After McDavid and Eichel, intrigue at the NHL draft begins with the third pick

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel locked in as the top two picks in the NHL draft to the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, the Arizona Coyotes hold the keys to the madness that could ensue Friday night.

“The draft begins with our pick at 3, and that’s when the intrigue starts,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “Do we keep the pick? Do we trade the pick for a group of younger players plus a later pick? There’s all kinds of possibilities.”

The possibilities are endless not only for the Coyotes but the rest of the top 10. In what could be the best draft since 2003, there’s a feeling that big-impact players go deep.

“It’s a great draft at the top,” Ottawa Senators assistant GM Pierre Dorion said. “Everyone knows about the No. 1 and 2 players, but then you’ve got a crop of 10, 15 guys that are going to be really good players.”

In what order after generational talents McDavid and Eichel is anyone’s guess. Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin is considered by some the next best prospect, but Erie Otters centre Dylan Strome, London Knights forward Mitchell Marner and Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ivan Provorov don’t make it easy.

Throw in Kingston Frontenacs/Canadian world junior winger Lawson Crouse and Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen and the top 10 could be topsy turvy.

“Very unpredictable,” said Ron Hextall, whose Philadelphia Flyers pick seventh. “I think they typically are, but it’s very unpredictable who’s going to go 4, 5, 6.”

One and two are no-doubters, and Hextall said “the hockey world probably has Hanifin as No. 3.” But if the Coyotes keep the third pick, they could sure use a centre like Strome for the long-term future.

“The team and the person picking third are very, very excited about the opportunity to select that next player going there as well,” Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney said on a conference call last week. “So there will be plenty of surprises below those two players that have certainly garnered and deserve all the attention that they’re getting.”

Strome is at the top of that list. The Ontario Hockey League’s leading scorer has been keeping track of the Coyotes trade rumours and is well-aware he could end up going fourth to the Toronto Maple Leafs or fifth to the Carolina Hurricanes.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Strome said Thursday. “It’s going to make for some good television, I guess. I’m going to be sweating like crazy tomorrow.”

The Mississauga, Ont., native shouldn’t be sweating too long as it’s hard to imagine him slipping even to the New Jersey Devils at No. 6.

Having the choice between Strome, Hanifin and the others is the luxury the Coyotes enjoy if they keep the third pick. Maloney believes they could get a player who’s perhaps not as big a star as McDavid but not far off.

“We’re in the driver’s seat,” Maloney said. “Do we want one of those impact defencemen, do you want the big centreman, do you want the dynamic winger? There’s options for us there that are really, really attractive.”

A trade is also a really attractive option given that the Coyotes need to fill multiple holes on their roster and in their system. Maloney has said he has multiple legitimate offers on the table, ones that could give Arizona a better chance of being competitive within the next couple of seasons.

It’s a major decision that could make a gigantic impact on the franchise and on this draft.

“Are there two or three pieces that we say, ‘You know what, this is a way to accelerate our development as a franchise?” Maloney said. “But keeping in mind that over the next four or five years we want to be where Tampa and Chicago are and really competing for a Cup.”

Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press

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