What looked like was going to be a quiet 2020 Draft for the Coyotes ended up being anything but as the team made a controversial pick that brought a ton of negative criticism their way.
Arizona would not be picking until the fourth-round due to losing its first-and third-round picks in trades and the team’s second-rounder after violating draft scouting rules. New General Manager Bill Armstrong dangled many of the Coyotes veterans in an attempt to possibly pick earlier and to help the franchise deal with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the only two that seemed to gain any traction were goalie Darcy Kuemper and team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Nothing ended up happening, especially with OEL only waiving his no-trade clause for two teams, Boston or Vancouver, and the Coyotes didn’t end up picking until mid-way day two of the 2020 Draft. Armstrong and some of his newly hired scouting staff weren’t allowed to participate in the draft due to agreements with their prior clubs, so assistant GM Steve Sullivan along with the new Associate Director of Amateur Scouting Ryan Jankowski took the helm for the day.
You’ve probably heard by now, but the Coyotes drafted defenseman Mitchell Miller with their first pick of the draft, fourth-round, 111th overall. While Miller does a lot of good things on the ice, he came with an ugly past. Once again, you’ve most likely read about it by now, but he abused and bullied a developmentally disabled Black classmate for years with one particularly horrendous incident when Miller was 14 landing him in court. You can read about it here from Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade who was the first to report on it. Not really a secret, the racism/bullying/assault case was known going into the draft. Elite Prospects reached out to several NHL sources before the draft and found that many teams had left Miller off their draft boards entirely. In a piece written by J.D. Burke, the site’s editor, “there is a commonly held view among everyone within this segment of the league that Miller’s camp hasn’t been forthright in addressing their off-the-ice concerns, and when they have, that Miller has not interviewed well.” Burke made several attempts to connect with Miller’s camp for comment and was rebuked each time.
“Not going to draft him,” one Western Conference executive told Elite Prospects. “I think there’s a good chance nobody drafts him.”
Reportedly the Coyotes were one of those teams. So, what changed? A thought and this is just MY opinion, with no picks in the first three rounds and arguable a second-round talent sitting there in the fourth-round it was too much for Arizona to pass. Even though it got a little press after the draft, everything seemed quiet, and for a few weeks, Miller was a Coyote prospect who was preparing for his freshman year of college hockey at the University of North Dakota. I even wrote up a prospect profile for him at DobberProspects.
That all changed early last week when the Arizona Republic ran a story recounting Miller’s ugly past. It blew up on social media big time and while the Coyotes originally stood by their draft pick, the criticism grew larger and larger as the week went on. With revelations that Miller never even apologized to the victim and a letter that the victim’s mother wrote to the Coyotes coming out, Arizona finally did the smart, along with the RIGHT thing and renounced their rights to the draft pick. The story got so big TMZ even reported on it. The whole thing looked bad on the NHL and especially Arizona. The league has taken criticism recently for not doing more about racism in the sport and over the summer formed an Executive Inclusion Council. The group’s focus is on combating racism and fostering diversity in the sport. One member of this group is Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, who originally came out in support of Arizona’s selection of Miller.
Miller is currently at the University of North Dakota, attending classes where he was getting ready for the 2020-21 season. He’s since also been removed from playing for that team late last week.
Trying now to move on from the Miller selection, let us look at the other four-player the Coyotes drafted at the 2020 NHL Draft who have a chance of possibly being part of their future.
Fifth-round: 142nd overall, Carson Bantle / LW
Heading into the fifth-round, teams tend to go after projects and Bantle fits that mantra, with some boom or bust appeal to him. Never drafted into the USHL after a couple of years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, he made the Madison Capitols on a tryout. Bantle had a so-so rookie season but then exploded last year. He finished 12th in USHL scoring with 20 goals and 49 points in 49 games. At 6-4 and over 200 lbs, Bantle has all the making of a prototypical power forward. He looked like a man among boys at times last year, using his size and skill to completely dominate. Barreling down the wing, defenders just bounced off him. Bantle has good hands for a big man, is a strong stickhandler in tight and has a hard, accurate shot. His skating isn’t bad but Bantle’s technique and stride will have to improve to make it at the next level. Lacks that first-step explosion and top gear but still succeeded in the USHL due to his size and skill. If Bantle can clean up his skating deficiencies he has some big-time appeal. He’ll have plenty of time to work on it too as he’s attending Michigan Tech, awaiting the 2020-21 season to start.
