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Intrigue at active NHL Draft started with third pick

by Adam Kimelman

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The intrigue at the 2015 NHL Draft on Friday started with the Arizona Coyotes and their approach with the No. 3 pick.

The Edmonton Oilers were locked into Erie Otters center Connor McDavid from the moment they won the NHL Draft Lottery in April, and the Buffalo Sabres were set on Boston University center Jack Eichel with the second pick.

But the options were many for the Coyotes. They could keep the pick and draft a forward. Or they could select a defenseman, possibly Boston College's Noah Hanifin, who was NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American at the position. Or they could trade the pick for the potential of more immediate help for a team that finished 29th in the NHL standings.

Coyotes general manager Don Maloney opted to keep the pick and selected Erie center Dylan Strome.

"It was a real hard draft to predict after No. 2," Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "It's always hard. This year was a little bit harder."

Maloney said the Coyotes decided early in their process that Strome, who led the Ontario Hockey League with 129 points this season, was the best option.

"Looking at our organization and what we have, it wasn't only that we really needed what we believe is a really good, skilled, playmaking center that makes others better and who's won everywhere he's went," Maloney said. "So let's say we pass on that and take a defenseman; how are we going to ever find somebody close to [Strome]? We didn't see it in the draft."

Maloney said there were some offers that were tempting, but Strome remained the better decision.

"We had two significant offers to trade it outright, that pick, and we could have, with no pick coming back," Maloney said. "We had two teams that were aggressively trying to trade up and we could trade down. ... Those were the options. But it just came back to how much we liked this player and how important we thought adding him was to our long-term plans."

The Boston Bruins, who started the draft with the 13th, 14th and 15th picks after trades earlier Friday, were one of the teams that could have been pushing to move up.

"I won't speak about individual teams that I had spoken to; I can only talk in generalities," Bruins GM Don Sweeney said. "I talked to get into that top grouping of players. Obviously, after the first two, I think it was a question of where, how quickly those defensemen went. I did try to get there and wasn't able to do so."

Once the Coyotes made their choice, that left the Toronto Maple Leafs to decide between Hanifin or a forward. They opted for London Knights center Mitchell Marner, who finished second to Strome in the OHL with 120 points.

"I just think [Marner's] IQ is exceptional," Maple Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter said. "I just think it's something that every hockey player has to be if they're going to be a star. For him to have that, to me it put him a little bit above."

Hunter said when Arizona opted for Strome rather than Hanifin he did have a moment of pause.

"You make choices and you start to split hairs when you have a kid like Hanifin who's a top prospect," Hunter said. "We made a decision to go with Mitch Marner and we're very happy with it."

The Carolina Hurricanes, with the fifth pick, wasted little time deciding Hanifin was the best fit for them.

"He's just a solid individual, very genuine, hard-working," Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said. "This is a kid that's 6-foot-3, he skates extremely well, he's still very young. He played as a 17-year-old in college against guys that are 22 and 23, so we think there's a lot of growth to his game."

Hanifin said he had a good meeting with the Hurricanes on Friday morning but wasn't sure until his name was called.

"I was prepared for anything," he said. "Coming into the draft I had no preferences and didn't expect anything to happen. There's so many possibilities. You have to go in calm and whatever team trusts you and wants you is the team I want to go to."

The Dallas Stars made Russian forward Denis Gurianov a surprising pick at No. 12. He had 25 points in 23 games with Togliatti's team in Russia's junior league and was No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top European skaters.

"We had a good feeling he might be there," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "If one or two other names happened to get thrown in there, it might have changed. We had a feeling he'd be the guy there."

Then came the Bruins, who selected Saint John Sea Dogs defenseman Jakub Zboril, Swift Current Broncos left wing Jake DeBrusk, and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds right wing Zachary Senyshyn with their three picks.

The biggest surprise was Senyshyn, who was No. 38 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

"Zachary in some people's eyes might be a bit of a jump," Sweeney said. "Our guys had really gone to work on this player. That was the one point we thought about moving back, but there were a couple of teams that had been doing the same kind of due diligence and you just don't know where that breaks and he's not there.

"I think a night like tonight when you've got three first-round choices, you've got to give a little latitude to the guys in the scouting department that really have kind of a twinkle in their eye about a player. I think all three players have that, but in reference to what people have identified that maybe we jumped a little bit on Senyshyn, to me it speaks to the confidence you're going to have to have in your scouts."

The New York Islanders surprisingly traded prospect defenseman Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers to move to No. 16, where they selected Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal. It was one of eight trades made.

"If you told me at the start of the day I'd be an Islander, I wouldn't have believed you," Barzal said.

New York, which did not have a first-round pick entering Friday, later traded with the Tampa Bay Lightning for No. 28 and selected Shawinigan Cataractes left wing Anthony Beauvillier.

At No. 22, the Washington Capitals drafted goaltender Ilya Samsonov. It was the first time a goaltender was picked in the first round since 2012.

The final surprise of the night came at No. 30, when the Coyotes chose Kelowna Rockets forward Nicholas Merkley.

"I love that kid," Maloney said. "He's the way the game is being played for a smaller player: quick, compete, can score. ... Was I surprised [he was available]? Yeah I was surprised. Thought he'd be going in the teens for sure."


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