The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion team, will hold their expansion draft on July 21. They will choose one player from every NHL franchise, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights. The question for Seattle fans in advance of Wednesday is who will new general manager Ron Francis choose? Well, the list of potential names is intriguing. It will include stars such as Carey Price, Vladimir Taresenko, and Gabriel Landeskog. The Kraken will have to strike a balance between expensive and inexpensive players, veterans and young skaters, and clubhouse leaders. Each NHL team submitted their protection lists to the Kraken on July 17. Teams were able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. Or, teams could choose to protect any combination of eight skaters and one goalie. So, let’s get into what names will be available to Seattle from the Eastern Conference and who they may ultimately choose.
The Metropolitan Division
The Carolina Hurricanes decided to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. They notably unprotected forward Nino Niederreiter, who had a bounceback season and finished second on the team with 20 goals. The Canes also exposed young defensemen Jake Bean and centers Morgan Geekie and Steven Lorentz. While Niederreiter would fill a big need (goal scoring) for Seattle, it is more likely that Seattle GM Ron Francis picks a player he is familiar with. Bean, who Francis drafted in the first round when he was with Carolina, fits that description. He is young, talented, and comes with plenty of upside. While he did have a regressive second half of the season, Bean has shown enough for Seattle. The pick is Jake Bean.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, in the midst of a rebuild, had one surprise exposure. That would be center Max Domi, who is an unrestricted free agent. While Domi will miss the beginning of next season with an injury, it is still possible Seattle picks him and tries to hammer out an extension before he walks. Other players of interest to the Kraken include forward Kevin Stenlund and defenseman Dean Kukan. While both skaters are fine role players, it seems like Seattle may want to aim higher here. I say they pick Domi and try to lock him up before he reaches unrestricted free agency.
The New Jersey Devils also did not have any real surprises on their exposure list. The most notable dangling skater is former-Norris-Trophy winning defensemen P.K. Subban. Other notable exposures include Andreas Johnson, who had a down year last season, and young defensemen Will Butcher. More inexpensive options for the Kraken include Nathan Bastian and Nick Merkley. Both could conceivably be of interest to Seattle because they are generally considered solid role players. New Jersey would appreciate if the Kraken took Subban and his large contract off their hands, but that is unlikely to happen. I will say Seattle picks Butcher, a player with potential who may benefit from a change of scenery.
The New York Islanders, fresh of a deep playoff run, unprotected two high-priced core players in hopes the Seattle Kraken picks one and helps New York relieve its cap crunch. Those two players would be forwards Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle. While both have been integral parts of the Islander’s recent success, GM Lou Lamoriello is seemingly coveting cap space over veteran leadership. Additional lower-priced players who may be of interest to the Kraken include forward Leo Komarov and defenseman Andy Greene. I will wager that Seattle decides to take a high-priced player off of the Islander’s hands, and go with Bailey.
The New York Rangers decided to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. They notably unprotected newly acquired free agent forward Barclay Goodrow, Julien Gauthier, Colin Blackwell, and defenseman Tony DeAngelo. After reports that Goodrow was nearing a six-year extension with the Rangers, it is likely that Seattle may target one of the exposed depth forwards or defensemen. The pick here is Gauthier due to his potential, youth, and familiarity with Kraken GM Ron Francis.
The Philadelphia Flyers, after a disappointing season, exposed several high-priced players. This includes forwards Jake Voracek, James Van Riemsdyk, and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. The Flyers opted to protect young forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel instead of Van Riemsdyk. While this was surprising to some, it is clear that Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is prioritizing cap space over production. This was made crystal clear after Philadelphia’s last-minute trade with the Nashville Predators for top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis. Even after shipping out two players (Phillipe Myers and Nolan Patrick) that would have been protected had they not been traded, Fletcher still exposed three of his most expensive players. The Seattle Kraken may have interest in a lower-priced Flyers veteran, but the pick here is JVR.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, after executing a trade to move forward Jared McCann to Toronto, exposed a few notable players. This includes Brandon Tanev, Jason Zucker, and Zach Aston-Reese. All three of these players have moderate cap hits, but the players protected in place of them (Teddy Blueger and Jeff Carter) have lower cap hits. So it seems that the Penguins are valuing the potential of more cap space here. They also protected starting goaltender Tristan Jarry but exposed backup Casey DeSmith. There was talk that Pittsburgh may do the opposite here, but obviously that did not happen. For Seattle, I see them taking Aston-Reese, a young forward who contributes on both offense and defense.
The Washington Capitals decided to expose their greatest player in franchise history, Alexander Ovechkin, to the Seattle Kraken. However, this was more of a procedural move than anything. Ovechkin is an unrestricted free agent that has said he wants to finish his career in Washington. So even if Seattle takes him, they will almost certainly lose him in free agency to the Capitals. Moving on, the Caps decided to expose goaltender Vitek Vanecek, defensemen Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, and Justin Schultz. They also unprotected forwards Connor Sheary, Nic Dowd, Garrett Hathaway, and Carl Hagelin. Of this bunch, none were particularly surprising to be exposed. However, there was thought that perhaps longtime center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has declined in recent seasons, may be exposed. But ultimately, he was protected. For the Kraken, I see them picking Dillion who would fit nicely into their plans and could be a top-four defenseman.
