The Arizona Coyotes may be enduring another tough season, but their bright future will be on full display tonight in Montreal when the United States and Canada play for gold at the World Juniors.
The Coyotes have a key player on each team. For USA, it’s center Clayton Keller, the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft. For Canada, it’s center Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Both players are among the tournament leaders in scoring, each with three goals and seven assists in six games.
In the last few years, the Coyotes have also drafted the likes of Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, and Jakob Chychrun, while adding a number of youngsters via trade in Tobias Rieder, Anthony Duclair, Anthony DeAngelo, and Lawson Crouse.
“In my opinion, the organization has never had this level of talent before at this level, so the future is certainly bright,” GM John Chayka said this past summer, via the Coyotes’ website.
Of course, there is still the matter of translating all that talent into success at the NHL level. The Coyotes aren’t the only team with a bumper crop of prospects. For the years of losing to be worthwhile, it will all have to come together in the next couple of seasons. And let’s face it, that’s the toughest part of any rebuild. The first part — tearing it down and being intentionally bad — is relatively easy.
But with centers like Strome, Keller and Dvorak in the organization, the Coyotes have a great chance to be successful. At the very least, they have a promising succession plan for Martin Hanzal, who’s likely to be traded before the deadline.
As for the back end, that very much remains a work in progress. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is only locked up through 2018-19, and you can bet he’ll want to see the team make progress before he considers re-signing.
But the Coyotes did draft Chychrun 16th overall in June, and the fact he’s been able to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old is encouraging. DeAngelo, the 19th overall pick in 2014, was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, and though he needs to start acting with more discipline, he’s produced a decent amount of offense for a 21-year-old d-man, with three goals and six assists in 20 games this season.
The Coyotes may still need to upgrade their defense further, and that’s never easy or cheap. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.
The goaltending has also been inconsistent, and Mike Smith turns 35 in March. That’s another problem for Chayka to solve.
But Coyotes fans should enjoy tonight’s big game in Montreal. One of Keller or Strome is guaranteed to win gold, and silver for the other isn’t too shabby either.