Sixth-round: 172nd overall, Filip Barklund/ C/LW
The 6-0, 168 lbs Barklund is a two-way forward that can play center or wing. The majority of last year was spent with the Orebro HK organization, playing his most games in the J20 SuperElit league. A playmaker more than a scorer, Barklund had nine goals and 30 points in 43 games. Those aren’t bad totals considering he was just 17 playing against mostly 18-19-year-olds. So far this season, Barklund who is an alternate captain, has 16 points in 18 games, with just one goal though. He’s an excellent skater whose motor and drive really stick out when watching him. Barklund has appeared in one SHL game for Orebro HK also this campaign, going scoreless.
Seventh-round: 192nd overall, Elliot Ekefjard/ RW
After the draft, GM Armstrong talked about how one of his Swedish scouts pushed hard for a certain player. I am guessing that player is Ekefjard since the Coyotes swapped their 2021 seventh-round pick to New Jersey to get the 192nd pick to select him. He’s a tough player to find info on but I can tell you Ekefjard is a big man, 6-4 and 216 lbs. He’s a right-wing who’s put up some decent numbers, pretty much a point-per-game since he was 16. Last year in the IF Bjorkloven organization, split between three leagues he had 46 goals and 25 assists in 50 games. This year playing for the Malmo Redhawks in the J20 Nationell league, Ekefjard has six goals and 12 points in 13 games. How good of a skater is he? How much of that production is because he’s just so much bigger than everybody? If he’s that good, why isn’t Ekefjard in the SHL? I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions but he’s definitely an interesting seventh-round pick who could be a hidden gem.
Seventh-round: 204th overall, Ben McCartney/ LW
The Coyotes always seem to grab interesting seventh-round picks and McCartney is another one I personally like. He’s a throwback type of player: good team guy, gritty, in-your-face not afraid to drop the gloves with some decent talent thrown in. He wasn’t drafted last year but after scoring at a point-per-game this past season, McCartney gathered more interest. Playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings the last three years, his 61 points were good for second on the team in 2019-20. McCartney’s 105 penalty minutes led the team and were also second overall in the WHL. (Random rant here but wow has hockey changed. I mean 15 years ago 105 PIM’s wouldn’t have even been top 10 on his own team in the WHL.) Not surprisingly he’s not a perfect player as McCartney’s skating and general foot speed is not good and will have to improve to make it at the next level. I’m not sure he’ll make the NHL, but McCartney has that minor league fan-favourite feel to him. Also, if you were curious after extensive research, I have found that Ben is no relation to Paul McCartney of the Beatles.
Incoming: John Hayden, Tyler Pitlick, Johan Larsson, Dryden Hunt
Outgoing: Taylor Hall, Michael Grabner, Vinny Hinostroza, Carl Soderberg, Brad Richardson, Merrick Madsen, Dane Birks, Beau Bennett, Jalen Smereck, Robbie Russo, Markus Hannikainen
Losing Taylor Hall hurts, no way around it. The Coyotes gave up a lot to get him and even though he wasn’t hugely successful with the team Hall brought a superstar element to the lineup that they have not had in years and will be missed for sure. I have no idea how they would have afforded him anyway since they are still amazingly near the salary cap ceiling but it nevertheless hurts. They also moved on from some veteran fan favorites in Graber and Richardson. GM Armstrong has talked about how he wants the Coyotes to be a bigger and harder team to play against which with the new players he signed this offseason might accomplish that. I just don’t think he improved a team that had things played out as normal last year probably would have missed the playoffs.
Some prospects could get a solid chance this year with spots opening. Number one Barrett Hayton is expected to see a bigger role than last season. Last year with Arizona pushing for the playoffs, Hayton found himself a frequent healthy scratch. I don’t think they’ll be very good this season so Hayton should see more playing time and with him currently playing in Finland he’ll be ready for a bigger role when the NHL starts back up. The Coyotes signed both Kyle Capobianco and Adin Hill to one-way contracts so they should get a shot but at the same time, they’re behind many players on the depth chart. Capobianco is currently sitting at number eight on the defenseman depth chart and Hill at number three behind Kuemper and Antti Raanta. I like the long-term potential of Capobianco but he probably starts as a depth piece but moves up as the year goes along. I’m big fans of Brayden Burke and Lane Pederson and think they’ll push for spots but they’ll be competing with newcomers Pitlick, Hayden and Hunt for depth roles. Burke plays a remarkably similar style to current Coyote Conor Garland, so like Capobianco he starts as a depth player but works his way up. A dark horse is Matias Maccelli who could force a top-six role to replace some of the offence lost by Hall but the Coyotes don’t want to rush him so I’m not sure we’ll see that happen.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there. Feel free to follow me on Twitter