Neutral Zone: Dvorak’s departure adds to Coyotes’ bounty of draft assets

Also inside: Scouting/development additions, keeping an eye on the waiver wire

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Christian Dvorak’s name has surfaced so regularly in trade rumors for the past three seasons that Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong felt the need to talk him through the process. In the past two and a half months alone, Armstrong said that five teams expressed significant interest in the two-way center.

“I kind of laughed and told him, ‘Listen, you need to take that as a compliment because you're wanted,’” Armstrong said. “We wouldn't be having these conversations if you weren't doing anything, but you’re a really good NHL player that can really help an NHL team. That’s why you see all these reports.’

“But at the same time, I said, ‘I’m sorry on our end because you give everything to the team, you give everything the coaches want, you play your ass off, you always do extra stuff, you’re a consummate professional, and you’re someone who wants to get better every day so it’s not fair that you see your name out there all the time.”

Armstrong wasn’t hellbent on trading Dvorak like he was with other players. Dvorak still carried a lot of value to the team and at his age (25), he will still be a valuable market asset for a few more years. Like he did with Darcy Kuemper, Armstrong set an asking price, he held firm to that price and he waited. If teams weren’t willing to pay that price, so be it, Armstrong thought. Dvorak would remain a Coyote.

Armstrong had no idea that the Carolina Hurricanes were about to revenge-offer sheet center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and he had no idea after that offer sheet went out that Montréal would come calling, even though the Canadiens had expressed previous interest. When Montréal GM Marc Bergevin did come calling, however, he was not in a position of bargaining strength. He had already lost center Phillip Danault to Los Angeles and he had made the decision to move on from Kotkaniemi because his $6.1 million contract would have thrown the Canadiens’ salary structure of out of whack for a player who had not yet proven such worth.

Bergevin desperately needed a center to maintain the appearance that his team could repeat its 2021 Cup Final run, so Armstrong took advantage of another team’s dire need to extract a high price, just as he did with Kuemper. 

When asked why he was willing to move on from an effective two-way center, Armstrong acknowledged that Dvorak’s age played a role. The Coyotes are in rebuild mode. If they are ready to compete for a playoff spot in three to four seasons, Dvorak will be in his late 20s.

“Age could play into the equation,” Armstrong said, “but I think it’s also about trying to move the club forward. There’s a point when you are having conversations with other GMs where there’s a prospect or pick available that would move the club forward so you have to say, ‘If this moves the club forward, we have to make the deal.’ And then when you look at the plans for our club in the immediate future it was a deal we had to make from that point of view, too.”

Nobody thought the Coyotes would get a first-round pick for Kuemper and they got that pick plus promising defensive prospect Conor Timmins. The ask was similar for Dvorak, and in the end, Armstrong got one of the Canadiens’ two first-round picks in the stacked 2022 draft (conditions listed below), plus Montreal’s 2024 second-round pick.

“We have been patient with all of our deals that we have tried to put together,” Armstrong said. “A little bit of it is timing — the needs of the teams at the time — and do you have what they need. Fortunately for us, we have been able to fill that need and we have been able to satisfy our ask on the other end.”

The Coyotes currently own eight selections in the first two rounds of the 2022 draft. If they choose to use all of those picks, rather than trading some, they will set an NHL record for the most picks executed in the first two rounds of any draft, per NHL Stats. And if Montréal misses the playoffs in a tough Atlantic Division, the Coyotes could have two picks among the first 16.

The picture gets even more intriguing when you extend those picks out to the top 100. Based on the projected NHL standings, the Coyotes are likely to own 10 selections in the top 100 picks of the 2022 NHL Draft (a whopping 10 percent), which is projected to be one of the top three or four drafts of the millennium.

“We’re having meetings about that and making sure we can cover all of those picks and not just make them for the sake of making picks, but make calculated picks on guys you want,” Armstrong said. “We might get to a point where we have to move picks, but I don’t think if you’re a scout you ever think there are too many.”

“One advantage we have is that all of those picks are already in place in August, way before the trade deadline and even before the season starts. Our guys have already identified players that they want to watch at tournaments and camps and games so when we’re going into rinks now, we already have our guys on our board; we’re not scrambling to put it all together. We’re doing it in August so we’ll probably be able to use a couple more picks because every time our scouts are going into a rink now they’re thinking, ‘Hey, this guy might be good to pick right here.’”

Scouting/development additions

Armstrong said the Coyotes have added Scott Pellerin and David Oliver to the pro scouting staff. Oliver will work out of New York in a part-time role, but both men’s duties will extend beyond pro scouting. Both will serve as advisors for the development staff which already includes director of player personnel Scott Walker, director of player development Mark Bell, player development coach Alex Henry, and skating coach Lars Hepso.

Pellerin, who played 536 NHL games from 1992-2004, spent the previous seven seasons as director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs after eight seasons as an assistant coach for Bridgeport (AHL). Oliver, who played nine games for the Coyotes in the 1999-2000 season, was the director of hockey operations, an assistant coach and the GM of Colorado’s AHL affiliate. He also served as Colorado's director of player development for six seasons. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach for the New York Rangers.

Waiver watching

If the Coyotes are to fill the hole created by Dvorak’s departure, a vacant spot on the blue line and add another goaltender, the waiver wire would provide some good opportunities this season with several teams in tough situations that might require exposing players that they want to keep. Armstrong confirmed that the Coyotes are still looking to add a player at all three positions.