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Coyotes Ready for Busy Weekend at NHL Draft

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – As it stands, only a handful of teams have more picks in this weekend’s NHL Draft than the Coyotes.

With eight selections in pocket, Tim Bernhardt, who took over as Director of Amateur Scouting in 2014, and his staff will be busy in Buffalo, as they were at the past two drafts when they snatched nine players each year. Among its eight picks this year, Arizona is slated to make two in the first round at No. 7 and No. 20 overall, barring a trade or trades.

Tim Bernhardt

“We’ve been prepared for a while now,” Bernhardt said. “There’ve been a few tweaks but nothing too serious. Once the games are over, you give yourself a few weeks to think things over and then we had our meetings. After that, you give yourself a couple more weeks and then the Scouting Combine comes and goes and you do some background work. We’ve done that. We’ve been ready and prepared for a week or two now.”

The first three players selected in this year’s Draft are expected to be forwards Auston Matthews (by Toronto), Patrick Laine (by Winnipeg) and Jesse Puljujarvi (by Columbus). After that, things become less clear.

“Most people have Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi as the top three, and that’s probably the way it’s going to go,” Bernhardt said. “Then there is a group of 10-12 guys who are very close. I think a couple of guys, Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc DuBois, have established themselves at the top of the draft, but I think it will vary from team to team. It’s a pretty good draft as far as depth goes, especially through the first round.”

He added, “This draft is deep enough that there will be some good players available at No. 20. It’s always good to have two first-round picks and this year is a really good year to have them.”

General Manager John Chayka agrees that there are more than just three outstanding players available in the first round.

“We believe it’s much deeper than that," Chayka said. "We feel confident at picks No. 7 and 20 that we’re going to get to very important players for our organization moving forward, if we do end up keeping both of those picks in those spots.”

The Coyotes have drafted 13 forwards, three defensemen and two goalies on Bernhardt’s watch, and pundits are suggesting Arizona likely will be looking to add more depth in the defensive zone this year.

“I would say that on paper that is certainly what the situation is, but that’s where you make mistakes - if you don’t take the best player available,” Bernhardt said. “Nobody is going to remember in five years from now if you let a good forward go by you to take a defenseman that turns out to be OK but not as impactful as the forward that maybe you could have had. So, our philosophy going in is not going to change too much. We will take the best player available, and as the draft moves on and when it’s close, defense is definitely an area that we’ll want to shore up.”

Experts also are predicting a banner year for American-born players at this draft with as many as 12 being taken in the first round.

Bernhardt agrees.

“It’s definitely a very good year for American-born players,” Bernhardt said. “Auston Matthews leads that group but there are a lot of good Americans in this draft, and as you move forward every year there are more and more coming from places that are unexpected. It’s a good sign for the game and good for hockey for sure.”

The NHL Draft is set for Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7) at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The second day, which features less fanfare and much less time between picks, is when Bernhardt and his staff will have to hustle looking for quality players in the second round and beyond.

“I think they’re exceptionally prepared,” Chayka said of the scouting staff. “I think our staff’s view on (Day 2) is you can ‘win’ or ‘lose’ a draft in those areas. As much as we’ve placed an emphasis on and looked at the first round, we’re treating the seventh round the same.”

Bernhardt knows there are diamonds to be found in the rough beyond the first 30 picks.

“You don’t have to look any further than (second-rounders) Christian Dvorak, Ryan MacInnis, Christian Fischer and (fifth-rounder) Conor Garland,” Bernhardt said. “These are the type of players we hope to continue to add after the first round, and if we do that it will just make the depth of our organization that much better and give us more options. We want to build that depth up because depth wins. You saw that with Pittsburgh this season. As much as their big stars were big players for them, I really think it was their depth that keyed their success. We want to build that depth up and the way to do it is on the second day of the draft and hitting on some players.”

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