Erie's Dylan Strome. (Photo by B Wippert/Getty Images)
We know who goes first and second overall at the 2015 NHL draft, but who goes third? It will have a ripple effect on the rest of the first round.
Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel know precisely which sweaters they will don next Friday at the NHL draft in Miami. We all know. McDavid is an Edmonton Oiler to be, Eichel a Buffalo Sabre to be. We're so confident, we superimposed the respective jerseys on each prospect for our Draft Preview covers.
The suspense of next week's draft begins at No. 3 overall. The Arizona Coyotes must make a difficult choice between two or three tantalizing prospects, and what they do will set off a chain reaction beginning with the Toronto Maple Leafs one pick later.
So, which path does Desert Dogs GM Don Maloney take? There are three realistic outcomes to consider.
1. DRAFT DYLAN STROME THIRD OVERALL
Every Western Conference team needs a big center if it wants to compete at all. The adage has quickly become tiresome, but it's no less true. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Strome fits the prototype perfectly. His staunchest supporters liken him to Ryan Getzlaf or Eric Staal. He's exactly what the Coyotes need. Their NHL lineup lacked a true first-line center this season, with apologies to Sam Gagner, and their top forward prospects are primarily wingers, from Max Domi to Anthony Duclair to Brendan Perlini. Strome would join Christian Dvorak to give Arizona a promising tandem of pivots.
Strome makes the most sense for 'Zona based on team need and is thus the most likely choice at No. 3. That means the Leafs must prepare for life without him. Would they pick NCAA defenseman Noah Hanifin, a consensus top-four prospect, fourth overall? The problem is WHL blueliner Ivan Provorov has continuously climbed draft boards, with college star Zach Werenski not far behind. If the Leafs don't see a distinct difference in that trio, it might make sense to trade down a few slots. And if Toronto is dead-set on a forward instead of a defenseman, it makes even more sense to trade down, as Mitch Marner, Lawson Crouse, Pavel Zacha, Mikko Rantanen and Mathew Barzal, to name a few, are lumped together in one tier.
2. DRAFT NOAH HANIFIN THIRD OVERALL
Hanifin's upside as an all-around horse in the Ryan Suter mold may be too great for Arizona to pass up, even if it needs a center. Maybe the Coyotes like the idea of Hanifin and Oliver Ekman-Larsson manning their blueline for years to come.
The Leafs almost certainly take Strome fourth in that case, and the first round would play out "cleaner." Carolina at No. 5 could take a D-man for the second straight year and go Provorov or Werenski, or it could land the big winger it needs in Crouse. New Jersey, loaded on 'D' and starved for a dynamic offensive force, seems like a perfect destination for shifty London Knight right winger Marner. If the Leafs don't get Strome, they wouldn't be a lock to take Hanifin, and that would send the rest of round 1 into disarray. They'd be bananas not to go Strome if he's there at No. 4, though.
3. TRADE THE THIRD OVERALL PICK
Why do it? The Coyotes have the pieces in place for a proper from-stratch rebuild, so it would seem counterproductive to abandon their plum draft slot. Still, Maloney said he's already gotten calls about the pick and that he's "open for business," albeit his asking price is "first born."
Dealing the pick puts another team in the driver's seat and sets up the same Strome-or-Hanifin dilemma. So it really appears the Coyotes, more than any other team, have the ability to shake up round 1 next Friday night.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin