Seattle's freshly unveiled NHL franchise may not have a moniker or a general manager - or even a timetable for announcing them either - but it does have a timeline for something rather juicy: the next expansion draft.
In June 2021, the GM of the Seattle Whatevers will acquire 30 players in one day. Following the same rules and regulations as the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, Seattle will partake in the league's second expansion draft in four years, selecting one player from each NHL team except Vegas.
Because it’s fun to forecast, we’ve brought out the crystal ball here at theScore to look deep into the future and craft a dangerously early Seattle mock draft.
Guided by the invaluable CapFriendly.com, we’ll be rolling out protected lists and picks this week for all four divisions, starting with the Atlantic.
First, though, a refresher on the expansion draft process and its criteria:
All players with no-movement clauses must be protected
All first- and second-year players, as well as unsigned draft picks, are exempt and can't be picked
Any player with a career-ending injury is also exempt
And some notes about our process:
We made judgment calls on 2019 and '20 unrestricted free agents, projecting some will stay with their current team and others will leave
We didn't factor in any trades or buyouts between now and June 2021
In the tables below, * indicates the player is a projected free-agent signing before 2021, while bold text indicates the player has a no-movement clause
With all the disclaimers out of the way, here are our educated guesses for the Atlantic Division squads:
Could Grzelcyk be to Seattle what Nate Schmidt was to Vegas? The smooth-skating blue-liner has a tough path to big minutes with the Bruins, and barring a breakout season, it's unlikely he'd be protected over Carlo. Forsbacka Karlsson is also tempting due to the lack of centers available. Rask will be 34 for the 2021-22 season and without a contract, making Boston's decision to protect the 6-foot-5 Vladar an easy choice.
We're projecting Tanev signs a deal with the contending Sabres as a free agent in the summer of 2020 but becomes the odd man out in the draft thanks to the emergence of Pilut. Tanev, a right-handed veteran, would bring stability to Seattle's defense corps or serve as a possible trade chip. The Golden Knights flipped many defensemen they selected.
The Red Wings don't project to leave a whole lot for Seattle, but Saarijarvi, currently a 21-year-old defenseman, is having a solid season in the AHL. As for some of Detroit's veterans missing from this list, Frans Nielsen will be far too old to be protected by then, while we have Gustav Nyquist departing as a free agent in 2019.
Malgin has failed to take a step forward with the Panthers this year, but his potential and ability to play center could be too enticing for Seattle to pass up. Vatrano might be a future 20-goal scorer, but such players are a dime a dozen for Seattle. Also of note: James Reimer's contract will be expiring, while Roberto Luongo will be 42 during the 2021-22 season, making Montembeault, a 2015 third-rounder, Florida's protected goalie.
With plenty of cap room, we're thinking the Canadiens splurge in the summer of 2019, reuniting old friends Tatar and Nyquist, and stealing Gardiner from a division foe. This manufactures a tough decision for the Canadiens: protect Mete or Juulsen on the back end, and Armia or Lehkonen up front? Seattle opts to take the exposed Mete, who will be just 23 in 2021-22.
With an abundance of cap room after Matt Duchene's projected departure via free agency, it would make sense for the Senators to address their blue line by signing Myers in the summer of 2019 and Bogosian in 2020. Assuming Craig Anderson retires once his contract is up in 2020, perhaps Markstrom is brought in to bridge the gap until Filip Gustavsson is ready. Forced to protect younger players and the immovable Ryan, Ottawa could easily lose a top-six forward in Dzingel, who's on pace for 30 goals this season.
Even if the Lightning make some trades in preparation for the expansion draft, it's clear they're going to fork over one of their top players to Seattle. While Palat and Killorn are tempting, Johnson is the choice here, and not just because he's a native of Spokane, Wash., but because he instantly becomes the team's No. 1 center and potential inaugural captain.
As it stands now, the Maple Leafs look primed to protect all of their top NHL assets. Plus, up-and-coming defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren - the club's most recent first-round picks - are exempt. Seattle then projects to select Brown, the hard-working, versatile winger.