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Photo Credit: © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Is there a genuine top-six talent to be stolen from Seattle’s grasp?: Exploiting the Expansion Draft part four

Welcome back to the latest and final edition of our Exploiting the Expansion Draft series, in which we’ve been taking a look at those players on other teams that are unlikely to be protected from the Seattle Kraken’s selection in the 2021 Expansion Draft, but whom the Vancouver Canucks might be interested in pilfering for themselves first.

As one of the few teams out there with protection slots to burn both on offence and defence, the Canucks are presented with a unique opportunity to swing a trade or two and acquire some of that talent before the Kraken even have a chance to get their greasy tentacles on it.

To do this, the Canucks would have to offer up enough to make it worth their trade target’s while and cover the value of whatever other player that team will end up losing to Seattle thereafter. But there’s enough grey area left in between to ensure that several players that the Canucks could use are available for far cheaper than they would be under ordinary circumstances, and that’s not something a franchise should ever pass up.

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In previous editions of Exploiting the Expansion Draft, we’ve looked at targets on the right side of the blueline and in the enigmatic position of 3C. Now, in our grand finale, we’re looking for genuine top-six talent, both to cover JT Miller in the event that he’s the one to fill that 3C hole, and to make up for that still-stinging departure of Tyler Toffoli.

For the most part, we’re looking for anyone capable of producing at a top-six level with some manner of consistency. We’ll take either handedness, but prefer those capable of playing on the left wing, and salary absolutely has to be a consideration — because if the Canucks do manage to come up with some cap space this summer, they would be wise to spend it elsewhere on the roster. And, of course, they have to be at least somewhat likely to be left unprotected by their current club.

Let’s dive into that bargain bin!

All advanced stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and reflect even-strength play. Italicized names indicate possible/tentative additions to protection lists. Reminder: teams will have the option of selecting seven forwards, three defenders, and one goaltender or eight skaters of any kind and one goaltender.

Anaheim Ducks

Projected Protection List (Forward): Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Isac Lundestrom, Max Jones, Sam Steel, Alexander Volkov, Troy Terry, Sonny Milano, Danton Heinen

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The Ducks simply have too many young forwards on their roster to not expose at least one. That’s especially true if they go 8-1 to protect all four of Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, and the newly-acquired Haydn Fleury. Even at 7-3-1, Anaheim is exposing someone they’d really rather not.

Sam Steel, C/LW

23, LH, 5’11”,186lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 42 6 6 12 14:32 1.38 49.29% 44.52% 45.53% 44.95%

Steel is five years removed from a first round selection and three from a starring role at the WJC, but he’s struggled to make an impact in the NHL since. This season represented a step back for Steel, but whether or not that was enough of a step back to expose him to Seattle remains to be seen. His advanced stats aren’t all that encouraging, but he did spend most of his time in Anaheim’s dreadful bottom-six, so that’s an important factor to consider. 

Steel’s NHL future is almost certainly on the wing, and that could mean more offensive production in the long-term. Slotting him in for top-six minutes, however, is a risk, and for that reason the Canucks shouldn’t offer anything more than a third rounder and change for his services. 

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Alexander Volkov, LW/RW

23, LH, 6’1”, 195lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 37 7 6 13 11:39 1.07 45.95% 44.06% 43.56% 45.68%

The Ducks acquired Volkov for a song, but only because he was squeezed out of Tampa Bay by their incomprehensible depth. After arriving in Anaheim, Volkov received more minutes and responded with eight points in 18 games, despite many of those minutes coming in the bottom-six. 

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It wouldn’t be the first time that one of the Lightning’s castoffs went on to find success elsewhere in the NHL. Is Volkov, a former second rounder, the next Carter Verhaege? Probably not, but it might be worth mid-round value — perhaps just a little more than the seventh and a prospect Anaheim gave up for his services — to find out.  

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Boston Bruins

Projected Protection List (Forward): Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Craig Smith, Nick Ritchie, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner

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The Bruins have an evil a deep roster that will inevitably get pilfered by the Kraken, and there’s no getting around that. Where Boston will have a choice is in which valued forwards and defenders they expose, and that’s a decision that becomes even more complicated if Taylor Hall re-signs prior to the Expansion Draft. Even if not, we can expect to see multiple top-nine forwards exposed, along with a handful of NHL-quality D.

Jake DeBrusk, LW

24, LH, 6’0”, 188lb, One year left @ $3.675 million (RFA)

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 41 5 9 14 14:54 1.33 50.92% 53.56% 50.55% 49.43%

This was undoubtedly a troubling year for DeBrusk, but perhaps not as troubling as it would seem at first blush. His raw production was way down, but so was his ice-time and the quality of his linemates, and DeBrusk still maintained some rather sparkling advanced stats. 