The Atlantic Division
The Boston Bruins protected seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. The only mild surprise was the Bruins protecting Jake DeBrusk, who struggled this past season, over forward Nick Ritchie. But DeBrusk’s body of work is enough to warrant the protection aside from a down year. Players of interest to Seattle will likely include Ritchie and defensemen Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon. Franchise goaltender Tukka Rask is also available, but it is unlikely that the Kraken will have any interest in him. I would predict that Seattle goes with Ritchie, a 25-year-old forward with a bright future.
The Buffalo Sabres, fresh off another disappointing season that extended their playoff drought to 10 years, had no surprise exposures. At this point, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart are still on the roster, so both were on the list. But with the rebuild taking shape, it is conceivable that both will be gone by the start of next season. Forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Jeff Skinner and defensemen Will Borgen and Colin Miller may be of interest to the Kraken. Skinner will not be chosen unless the Sabres include assets to get his large salary off the books. Borgen is young and intriguing, but the pick here is Girgensons who has a manageable salary and is still young.
The Detroit Red Wings, in the middle of a lengthy rebuild, chose the 7-3-1 protection plan. They exposed notable players such as defensemen Troy Stecher and Danny DeKeyser, and forwards Evgeny Svechnikov, Vladislav Namestnikov, and goalie Jonathan Bernier. The only surprise exposure here was Stecher, who has been a steady veteran and productive defensemen for several years. Seattle will likely choose Stecher, as he is still pretty young and has an affordable salary. So my pick for the Kraken would also be Stecher.
The Florida Panthers chose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. No real surprises came here, with the most talented players being protected. Of interest to Seattle may be defenseman Radko Gudas, who is in the final year of his contract. Also being unprotected by the Panthers are forwards Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano. Both of these players are also in the final year of their contracts and may be due raises in free agency next year. However, there is indication that the Seattle Kraken will sign Panthers unrestricted free agent goalie Chris Driedger. If this is the case, Driedger will count as the player selected from Florida, and the Panthers will not have to worry about losing anyone else. So the pick here to go to the Kraken is obviously Driedger.
The Montreal Canadians made perhaps the most surprising move in the run-up to the NHL expansion draft. They unprotected longtime goalie and franchise icon Carey Price after the goaltender waived his no-movement clause. Price has five years and $10.5 million due annually on his contract. The Kraken are said to be very interested in adding Price to their team in the hopes that he can become the face of their franchise, similar to what Marc-Andre Fleury was to the Vegas Golden Knights after they took him in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Other notable Canadians that were not protected include Captain Shea Weber, and forwards Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron. Seattle will likely have the most interest in Price, so I will go with him as my player.
The Ottawa Senators, in the midst of a rebuild, did not make too many waves. The one player they did expose that raised some eyebrows was big free-agent acquisition Evgenii Dadonov. While he did not play well last season, there was a belief that the Senators would still protect him, but apparently not. Other notable players available to the Seattle Kraken include Josh Brown, Chris Tierney, Anton Forsberg, and goalie Matt Murray. The latter still has three years left on his contract at $6.25 million annually, so Seattle will likely stay away. My pick here is Dadonov, who outside of last season, was very productive during his time with the Florida Panthers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, after trading key cog Barclay Goodrow to the Rangers, had tough decisions to make. They opted to protect four forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie because they wanted to hold onto playoff hero Ryan McDonagh as well as promising young defenders Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak. That leaves franchise players such as Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, and Tyler Johnson unprotected. Seattle most likely will choose one of those four players, even though all four are hovering around 30 years old. The pick here goes to Gourde, who is the youngest at 29 and is a good mix of veteran leadership and on-ice production.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who acquired Jared McCann from Pittsburgh, promptly decided not to protect their newest acquisition. The Kraken will likely select one of two players from the Leafs, either defenseman Travis Dermott or more likely, forward Alexander Kerfoot. The McCann trade was seemingly to acquire a replacement for Kerfoot, who Toronto apparently sees as likely gone. However, the Maple Leafs did not protect McCann, so he is now vulnerable to selection by the Kraken. The most likely scenario is still Seattle taking Kerfoot, who is young and productive, but the question still remains. Why acquire a replacement player in McCann if they did not intend to protect him? All of this may be a moot issue anyway, but my pick for Seattle here is Kerfoot.
The Seattle Kraken will be at the helm of one of the craziest and most interesting times an NHL off-season can offer. They get to choose one player from every team except the Golden Knights, so the wheeling and dealing will be robust. Seattle has the opportunity to put their team in a position to win championships sooner rather than later with a solid expansion draft. And if the Kraken play their cards right (a nod to Vegas), they can come out of July with a strong roster that future expansion teams will want to emulate.
Perhaps this begins with the selection of their franchise goaltender, Carey Price, and continues with solid additions such as Alexander Kerfoot and James Van Riemsdyk from the Eastern Conference. The probability of a Seattle expansion success story is higher than many would have thought just a few months ago. The onus is now on general manager Ron Francis, new head coach Dave Hakstol, and the entire Seattle Kraken staff to construct a team ready to compete for titles for years to come.
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