The real star of the expansion draft wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury or James Neal, it was George McPhee. The general manager’s draft has set Vegas up to be contenders sooner rather than later.

CHICAGO — The Arizona Coyotes had no coach, no goalie and no captain heading into the 2017 NHL draft. But they had a general manager who isn’t timid about making deals to improve his team.

GM John Chayka became one of the big winners at Friday’s draft when he made two bold trades to acquire a new defensive partner for Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Niklas Hjalmarsson, a starting goalie in Antti Raanta and a new top center in Derek Stepan. (He also drafted defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph with the No. 23 pick.)

“This organization has been looking for a No. 1 centerman for more than a decade and he can fill that hole,” Chayka said.

Chayka said that the allure of Stepan was his all-around game. He can play on the power play, kill penalties and win faceoffs. “He checks all of the boxes as a top-line center for us,” Chayka said.


The Rangers were looking to improve their cap space outlook, and Stepan had four years remaining on a deal paying $6.5 million per season. The Coyotes gave up the No. 7 pick to the New York Rangers in the draft for Stepan and Raanta.

“There was a large group of goalies in the (unrestricted free agent) and trade market, but (Raanta) was at the top of our list,” Chayka said. “It wasn’t like he was in the top five. He was the top guy in our analysis.”

Hjalmarsson will be a defensive specialist that gives Ekman-Larsson more freedom to use his offensive talents. Chayka also liked Hjalmarsson’s three Stanley Cup rings.

“We need winners,” Chayka said.

The Coyotes gave up Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin to land Hjalmarsson.

Chayka’s deals couldn’t have come at a better time because the franchise had…