Though DeBrusk obviously lost the faith of his coach to an extent, he’s still in the Bruins’ postseason lineup and is scoring there at something approaching his typical pace. He’s about as good a bet to bounce back as will be found pre-Expansion, and his salary is digestible — albeit a bit higher than what the Canucks might be shooting for. Anything around the range of a second rounder for DeBrusk is a gamble worth taking. 

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Carolina Hurricanes

Projected Protection List (Forward): Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Vincent Trocheck, Warren Foegele, Jesper Fast, Morgan Geekie, Nino Niederreiter

If the Hurricanes feel they can wait until after the Expansion Draft to extend Dougie Hamilton, they’ll be in much better shape, but still not comfortable. Either way, they’ll end up exposing some young forward assets that they’d really rather not — though they can take some solace in the likelihood that Seattle will take defender Brady Skjei over any of them anyway.

Morgan Geekie, C/RW

22, RH, 6’2”, 192lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 36 3 6 9 9:47 1.37 54.10% 50.35% 51.26% 49.00%

Geekie is still very much an unknown quantity, but what we do know is enticing. Don’t let his name fool you: Geekie is big enough to bully, even if he’s not exactly a prototypical power forward. With Carolina fully in contender mode, his NHL opportunities have been limited, but his AHL numbers and underlying analytics suggest a player on the verge of breaking out to some extent. 

Geekie’s minutes with the Hurricanes have come almost exclusively on the fourth line, so don’t just his point production too harshly. Instead, look at those possession metrics and marvel at what he might be able to do with a larger role. Geekie’s potential at age 22 might not be enough for the ‘Canes to keep him over Warren Foegele and defensive-whiz Jesper Fast, but that doesn’t mean they’ll give him up for free. 

Expect to pay a third rounder and then some at a minimum, because Carolina probably assumes that Seattle will just take Skjei anyway and leave them with all their forwards intact.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Colorado Avalanche

Projected Protection List (Forward): Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin

We’ve talked a lot in our past editions about how difficult a time the Avalanche are going to have with the Seattle draft. Even if Erik Johnson waives his NMC or is bought out, they’ll have to leave at least a couple valuable forwards exposed — especially if they re-sign captain Gabriel Landsekog pre-draft. Defensive rocks Tyson Jost and Valeri Nichushkin could very well be protected in lieu of seemingly more talented options.

Joonas Donskoi, RW

29, RH, 6’0”, 190lb,  Two years left @ $3.9 million (UFA)

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 51 17 14 31 14:32 2.29 56.08% 56.30% 57.87% 55.61%

Call Donskoi the luxury option on this list. He’s currently playing a second line role for the best team in the league and excelling, putting up even more points in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. His analytics look even better.

So why would the Avalanche ever part with him? They could reason that Donskoi, a year away from UFA status, is a less important part of their long-term picture than the likes of Jost and Nichushkin. As a rental, and one who might be tough to fit under the flat cap, Donskoi isn’t an ideal top-six acquisition for the Canucks, but he’s also among the most talented they will find. 

A second rounder for him now beats having to pay more at the Trade Deadline, at least. 

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Edmonton Oilers

Projected Protection List (Forward): Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Josh Archibald, Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Tyler Benson

The Oilers’ protected list is one of the hardest to predict right now, because it depends heavily on two unknowns: the long-term health of Oscar Klefbom and ongoing contract negotiations with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The former is the more determinative issue, because if Klefbom is due to return it might force Edmonton to go 8-1 to ensure he is protected. Even at 7-3-1, the Oilers have some tough choices to make among depth forwards.

Tyler Benson, LW

23, LH, 5’11”, 190lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 (AHL) 36 10 26 36 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Consider Benson the sentimental choice. Four years as the leading star and captain of the Vancouver Giants left Benson with his fair share of fans on the Lower Mainland, even as he has failed to crack the roster of the Edmonton Oilers (though some might see that as a positive). 

There’s no inkling that Benson’s offensive prowess has faded, as he’s been a PPG player at the AHL level consistently for some time. The prominent playmaker has just been lacking in opportunity, and a return to Vancouver might be just what he needs to put it all back together again.

Giving up much more than a third for such a question mark would be a mistake, but that’s a low-risk, high-reward sort of bet that most would be able to get behind. 

Minnesota Wild

Projected Protection List (Forward): Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Zach Parise, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman

The Wild and Expansion Drafts just don’t mix. After paying through the nose to protect their D-core from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wild might have to do it again. Alternatively, they could just let Mathew Dumba go freely to the Kraken — or they could protect him by going 8-1. Either way, the odds of Jordan Greenway getting exposed are slim, but not so slim that a deal isn’t possible.

Jordan Greenway, LW

24, LH, 6’6”, 227lb, One year left @ $2.1 million (RFA)

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 56 6 26 32 15:48 2.19 45.83% 54.97% 52.49% 63.91%

Realistically, you’re not approaching the Wild and saying “trade us Greenway for peanuts so you don’t lose him for nothing.” Instead, you’re pitching a trade for Greenway as a way to guiltlessly go 8-1 on protection slots and thus keep Dumba, plus whatever goodies you’re offering in return for Greenway. They might not go for it, but then it’s up to you to make it worth their while.

