scouts believe he will at the NHL level though, he's the sort of player you simply can't acquire through free agency or a deal.
Teams don't let guys like that go. You have to draft them.
Following the selection, there was a video tribute to the fans from many of the current Coyotes. Team president Anthony LeBlanc then got the crowd fired up again, voicing his excitement for next season and thanking everyone for their support.
Fans got to meet Murphy, Domi, Perlini and Dvorak at the selfie station, and there was also a concert featuring Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. At one point, Howler played the drums.
In all, a pretty great night for the Desert Dogs and the hockey community in Arizona. The fan turnout was impressive, and they got to enjoy one last selection by the Coyotes late in the evening, as the team closed out the first round of the draft by grabbing Nick Merkley.
The gifted winger led the Kelowna Rockets with 90 points in 70 games this past season, coming in at No. 15 overall in The Hockey News' pre-draft rankings and No. 23 overall on Central Scouting's final list. In other words, a pretty good value for the final pick of the night.