In the deadline day deal that saw the Colorado Avalanche take Mikkel Boedker from Arizona, the Coyotes received winger Alex Tanguay, and prospects Conner Bleackley and Kyle Wood. Bleackley was the big highlight of this deal for the Yotes, being the 23rd overall pick in 2014, and having progressed well into a decent young two-way center. But now the 20-year-old will re-enter the NHL Draft due to the new Coyotes general manager, John Chayka, not giving him a contract before yesterday’s deadline.
As reported by NHL.com, from the NHL Scouting Combine, Arizona’s general manager said: “We’re going to take the compensation pick. “There’s a lot of value in that pick. That’s not to diminish anything Conner has done or the type of player he is. He had a good Memorial Cup. He’s a good player, but at this point [the draft pick] is a more valuable asset for us.” The Arizona Coyotes will receive a 2016 supplemental second-round draft pick for not signing up the former first rounder Conner Bleackley.
Why take a pick that’s presumably worth less than the player?
During this season with the Red Deer Rebels, in the WHL, Conner Bleackley has suffered two big injuries. The first was a broken left kneecap, and the second was a wrist injury – caused by a skate blade severing his tendons during a game. This led to him playing just 55 games – four more than his injury-hit 2014-15 season – but he still put in a respectable 13 goals and 46 points, and returned to the Rebels for four of their Memorial Cup games. But the injuries aren’t to blame for him missing out on the Arizona contract. It’s more down to the immense amount of depth that the Yotes have at center.
The team have a solid column of centers in Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Brad Richardson and Boyd Gordon, with only the very dependable (57.9% faceoff win on 909 duels, per TSN) Gordon set to leave for the free agency. Then their prospect pool probably hosts the strongest set of young centers in the NHL right now. All of Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Laurent Dauphin, Ryan MacInnis and Maxim Letunov present themselves as better options than Bleackley, despite his first round calibre. Dauphin was dipped into the NHL set up at the end of the season, managing a goal in eight games. But then there’s last year’s third overall pick – in the McDavid/Eichel draft – Dylan Strome, who is set to light up the NHL next season.
2014 picks Dvorak, MacInnis and Letunov are also developing well, and aren’t many years away from being NHL ready. Overall, there just simply isn’t any room for Conner Bleackley. He is a very talented two-way center, who can also play on the wing, but he was unfortunately traded to a team with a prospect pool too opaque for him to develop through. Re-entering the draft will be the best move for Bleackley’s career at this stage. He would have been held back for far too long with Arizona, and his only foreseeable chance for a breakthrough would have been if some of his fellow class of 2014 centers slipped up, or the new management decided to cash in on their youth players – but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.