GLENDALE, Ariz. – If you are conditioned to viewing pro sports leagues’ drafts through an NFL or NBA lens, it’s easy to get caught up in the quandary of drafting for need versus drafting the best available player.
In the National Hockey League, that really isn’t a problem. So when you assess the Coyotes’ roster this weekend and think, “Wow, they sure need some centers and scoring wings,’ in Sunday’s NHL Draft in New York, keep this in mind.
“The reality of the draft is that you’re drafting for three to four years out in a best-case scenario,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.
In the salary-cap age, that makes drafting for need almost impossible.
“There are always exceptions, especially if you’re picking one of the top few players,” assistant GM Brad Treliving added. “But it is dangerous to say you should draft for need because, by the time those players are ready to be NHL players, your needs may have changed.”
That’s not to say the draft isn’t fraught with challenges. In some ways, it is the most difficult draft for scouts and managers because the age (17) at which players are eligible to be drafts adds uncertainty to projections, and the limited number of rounds magnifies mistakes versus Major League Baseball’s 40 rounds (plus compensatory picks). NBA teams can’t draft players until they are 19 (in the draft’s calendar year), and NFL teams can’t draft players until they are three years removed from high school (with some exceptions).
“You might see a young phenom at age 17, and he looks like the sun and the stars, and then at 20, all of the sudden everybody else has gotten bigger and stronger, too,” Maloney said. “I think you’d see a lot fewer mistakes in a 19-year old draft because you’d have two more years of maturity to judge.”
Without that body of work, scouts and managers rely on all sorts of metrics as well as the good ol’ eyeball test when gauging a player’s potential.
“We spend a lot of time predicting where a player can get to from a physical standpoint,” Treliving said. “What will his frame allow? What do his father and mother and brothers and sisters look like? What is his ceiling?
“You have a long history of comparables you can use, but you’re also predicting what type of player he’ll be. If it’s a physical defenseman, that’s tough to judge when he weighs 170 pounds. If it’s a quick center, that’s another thing, but it’s far from a 100 percent scientific predictor.”
That said, when it comes time for the Coyotes to select at No. 12 on Sunday, the team would still prefer to add a piece up front, according to Maloney.
“We could use some creativity in the middle, and what I’ve found the last few years is that if you don’t have centermen, it’s very hard to acquire them, so you should look to draft them, all things being equal,” he said. “But we’re not going to take a third-line player if a second pairing defenseman is there.”
Aiding the Coyotes’ cause this year is the widespread belief that this draft is as deep as most analysts have seen since the 2003 draft, when Dustin Brown went at No. 13, Zach Parise at No. 17 and Ryan Getzlaf at No. 19.
“Of course you have the first five or six players who look like elite guys, but the difference beyond that first grouping is that this draft is two-plus rounds deep,” said Treliving, adding that the only position he’s not sure about is goaltender. “You could have 30 different lists with 30 different teams.”
And as far as finding that long-elusive center the Coyotes have been seeking since Jeremy Roenick departed …
“There are some very good players through the 20s,” Maloney said. “It’s to the point where people think that if you make the right pick, you might get a front-line player.”