The new world of the National Hockey League begins in earnest today, when 30 teams sit down for the Entry Draft as they do every year — but they will be sitting in the same financial boat for the first time in over a decade.
Yes, some teams will get a lot closer — or right up against — the new $39 million, collectively bargained salary cap than others. But the days of teams like Detroit, Toronto, St. Louis, Philadelphia and St. Louis using their checkbooks as big erasers to wipe out drafting, trading and signing mistakes are now gone.
Player development, always a cornerstone of the success of teams like New Jersey, Ottawa and the reigning champions in Tampa Bay, will be even more important. Whether it means stocking their teams or collecting assets for trades, adding to and cultivating the farm system will be all-important.
To that end, the Phoenix Coyotes have revamped their scouting system during the lockout and hope to improve what has been a spotty player development track record. After vice president of scouting Dave Draper retired last winter, the Coyotes did not renew the contract of amateur scouting director Vaughn Karpan, who had been with the organization for 12 years, dating back to the days of the Winnipeg Jets. Scout Shane Churla left for the Dallas Stars.
The Coyotes promoted pro scout Tom Kurvers, brought in Nashville former assistant scouting director Greg Royce and longtime NHL player, Rich Sutter. Kurvers, a former Hobie Baker Award winner who spent 11 seasons in the NHL, has been in the Coyotes organization since 1997 as a broadcaster and scout and is one of the few remaining hockey department holdovers from the days of former owner Richard Burke and former general manager Bobby Smith.
A smart, savvy hockey man who is respected around the league, Kurvers feels he’s ready for his new challenge.
"I’ve got a great staff and you have to trust their knowledge and instincts in such an inexact science as scouting,’’ Kurvers said. "It takes time to go from a person who watches games to a person who watches players and can isolate on what’s important. We have a good group of people with those skills.’’
The task will be to produce more forwards like Teemu Selanne (10th in 1988), Keith Tkachuk (19th overall pick in 1990), Shane Doan (seventh in 1995) and Daniel Briere (24th in 1996), more defensemen like Fredrik Olausson (81st in 1985), Teppo Numminen (29th in 1986) and Ossi Vaananen (43rd in 1998) and more goalies like Nikolai Khabibulin (204th in 1992) and Robert Esche (139th in 1996).
Right now, the Coyotes don’t have a sure-fire, Doan-like forward or a can’t-miss, Numminen-clone defenseman in their farm system. Goalie David LeNeveu (46th in 2002) has earned those type of plaudits and could reach Glendale Arena as soon as this season — hoping to succeed where the last goalie-in-waiting, Patrick DesRochers (14th in 1998), fell short.
"This team has drafted a lot of good players, players who have helped Phoenix and players the organization used to bolster other areas,’’ Kurvers said. "The first three years the team was in Phoenix, they lost two seven-game playoff series (to Anaheim and St. Louis) and had Detroit on the ropes the year they won the Cup. When your organization is strong at the NHL level and strong at the minor league level, you have a lot of weapons to work with. That’s our goal, to be strong throughout.’’
It will be difficult for the Coyotes to do a lot of heavy lifting today in Ottawa. For the second time in the last three years, Phoenix won’t be a major player in the draft. They have the No. 17 overall pick — which will likely land them a player who will quickly move into their top 10 prospects — but don’t pick again until the fourth round (No. 105).
In 2003, with perhaps the richest pool of first-round players in a decade, the Coyotes didn’t have a pick among the top 76 players and only three in the first 177. While names like Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh), Eric Staal (Carolina), Ryan Suter (Nashville), Zach Parise (New Jersey), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (Philadelphia), were snapped up, Phoenix could only watch.
The team’s first pick in that draft, former Western Hockey League scoring champ Tyler Redenbach, was not signed by the team and will be available again today to any team.
Phoenix bounced back strong last year, with teen scoring machine Blake Wheeler and stout defenseman Logan Stephenson leading a group that could yield as many as five future NHL players. And the trades that cost Phoenix its second-and third-round picks today brought young, explosive defensemen Derek Morris and David Tanabe to Phoenix.
Now the goal is to both win in Phoenix and give Kurvers and his staff the tools with which to build the next generation of Coyotes.
Who to pick at 17?
Here are the players projected by The Hockey News to go between 14th and 19th in Saturday’s 2005 NHL Draft:
14. Guillaume Latendresse, RW, Drummondville (QMJHL)
This 6-foot-1, 215 pounder had 29 goals and 78 points (with 26 penalty minutes) and a good Memorial Cup playoff run in the offensive-minded QMJHL. Not very fast but has a goal scorer’s hands.
15. Miklas Bergfors, RW, Sodertalje Junior (Sweden)
Impressive offensive numbers with 18 goals and 34 points in only 21 junior games. Is known for his skill and has a physical element to his game (25 PIMs).
16. Ryan O’Mara, C, Erie Otters, (OHL)
Erie’s catch-slogan is "You Otter Be There’’ and O’Mara might be there for the Coyotes. The 6-1, 193-pound Ontario native had 25 goals and 38 assists in 64 games and could be a second-line center in the NHL.
17. Devin Setoguchi, RW, Saskatoon (WHL)
The Alberta boy scored 33 goals with Saskatoon last year and his play at the World Under-18 Championships also bumped him into top-20 territory. Quickness and defense are concerns.
18. Marek Zagrapan, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
The Coyotes have been craving speed and skill, and this Czech-born scorer (32 goals and 82 points in 59 games last year) has plenty of both. Not into the physical game, but you have to catch him first.
19. Tukka Rask, G, Ilves (Finland)
With David LeNeveu knocking on the door to the NHL it could be time to start grooming another goalie. Finland has turned out some good young goalies of late and Rask was his team’s best player at the World Junior Championships.
NHL Entry Draft
When: 9 a.m. today
Where: Ottawa, Ontario
No. 1 pick: Pittsburgh
Coyotes picks: 17, 105, 119, 148, 212