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Expansion draft look ahead part one: Projecting the Hurricanes’ protected list

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Before the start of the 2021-22 season, the Seattle Kraken will get to select one player from 30 of the 31 existing NHL teams. The Canes can protect a total of 11 players, but who makes the cut?

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

While we still don’t yet know when the NHL will drop the puck for the 2020-21 season (really just 21 at this point), we do know this: whenever play starts for 2021-22, there will be one more team, as the Seattle Kraken officially join the league.

That means that, at some point before that season’s start, we’ll see a repeat from the 2017 offseason: an expansion draft. The Kraken, helmed by former Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis, will select one player from 30 of the other 31 teams (Vegas is exempt).

The rules will be the same from the 2017 draft, here’s a reminder on the key points there:

  • NHL teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters (regardless of position) and a goalie
  • All players with no movement clauses must be protected unless they agree to waive it
  • First and second-year players and unsigned draft points are exempt and don’t count towards protection totals
  • Every team must expose one defenseman who is under contract in 2021-22 and played in at least 40 games in 20-21 or 70 total games the last two seasons (wouldn’t be stunned if those numbers get adjusted with a likely shortened season) and two forwards that meet the same requirement
  • Every team must expose one goaltender who is under contract for 2021-22 or a restricted free agent (an RFA goalie must receive a qualifying offer prior to the expansion draft)

With those requirements in mind, and using CapFriendly’s handy expansion draft simulator, I set out to project the Canes’ protected list for the 2021 expansion draft, with the caveat that things could obviously change depending on what happens for individual players next season.

I went with the seven forwards and three defensemen model, and most of the names won’t be a surprise.

Before we start, a note on exemptions: While the Canes won’t have the same luck they did last time, when none of Jaccob Salvin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin or Sebastian Aho required protection, they will have one key exemption. Forward Martin Necas, entering the final year of his entry-level contract, will not require protection and will not count against the team’s total.

Now, onto the list:

Forwards

Sebastian Aho - No brainer. Aho is the Canes’ best player, a bona fide No. 1 center and is still getting better, coming two goals shy of joining the 40-goal club last season despite the regular season being cut short. Francis will not be getting a chance to reunite with the best draft pick of his Carolina tenure.

Teuvo Teravainen - One of the best and (clearly, based on a certain NHL Network list) most underrated wingers in the league, Teravainen isn’t going anywhere either. This playmaking, two-way force will be protected.

Andrei Svechnikov - Perhaps more of a no-brainer than Aho. Svechnikov is a star in the making, lacrosse goals and all. He’s a pure sniper and has a chance to be one of the best players in franchise history. Svechnikov is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but based on comments from Don Waddell earlier this summer, the Canes could look to extend him before next season starts. Worst case, he’ll have received a qualifying offer prior to expansion, and the Canes won’t be letting him out of their sight.

Vincent Trocheck - I suppose Trocheck isn’t a total lock, but given what the Canes gave up to get him and their hopes for him to be the No. 2 center they’ve been lacking, I’d be very surprised if he gets exposed. Unless something goes very wrong with Trocheck next season, he’s a fairly easy add to the list.

Jordan Staal - Given the important role Staal still plays both off the ice as the team’s captain and on it as a two-way, possession-oriented center who can shut down opposing top lines and anchor the top penalty kill unit, I think Carolina would protect him anyway. Regardless, he has a no-move clause, so he’ll be on the list.

Warren Foegele - Foegele’s set to be a restricted free agent again at the end of next season, but, unless he has a huge dip in play/production or is asking for an astronomical raise, I think the team will make it a priority to bring him back. Assuming that’s the plan and he’s at least received a qualifying offer, he should be on the list.

Morgan Geekie - This was a tough choice for the last spot. I almost went with Jesper Fast, who the Canes just signed to a three-year deal with a $2-million AAV and should be a great fit as a third-line winger. I wouldn’t fault anyone for going with Fast, but I went with Geekie for a couple reasons. One is that he plays a more important position as a center. Another is that, assuming he earns the fourth center job in camp next year, I expect he’ll build on his solid play to end last year’s regular season and playoffs.

If Geekie continues his development, he could be an eventual replacement for Staal at the third-line center spot. I think the Canes will want to hang onto him and see what he develops into.

Defensemen

Jaccob Slavin - See Aho, Sebastian, Teravainen, Teuvo and Svechnikov, Andrei. Not happening. Slavin can make a case as the Canes’ best player, and is almost certainly their best defenseman. He’s not going anywhere.

Brett Pesce - The Canes haven’t been willing to move Pesce for a top-six forward, and they certainly won’t be willing to give him up for free. He’s an elite shutdown defenseman whose absence was keenly felt in Carolina’s first-round loss to the Boston Bruins, and he’s on one of the biggest bargain deals in the league.

Dougie Hamilton - This one is a little bit more interesting, if only because Hamilton is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. But the team has said he’ll be a priority, and he was playing at a Norris-caliber level prior to his injury last season. Hamilton’s camp will likely be looking for a contract around the seven-year, $8.8-million AAV deal Alex Pietrangelo inked with the Golden Knights. I’d lean towards him being signed long term by expansion time, and, if that’s the case, he’ll obviously be protected.

In the event that the Canes and Hamilton can’t reach a deal and he’s not in the team’s plans by that point, this spot goes to either Haydn Fleury or Brady Skjei.

Goalie

Alex Nedlejkovic - Now this one is very, very interesting. I don’t actually expect this to be Nedeljkovic, though him playing his way into the team’s long-term plans still isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But Petr Mrazek and James Reimer’s contracts are both up after next year, so this spot is a mystery. It could be one of those two re-signed. It could be a new goalie the Canes acquire before the expansion draft. Carolina will be protecting a goalie, but it’s next to impossible to predict who it will be.

That list allows the Canes to fulfill their exposure requirements: Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter fill the forward spots and with Skjei and Fleury both exposed the defenseman spot is good to go too. The Canes will need to get a goalie under contract to expose, but should be able to do that fairly easily by qualifying either Nedeljkovic (assuming they have another NHL goalie under contract) or Jeremy Helvig.

While the Canes aren’t in quite as good of shape as they were for the last expansion draft, they can easily protect their core and several key supporting players. We’ll go over this in more detail with part two of this series on Thursday, but the player they lose, whoever it ends up being, will likely sting. However, it’ll just be one player, and the expansion draft won’t present a critical loss for the Hurricanes.

Stay tuned for part two of this exercise on Thursday, as Alec will go over the top candidates to be taken by Kraken.