By the start of next season, the Arizona Coyotes could have a line full of Canadian world junior stars.
They acquired Anthony Duclair from the New York Rangers on Sunday to complement top prospect Max Domi and will have a good chance of winning the lottery to draft Connor McDavid.
"Well, if we were playing the world juniors next year I would be pretty confident," general manager Don Maloney said. "But we’re playing against men next year."
That quip aside, the Coyotes are well on their way to a youthful rebuild after a handful of moves leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. In dealing away defencemen Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek, centre Antoine Vermette, a minor-leaguer and a couple of third-round picks, Arizona netted Duclair, a first-round pick in each of the next two drafts, a 2015 second-rounder, defenceman John Moore and prospects Klas Dahlbeck and Maxim Letunov.
The hope is that selling high on those veterans makes the Coyotes competitive again sooner rather than later.
"I certainly think it fast-tracks us back to respectability," Maloney said on a conference call. "There’s still a timeline here, but we’re excited."
Excitement should be tempered by the notion that the 2015-16 Coyotes could be just as bad as this season’s group. Even taking out the pending free agents who had to be dealt, Yandle is no small departure from the blue-line, and it’s unfair to count on Domi and Duclair to be miracle workers as NHL rookies.
But the draft is a source of hope for the Coyotes, who are on track to pick no later than fifth. Even if McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Dylan Strome are gone, they could end up with Domi’s London Knights teammate Mitchell Marner or Lawson Crouse, who also won gold for Canada at the world juniors.
Given the track of this season, which includes an ongoing nine-game losing streak, Arizona stands a good chance of getting McDavid or Eichel.
"There’s a pretty big reward being a bad team this year coming in the draft, and we know that," Maloney said. "There’s a couple of those players at the top of the draft I believe will be playing in the NHL next year."
In total, the Coyotes have two first-rounders, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in this year’s draft and two first-rounders and a second in 2016. Those aren’t guarantees of success but represent more chances to stockpile for the future.
"We’re not sitting here saying ‘Well, we have four first-round picks in the next two years and a number of seconds and thirds, that every one of those players are going to be on our roster in two years.’ That doesn’t work," Maloney said. "Generally those picks are, in the best-case scenario, two or three years out. And that’s very best-case scenario."
That leaves Domi, Duclair and other young players like forwards Lucas Lessio, Tobias Rieder and Henrik Samuelsson and defencemen Dahlbeck, Brandon Gormley and Philip Samuelsson to fill the gap for now.