Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview: Central Division

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview

Leading up to the next expansion draft in the NHL on July 21st, we have been previewing each team’s potential protected list and which player they will lose to the Kraken. Today is the Central Division. After only six teams in the Pacific will need to participate (aside from the Kraken, of course), the Central’s eight is a big boost up. They will also have a new team in this division, or at least when the season resets officially on July 28th. So, let’s make some predictions.

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes have just about their entire defense entering unrestricted free agency. The exceptions are Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who could be traded, and Jakob Chychrun, who was elite in 2021. Both will be protected. The third pick is likely between Kyle Capobianco and Ilya Lyubushkin. Capobianco is younger and will be an RFA at the end of next year, while Lyubushin will be a UFA. More importantly, the Coyotes must expose a defenseman who played in at least 27 games this year or 54 in the past two and is under contract for next season. Lyubushkin fits that, while Capobianco does not.

The first six forwards to protect are pretty standard. Conor Garland has developed into the team’s best forward. Clayton Keller has had a rough go of things as of late but is still young. Phil Kessel has to be protected because of his no-move clause. Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak are under contract and are centers with offensive upside. Lawson Crouse is fine to have around. The final protection pick is between Tyler Pitlick, Johan Larsson, Christian Fischer, and Michael Bunting. The first three are all fine defensive forwards, although Larsson is probably the best of the group.


Bunting is about to be a UFA, but he has been a proficient minor league scorer, and potted 10 goals in 21 NHL games this past season. Sure, a 26.3 percent shooting percentage helped. Seattle will have time to negotiate a potential contract with Bunting, and it is hard to see a 25-year-old who has spent a lot of time in the minors rejecting a team that would want him.

With Antti Raanta in need of a contract, Darcy Kuemper will be the protection. He has just one year left and could be dealt with in the next week. That would allow Arizona to keep Adin Hill, who is young and cheap and has been alright in 49 NHL games.

Protected List: Forwards Conor Garland, Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, Lawson Crouse, Johan Larsson, Defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun, Kyle Capobianco, Goalie Darcy Kuemper.
Projected Pick: Forward Michael Bunting.

Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane is apparently the best player in the NHL, so obviously, Chicago will protect him. He and Jonathan Toews both have no-move clauses, but the team wouldn’t risk anything anyways. Dylan Strome had a really rough 2020-21, but he is young with potential. Do you know who didn’t have a rough 2021? Alex DeBrincat. He scored 32 goals in 52 games, leading the team. Brandon Hagel came out of nowhere to post 24 points, earning himself a spot on the protection list. Former 8th overall pick Alexander Nylander missed all of 2020-21, but he did score 10 goals the season prior and is 23-years-old. However, according to Cap Friendly, he is still exempt.

The final two spots are between Henrik Borgstrom, David Kampf, and Ryan Carpenter. Borgstrom is a former first-rounder who is coming back to North America this upcoming season. Carpenter and Kampf are both defensive forwards, but Carpenter is signed for next year while Kampf is not. Don’t be surprised if Kampf or RFA Adam Gaudette are signed in the coming days for exposure requirements. Otherwise, Carpenter will be exposed.

The Blackhawks are reportedly trying to trade Duncan Keith before the draft. That would be smart. Keith is aging, expensive, and his no-move clause means that he must be protected. That means that two of Connor Murphy, Nikita Zadorov, and Calvin de Haan will be protected, not all three. All of them are fine players, with Zadorov becoming a restricted free agent. Kevin Lankinen took the starting goaltending job this season, meaning he’ll be protected. Malcolm Subban is not very good, but believe it or not, of the potential third goalies that Seattle would take, the difference between the quality of goaltender and best skater available to take is best for the team here. So, Subban should be the move.

Protected List: Forwards Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome, Brandon Hagel, Henrik Borgstrom, Ryan Carpenter, Defensemen Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan, Goalie Kevin Lankinen.
Projected Pick: Goalie Malcolm Subban.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are incredibly good, meaning that whoever Seattle gets could be one of their best players next season. Cale Makar debuting in the 2019 playoffs means that he must be protected instead of exempt, which is really unfortunate. Erik Johnson must be protected and Samuel Girard and Devon Toews have blossomed into great defenders. This leaves Ryan Graves, signed at a reasonable price for two more seasons, unprotected. With Philipp Grubauer becoming a UFA, the Avs don’t need to protect him. They could anyways. If not, Jonas Johansson outplayed Hunter Miska this season, putting himself higher on the depth chart.


Both Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad are free agents, allowing the Avalanche to leave them be. Of course, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen will be on the Colorado list. Nazem Kadri is a good second-line center, although playoff suspensions have ruined his reputation. Andre Burakovsky is signed for one more season and had 44 points this past year. The top available forward picks would be Joonas Donskoi, signed for two more seasons, and Valeri Nichushkin, who is for one. Colorado has heavily invested in analytics, which makes me think that they recognize Nichushkin as the elite defender that he is. Since he is cheaper than Donskoi and Graves, he could be the pick. Colorado may also give up a high draft pick or prospect to prevent losing one of these players.

Protected List: Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Defensemen Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson, Goalie Jonas Johansson.
Projected Pick: Forward Valeri Nichushkin.

Dallas Stars

The Stars are not shy to give out no-move clauses, meaning that four of their players must be protected. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov are three of them. Joe Pavelski showed that at age 37, he can still play last year, as he was one of the league’s best defensive forwards. Roope Hintz was a point-per-game player this year next to rookie Jason Robertson, and no one seemed to notice. The Stars are strong up the middle with Seguin, Hintz, and Radek Faksa, who had a down year but is still signed for four more seasons. Denis Gurianov may be the late bloomer of the 2015 draft class, as he has 33 goals over the past two seasons. The top available forwards are prospect Adam Mascherin and Jason Dickinson, a defensive forward who could be protected over Faksa.

