With eight picks to bargain with Saturday in the NHL draft, the Coyotes were hoping to improve their positioning at the top of the first round. They were unable to find a partner for such a deal but ended up with the next best thing — a player ranked high on their board and a second first-round choice.
Phoenix selected playmaking center Peter Mueller from Everett of the Western Hockey League at No. 8 and then acquired Detroit’s top pick, choosing versatile defenseman Chris Summers, who is headed to the University of Michigan this fall, at No. 29.
It is the first time the Coyotes have had two first-round picks since 2002 when they took Jakub Koreis at No. 11 and Ben Eager at No. 23.
“We didn’t think either would be there when we were picking with our first two picks,” said a very pleased general manager Mike Barnett, who indicated Mueller was in
the top six on Phoenix’s draft board and said Summers was ranked in the low teens.
“I would liken it to the way the Cardinals felt when Matt Leinart was there.”
“We talked to almost every team to move up to the top echelon of the draft,” coach and managing partner Wayne Gretzky said. “We would have loved to be one (Erik Johnson). We would have loved to be two (Jordan Staal). We tried to get to number five (Phil Kessel) . . . But we’re thrilled with the player we got at No. 8.”
Mueller said he didn’t have any expectations as to where he might go but was thrilled when Gretzky announced Phoenix’s selection.
“(I was) very excited and very nervous,” said Mueller, who has an aunt and uncle who live in Mesa. “I couldn’t even say thank you because I was so shocked that he was up there calling my name.”
Mueller, considered one of the top playmakers in the draft, is a power-play specialist and an established scorer. He tallied 26 goals and 32 assists in 52 games for Everett in 2005-06 and was named the WHL rookie of the year.
The native of Bloomington, Minn., ranks fourth all-time in points for the U.S. National Development Training Program with 122 in 124 games and also is considered a solid defensive player.
Growing up, he played alongside Johnson and was a high school teammate of Blake Wheeler, Phoenix’s top pick in 2004. Mueller originally committed to the University of Minnesota, where he again would have been a teammate of Wheeler’s, before opting to play in the WHL instead.
“I wanted to be taught like a pro under a pro coach,” said Mueller, a free spirit who lists Bob Marley among the three people he would most like to have dinner with. “Kevin Constantine (who was a head coach in the NHL with San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey), I give him a bunch of credit. He taught me how to play defense, be a two-way player.”
Barnett said the Coyotes would evaluate Mueller at their rookie conditioning camp in July before deciding whether to sign him this summer or have him play another season in the WHL.
To get Summers, the Coyotes dealt their two secondround picks, Nos. 41 and 47, to Detroit for the Red Wings’ first- and fifth-round picks (152).
“He’s one of the tremendous skaters that was available in the draft,” Gretzky said. “He’s extremely physical and he’s very tough.”
Summers, who also played forward this past season, said he feels he is two to three years away from turning pro and acknowledged he must work on his puck-handling skills to make it to the NHL. Summers was ranked as high as 34 and as low as 47 by the scouting services, but the Coyotes said he made a big impression during the interview process at the draft combine earlier this month in Toronto. They tried to trade up as high as 19 to select him.
“I was just being myself,” Summers said.
Phoenix made two other trades, dealing its two fourthround picks (Nos. 115 and 119) to the New York Islanders for their third-round choice (No. 88) and their sixth-round selection (No. 161) to Toronto for two seventh-rounders (Nos. 188 and 196).
With its six other selections, the Coyotes chose three other defensemen (Johas Ahnelov at 88, Jordan Bendfeld at 152 and Chris Frank at 188), a goalie (Brett Bennett at 130) and two forwards (Martin Latal at 131 and Benn Ferriero at 196).
Gretzky said the Coyotes also had talks involving NHL players Saturday and that those would likely continue this week.