BUFFALO -- The last time the Arizona Coyotes owned a top-five pick in the NHL Draft was eight years ago when center Kyle Turris was chosen third in 2007 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, who was serving as GM at the time Turris was drafted, enters the 2015 NHL Draft, to be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., with the No. 3 pick once again. Despite what many scouts claim to be as deep a prospect pool as there has been in some time, Maloney said he remains open-minded with regard to the No. 3 choice.
"There's a couple of defensemen we really like, some centermen and some dynamic wingers, but we have all kinds of options," Maloney said. "I'm not locked into anything. We do have holes to fill on our roster next season, so if we can fill a hole and get a relatively high pick in return, that's an option."
The Coyotes might take Noah Hanifin with the third pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo: Jon Quackenbos/Boston College)
Many anticipate Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel will go Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, so Maloney and his staff will dictate the next wave of talent to go off the draft board. They'll retrieve as much information as possible during the six-day NHL Scouting Combine this week at First Niagara Center and HarborCenter to aide in that key decision.
"It's fairly clear which two players will be selected at the top, but then the intrigue starts at No. 3," Maloney said.
The Coyotes have basically been in reset mode since late in the regular season when Maloney traded his two top offensive threats in center Antoine Vermette to the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 28 and defenseman Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers on March 1.
In return for Vermette, Maloney received a 2015 first-round pick and defense prospect Klas Dahlbeck. In return for Yandle, the Coyotes received a 2015 second-round pick, a 2016 first-round pick, forward Anthony Duclair and defenseman John Moore. At the time of the Yandle trade, Maloney said that the organization was "gaining assets that in 3-5 years will put us in position to win the Stanley Cup."
He still believes that. Adding pieces at the 2015 draft will go a long way in helping bolster that belief. The Coyotes have six picks in the first three rounds.
"We could use help in a lot of areas, so we're not locked into that we have to draft this position or that position; as we continue our evaluation it's all about who has the highest upside," Maloney said.
Arizona finished with the second-lowest point total (56) in the NHL in 2014-15 but fell to No. 3 in the order after the Edmonton Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery. The Buffalo Sabres have the No. 2 pick.
"My expectations were very low [at the draft lottery], but we'll be getting the ball rolling come draft time because everyone kind of knows who will be Nos. 1 and 2," Maloney said. "I'm excited about the possibility of taking the pick or if there's something else that can help us."
Rounding out the top-six North American prospects on Central Scouting's final ranking release were No. 3 defenseman Noah Hanifin of Boston College in Hockey East, No. 4 center Dylan Strome of Erie (Ontario Hockey League), No. 5 left wing Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), and No. 6 center Mitchell Marner of the London Knights (OHL).
"Noah Hanifin is a terrific-looking prospect, he's strong and a great skater," Maloney said. "He has good instincts and can move the puck well. McDavid and Eichel have the potential to be special and fun to watch in the years ahead, but that's not to say that the next group of players, four, five, six years down the road, won't begin to emerge.
"(University of Michigan defenseman) Zach Werenski is another smart defenseman in this draft class, but to me after the top two players, the rest of the draft class will involve development," Maloney said.
He said there's always the potential for a draft pick to wow the organization in training camp and earn a roster spot, but knows the odds of that happening are slim.
"We're not expecting our pick or any of the players we pick [in the 2015 draft] as coming right into our roster and being difference-makers next season," Maloney said.
One player Maloney said he and scouts saw plenty of this season was Marner. Two of the Coyotes' top prospects, forwards Max Domi (2013, No. 12) and Christian Dvorak (2014, No. 58), also played for London, so whenever his staff went to review the players in their system, Marner was also in the mix.
Does the fact Marner has a familiarity with Domi and Dvorak make him a more viable option at No. 3?
"Mitch is a dynamic player, but we really don't put a ton of stock [in playing together] because you just don't know down the road," Maloney said. "You have to assess players on their own merit, but Marner is a terrific talent. It's unfortunate that he hurt his shoulder in the [OHL] playoffs because it would have been interesting to see him against Erie had he remained healthy.
"[Marner] is one of those smaller players (5-foot-11, 160 pounds), but like a [Johnny] Gaudreau has that special ability to create offense, and everyone is looking to find offense so he'd be a very good pick."
Maloney and Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt feel the 2015 draft class looks pretty good but the GM is always hesitant of projecting 18-year-old players. Goaltending, according to Maloney, may not be as deep as it was in previous years.
"It's tough projecting out 3-4 years," Maloney said. "Probably the one position that is not as strong is goaltending. There doesn't seem to be any hot top-end goaltender, at least in our evaluations. Everyone looks at McDavid and Eichel and says this is the greatest draft since the 1985 birth years (2003 draft). The reality is that it's strong and deep and there are some really good players, but to sit here and say there's 18 first-team all-stars is just not real.
"As we do prior to every draft we'll try and find the right player for our organization; I'm confident we will."