Because Greenway is definitely worth anyone’s while. 

Greenway was tied for 14th overall in even-strength production among left wings, which qualifies him for at least borderline first line status. Don’t worry too much about those advanced stats, either, because Greenway played on one of the top checking lines in the league and faced off against the opponent’s best on a night-in, night-out basis. One practically salivates at the thought of what he might be able to do with a more dedicated offensive role. 

Again, the trick is to make an offer the Wild can’t refuse, and that probably starts with a first rounder — ideally, next year’s for the Canucks. That would sting, but you’re talking about a player poised to make a JT Miller-esque impact on the lineup, and at an age that fits in perfectly with the core, too. 

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Nashville Predators

Projected Protection List (Forward): Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Colton Sissons, Luke Kunin, Rocco Grimaldi, Calle Jarnkrok, Yakov Trenin

The Predators are one of the teams most likely to use the 8-1 method, thus protecting all of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Dante Fabbro on the backend. That leaves a boatload of appetizing forwards available at Seattle’s discretion.

Luke Kunin, RW

23, RH, 6’0”, 195lb, One year left @ $2.3 million (RFA)

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 38 10 9 19 13:59 2.39 46.73% 46.33% 49.05% 52.76%

Kunin impressed enough in the play-ins against the Canucks to convince the Predators to trade a second and a third for him this past offseason — though part of that return may have been compensation for taking Nick Bonino’s contract. Kunin’s first season in Nashville was solid, but stagnant, and maybe not enough to put him in the top-four forwards worth protecting, especially once the full scope of his performance is taken into consideration.

Kunin remains scrappy, feisty, and a real pain in front of the net. He wouldn’t be the most skilled target for the top-six out there, but he’s the sort who can still score even when things aren’t going well because of his willingness to get dirty. 

Within the context of the Expansion Draft, his value has to have dropped somewhat, perhaps down to the range of a couple third rounders.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Philadelphia Flyers

Projected Protection List (Forward): Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, Jakub Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick

Despite missing the playoffs in 2021, the Flyers are still going to bleed some serious talent to the Seattle Kraken. While they’ve got some enticing options on the backend, Seattle will probably focus on the forward corps, where five skaters are guaranteed to be protected and at least four more are going to have to scrap it out for the remaining two slots. 

Nolan Patrick, C/RW

22, RH, 6’2”, 203lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 ( Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 52 4 5 9 13:17 0.64 49.85% 48.70% 51.84% 47.49%

Without a doubt, Patrick is the biggest boom/bust asset on this list. The former second overall pick has had a brutal time making it with the Flyers, thanks in no small part to a rare migraine-inducing medical condition. With that in the past, Patrick stayed relatively healthy in 2021, but struggled to make up for missing the entire 2019/20 and floundered to a sharp reduction in scoring.

But the potential that had him in contention with Nico Hischier for the top spot in the 2017 Entry Draft is still there. Patrick was recently converted to the right wing, and is still figuring things out there, but the earliest results are mildly encouraging. At center, he had been playing a primarily bottom-six role without much luck.

Acquiring Patrick is a real risk, one made even riskier by the fact that the Flyers are probably still asking a lot in return for him to save some organizational face. Expect him to cost a second rounder and change, which is more than he’s currently worth — but then ask yourself “what if?”

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

St. Louis Blues

Projected Protection List (Forward): Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, David Perron, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, Zach Sanford, Samuel Blais, Jordan Kyrou

It’s been a tough few post-Cup years for the St. Louis Blues. They’ve been bounced from the first round twice and are now preparing for a potentially ugly encounter with the Expansion Draft. Now matter how they slice it, the Blues are going to have to leave some young and talented roster forwards exposed, and there’s no easy decisions to be made. 

Jordan Kyrou, RW

23, RH, 6’0”, 175lb, RFA

Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Points/60 Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 55 14 21 35 14:25 2.50 50.57% 46.72% 51.79% 47.47%

After waiting so long for Kyrou’s offence to arrive at the NHL level, it would pain the Blues to part with him right after a breakout season, but they might not have a choice. Certain players absolutely have to be protected, and then there’s someone like Robert Thomas, who had a much worse season than Kyrou but is two years younger.

Beyond that, you’ve got a handful of players who were very important to St. Louis’ Cup run and whom they may hang onto over Kyrou for that very same reason. Any team who gets him, however, is going to receive a player seemingly ready to step into the top-six and flourish, and his price-tag will reflect that.
If you’re not offering at least the same second round pick that the Blues once invested in Kyrou, they’ll probably prefer to swing a deal with Seattle to keep him.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com