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Arizona Coyotes

The Case of Conner Bleackley (and How Arizona Won the Boedker Trade)

15 January 2014: Team Cherry Forward Conner Bleackley (91) in action during the CHL/NHL top prospects game at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary Alberta, Canada.
Steven Alkok/Icon Sportswire

The deal that sent Mikkel Boedker to the Colorado Avalanche brought in former first round pick Conner Bleackley to the Arizona Coyotes, part of a package that included himself, third round pick Kyle Wood, and veteran forward Alex Tanguay.

Depending on who is asked, there are two different answers on who won that trade.

The Avalanche got younger and faster with Boedker, who is only 26 and could still have some growing to do. They also got rid of two prospects the team hadn’t signed yet – both Bleackley and Wood have been left without contracts nearly two years after getting drafted – so the trade looks like a one-for-one upgrade and a chance to unload a former top prospect the team didn’t think they’d use.

For the Coyotes, though, the value may not be in Bleackley – it could be in the pick they’ll receive if they don’t sign him.

Bleackley was a high-end prospect at the time he was drafted, but disappointing post-draft years have raised questions about his game. Add in that he’s been shut down for most of this season with an injury, and it’s possible that he may need to re-enter the draft and look for a second chance with another NHL club.

Teams don’t often leave first round picks unsigned for long, but the draft includes a system for when they do. Former first round picks that teams opt not to sign in their first two years are eligible to re-enter the next NHL Entry Draft – and the team that held their rights at that point earns a compensatory second round selection in the following entry draft as a result.

Looking at it that way, the Avalanche gave up a very different set of assets for Boedker.

The perception of Boedker highlights his speed and effective shot. He’s got the makings to be a top six forward with power play strength to his game, and that’s worth a second round pick alone.

The reality of Boedker, though, is quite different. The Danish winger struggles to drive his own play, lagging in possession and hurting teammate possession through nearly every season he’s played in the NHL. This year alone, the perfect example is fellow former first round pick Max Domi; with Boedker over 370 minutes, Domi is a 42% CF, while without him over 377 minutes he’s a 50% CF. Boedker’s scoring rates at even strength are worse than Tanguay’s (questioning whether the trade actually did upgrade the Avalanche’s offense), and they haven’t shown signs of improving over time – in actuality, his numbers have actually gotten worse.

26 Jan 2016 Coyotes Mikkel Boedker (89) takes a shot during the Winnipeg Jets vs Arizona Coyotes game at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg MB. (Photograph by Terry Lee/Icon Sportswire)

26 Jan 2016 Coyotes Mikkel Boedker (89) takes a shot during the Winnipeg Jets vs Arizona Coyotes game at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg MB. (Photograph by Terry Lee/Icon Sportswire)

From a pure numbers standpoint, Boedker may actually be a third line winger – so a second round pick alone would actually have been a slightly pricey compensation. Add in a defensive prospect and a still-serviceable veteran forward (whose raw numbers are better than Boedker’s), and it’s a landslide win for Arizona.

After the trade, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted that he’d never seen a market quite like the one this year. Where he fetched a first round pick and a defenseman for veteran centre Antoine Vermette last year, it looked like teams weren’t willing to part with first rounders much this year. That may have been part of the team’s reluctance to deal Boedker until the last second, holding off until less than a few hours before the trade deadline to pull the trigger on Colorado.

The return, though, wasn’t nearly as even as Colorado may consider it to be.

To put the trade into perspective, compare it to the deal that sent winger Brandon Pirri to the Anaheim Ducks from the Florida Panthers. Like Boedker, Pirri is an inconsistent winger who shows flashes of brilliance as often as he disappoints. His possession numbers, like Boedker’s, leave something to be desired – but his ability to score flashy goals and have elite-looking games is also enough to make him seemingly attractive as a top to middle six forward with potential upside.

Unlike Boedker, though, Pirri only fetched a sixth round selection. That’s a far cry from the forward, prospect, and either prospect or second round pick that Arizona picked up in their own deadline deal.

The tough part for Arizona may be deciding whether or not to sign Bleackley. He once showed high upside, but so did Boedker – and a second round pick gives Arizona the opportunity to hold power over the prospect they bring into their system. Whether they use that pick as trade bait or to draft a new player, Arizona would certainly hold more influence in a situation where they failed to sign Conner.

Beyond that, though, the deal holds the potential for a second round pick – and for Arizona, that’s the catch in the trade that pushes it over the edge in their favor.

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