On defense, Miro Heiskanen is developing into the face-of-the-franchise. Despite a down year, John Klingberg is still very good, and Esa Lindell made strides defensively. The Stars may catch a break with Jamie Oleksiak about to become a free agent, assuming they can re-sign him. Since Ben Bishop must be protecting, Anton Khudobin is a sitting duck. He led the league in save percentage in 2019-20 and led the team to the Cup Finals.  However, he may soon be the property of Seattle.

Protected List: Forwards Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Joe Pavelski, Radek Faksa, Defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Goalie Ben Bishop.
Projected Pick: Goalie Anton Khudobin.

Minnesota Wild

They may not be thought of as an elite team, but the Wild will lose someone good, or sacrifice their first-round draft pick. They are another team with a ton of no-move clauses. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin all have one, making it tough to protect Matt Dumba. The team could ask Suter to waive his, seeing Seattle would not bite on his four more years left at age 36. The Wild could go with four defensemen, but that would mean leaving Marcus Foligno unprotected. Foligno is a great defensive winger, one of the league’s best, and was recently extended. Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello both need to be protected. Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala are the franchise’s future. Ryan Hartman and Jordan Greenway are both solid forwards as well.

The real discussion comes in the net. Kaapo Kahkonen is still on his entry-level deal and is ten years younger than Cam Talbot. Talbot is signed for two more seasons at a reasonable price. Whoever is left unprotected will be a huge target for the Kraken. That’s where Dumba comes in. Using him as bait to keep the goaltending tandem together for next year could be smart. There will be defensemen available on the market, while Carson Soucy could step into the top-four. A more likely situation would be Minnesota losing their first-round selection to keep Dumba, maybe unload Victor Rask, and prevent Dumba or Talbot from being taken.

Protected List: Forwards Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen.
Projected Pick: Defenseman Matt Dumba.

Nashville Predators

A team can protect only three forwards and five defensemen; the Islanders did it for Vegas’ draft. The Predators may be the ones this go around. Roman Josi is a star and it’s not like his no-move clause will have any impact on Nashville’s decision to protect him. Both Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are great two-way players. While Dante Fabbro has not been the P.K. Subban replacement that the Preds hoped he would be, he has still been good enough that the team will protect the 22-year-old. The difference-maker is Alexandre Carrier. A young, right-handed defenseman signed for about the league minimum for two more seasons, Carrier was very impressive in a short time with the time this year. He earned his way onto this list.

The decision to trade Viktor Arvidsson to Los Angeles simplifies things for the Preds. Protecting Filip Forsberg is an easy call. Both Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons are signed for a low cap hit and are very good defensively. Goalie Juuse Saros is an obvious pick to be protected, as he carried the team this season. Here is where the Kraken has the biggest variety of choices. Matt Benning is a solid bottom pairing defender. Rocco Grimaldi and Luke Kunin would be cheap bottom-six options. Do they bite on Matt Duchene or Ryan Johansen, both signed long-term at an $8 million cap hit? Maybe Duchene, definitely not Johansen. After he scored 10 goals in 38 games this year, Kunin is the pick.

Protected List: Forwards Filip Forsberg, Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Defensemen Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, Alexandre Carrier, Goalie Juuse Saros.
Projected Pick: Forward Luke Kunin.

St. Louis Blues

The talk of the town regarding the Blues right now is the trade request from Vladimir Tarasenko. Signed for two more seasons at $7.5 million, the Blues will protect Tarasenko, unless they trade him first. Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn are no-brainers for the Blues. They lost David Perron in last year’s expansion draft, but they won’t make that mistake again after he returned and led the team in points this year. Young forwards Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou were both productive in 2021. The final spot will be the most controversial. There’s Oskar Sundqvist, and there’s pending UFAs Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev. Sundqvist is coming off of ACL surgery, which could sway the Kraken away from him.

Both Colton Parakyo and Torey Krug will be protected, and there is no doubt about it. But does the final spot go to Marco Scandella or Justin Faulk? Scandella had a down year while Faulk improved. Still, Faulk is overpaid at $6.5 million per season until 2027. No matter what, Vince Dunn will be the pick for Seattle. He is young, an RFA, and wants out of St. Louis. Dunn could be traded before the draft, but if not, he’s going to the Kraken. There also is not really a goaltending question here.

Protected List: Forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, David Perron, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Zach Sanford, Defensemen Torey Krug, Colton Parakyo, Marco Scandella, Goalie Jordan Binnington.
Projected Pick: Defenseman Vince Dunn.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are the final team in the Central Division, in case 2021’s division made you forget. They have an electric top-six forward core, and all of them will be protected. That is, except Paul Stastny, who will be a free agent. Just a refresher, those forwards are Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele. The last two picks are Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. Copp is a fine defensive forward, as is Lowry. Lowry was extended midseason, while Copp is an RFA. This leaves Mason Appleton, a solid bottom-six winger, as the top available forward.

Josh Morrissey‘s talent is heavily questioned by analytics, but he will still be protected. Morrissey is signed for seven more seasons at a $6.25 million cap hit. Joining him will be Neal Pionk, who has really developed since a trade from the Rangers, as well as defensive defenseman Dylan DeMelo. Connor Hellebuyck carried the team in a series win against the Oilers this season. There’s no other goalie that could be up for consideration, anyways. The debate will come down to Appleton versus big defenseman and former first-round pick Logan Stanley. Stanley is two years younger, while Appleton has an extra year under contract. This could go either way.

Protected List: Forwards Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo, Goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Projected Pick: Defenseman Logan Stanley.

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images


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