It is far too early to tell how the 2020 NHL draft class is going to pan out, but the Arizona Coyotes are already looking like one of the biggest losers.
After being docked multiple draft picks (2020 second-round pick; 2021 first-round pick) for scouting combine violations, the Coyotes used their first selection this year (No. 111 overall) on defenseman Mitchell Miller.
That pick is now coming under fire after it was revealed that Miller had “admitted to bullying an African American classmate with developmental disabilities” four years ago.
That incident was detailed in a graphic story published in Monday’s Arizona Republic (Read the full story here) that included an interview with the student that was on the receiving end of Miller’s treatment.
That treatment included racial slurs and extreme bullying. The incident detailed in the story included Miller and another student forcing the victim, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, to eat candy that had been placed in a urinal, while a police report indicated they also pushed and punched him.
The victim’s mother said that at the time he had the mental ability of a 10-year-old.
Miller and the other student were sentenced to 25 hours of community service for the misdemeanors, ordered to write an apology, participate in counseling and pay court costs.
The victim’s mother said that while the other bully broke down in tears while personally apologizing to her son, Mitchell never personally apologized.
He did send letters to all 31 NHL teams prior to the draft acknowledging his behavior and apologizing to them.
The pick itself is enough to warrant criticism just based on the circumstances, especially since several NHL teams were reported to have removed Miller from their draft boards entirely due to concerns over the situation. What makes it even more eye-opening from the Coyotes perspective is the fact team president Xavier Gutierrez is part of the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council, a group that is supposed to be combating racism and helping to improve diversity in the sport.
The Coyotes did not make any front office personnel available for interviews for the story, but did release a statement to the Arizona Republic from Gutierrez.
That statement, via the Arizona Republic:
“Our fundamental mission is to ensure a safe environment — whether in schools, in our community, in hockey rinks, or in the workplace — to be free of bullying and racism. When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did. Instead, we felt it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution in a real way — not just saying and doing the right things ourselves but ensuring that others are too,” the statement said.
“Given our priorities on diversity and inclusion, we believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future. As an organization, we have made our expectations very clear to him. We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism. This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution.”
New Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong was not involved in the selection of Mitchell due to an agreement made with his former team — the St. Louis Blues — that allowed him to take the Coyotes job before the draft.
He also issued a statement through the Coyotes to the paper.
“The Arizona Coyotes do not condone any type of bullying behavior. I was unable to participate in this year’s draft but prior to drafting Mitchell Miller, our scouts were made aware of his history and the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 when he was 14 years old,” Armstrong said.
“Mitchell sent a letter to every NHL team acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behavior. Mitchell made a huge mistake, but we are providing him with a second chance to prove himself. We hope that he uses his platform moving forward to raise awareness about bullying and to discourage this type of behavior.”
The Coyotes did not select until the fourth-round this year due to the aforementioned draft sanctions (second-round pick), as well as trading their first-and third-round picks.
Miller was drafted out of the USHL and is set to play his college hockey at North Dakota.
UPDATE: The University of North Dakota has released a statement:
Statement from UND: pic.twitter.com/hl4975hjvB
— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) October 26, 2020
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.