This week, theScore's unveiling a five-part series in which we predict who will be protected and picked when the new Seattle franchise selects one player from every other NHL team except Vegas in 2021. Today, we project the Central Division.
Before diving into our Central Division projections, here's a refresher on the expansion draft process:
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
We envision the goal-starved Coyotes - who will move to the Central Division upon Seattle's arrival - landing a consistent offensive producer in free agency, such as Eberle. Crouse, a hulking power forward and former No. 11 overall pick, could be a tempting expansion pick, but we have Seattle selecting its potential goalie of the future in Hill. Arizona could leave Ranta unprotected if he continues to be hampered by injuries, but it's still too early to say.
There are a variety of choices here for Seattle, including Frolik, the versatile two-way winger who we believe returns to the Blackhawks in free agency. Seattle could add a goalie - such as a re-signed Crawford - but the smart bet is on it picking Kahun, the 23-year-old shifty forward who was arguably the best player on Germany's silver medal-winning squad at the 2018 Olympics.
With plenty of cap space and a lack of scoring depth, we see the Avalanche filling this need by signing Spezza in 2019 and Kreider in 2020. We also project they will add Talbot after Semyon Varlamov departs in 2019. Under these circumstances, Seattle could consider Timmins, though there's a ton uncertainty swirling around the 2017 second-rounder, as he's missed this entire season with a head injury and has yet to play a professional game. Instead, we see Seattle taking Kamenev, a lesser-known key piece in the Matt Duchene-Kyle Turris three-way trade.
We project the Stars to land Duchene - 2019's biggest free agent - for a variety of reasons. They have both the cap space and need for a second-line center, have a win-now mentality, and are able to offer warm weather and Texas' low state-tax rate. In turn, Seattle selects the hard-working Dickson instead of underachievers Nichushkin and Honka.
|F||Joel Eriksson Ek|
The Wild went to great lengths to keep their top four defensemen intact during the 2017 expansion draft, but it cost them Alex Tuch and Erik Haula - two valuable pieces for the Vegas Golden Knights. This time around, we see them learning their lesson. Still, Seattle scoops up Spurgeon, an effective two-way blue-liner who could potentially serve as a nice trade chip. Staal and Dubnyk will be too old for Seattle's liking.
Despite the lack of centers available, we think Seattle passes on Turris, who will be 32 in 2021-22, instead choosing Fiala, a promising winger who will be just 25 years old for Seattle's inaugural season. The Predators could go with the more popular 7-3-1 format, but then they'd almost certainly lose one of their elite defensemen. Subban, Ellis, and Ekholm are all locked up, and we envision Josi re-signing in 2020.
We predict new contracts for Schenn (2020 UFA), Schwartz (2021), and Allen (2021), which leads to the next question: could Perron be the first player ever to be plucked by two different expansion teams - and from the same team? We don't think so, as Seattle will look to fill a need by selecting Barbashev, a young two-way center who hasn't quite yet hit his stride.
We project the Jets will remain contenders three years from now, but they will need the heart and soul of their team, Byfuglien, to make a run at the cup. This leaves two promising blue-liners - Niku and Stanley - exposed. Stanley, a 6-foot-7 former first-rounder, is far less proven than Niku, who was named AHL defenseman of the year last season.