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Expansion draft look ahead part two: Who might the Canes’ lose?

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With the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft less than a year away, part two of our look ahead examines which players the Hurricanes may have to part ways with.

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

We’re about a year away from the debut of the NHL’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken, which will begin its life with the 2021-22 season.

Before the Kraken ever hit the ice, they will have to put together a roster next summer. For the second time in five years the NHL will host an expansion draft, as former Canes general manager Ron Francis and Seattle will get to select a player from 30 of the 31 other teams (Vegas is exempt, having gone through the expansion process just a few years ago).

The rules for this expansion draft will be the same as they were in 2017, with teams having the ability to protect a list of players that Seattle can’t take. Here’s a quick rundown of the important rules to keep in mind:

  • 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 picks 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 2020-21 or 70 total games the last two seasons, as well as two forwards that meet the same requirements (there’s a chance that 70-game requirement gets amended with the COVID-shortened 2019-20 regular season).
  • 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 all that in mind, Andrew took a look earlier in the week at what the Hurricanes’ protected list could look like. While Carolina won’t have the luck it did in 2017 where a lot of pieces of its main core were automatically protected, the Canes should still be able to protect the main group of the team and not lose anyone too impactful.

Now, let’s take a look at which players who likely won’t make the cut for the Canes’ protected list are most likely to be selected by Francis and the Kraken:

Haydn Fleury

With the ability to protect just three defensemen (assuming the Hurricanes choose the route that allows them to protect 10 skaters instead of eight) along with Carolina’s depth on the blue line, it seems more likely than not that Francis and Seattle will select a defensemen from the Hurricanes.

If that’s the case, then Fleury seems to be the most appealing choice for the Kraken. Fleury has started to come into his own as an NHLer, and his postseason in the Toronto bubble was some of the best hockey he has played.

He’ll be just 24 or 25 years old at the time of the expansion draft, depending on when next summer it takes place, and his talent is obvious. He’s a player that the Hurricanes would sorely miss, and he has some history with Francis.

Fleury was Carolina’s first-round draft pick in 2014, the first pick ever made by Francis as the Canes’ GM. Francis was fond of Fleury back then, and there’s no reason to believe Fleury wouldn’t be near the top of the list for Seattle when the expansion draft comes around.

However, as Andrew mentioned in his preview of the Canes’ protected list, there could be a chance that Fleury isn’t even available for Seattle to take. As things stand, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton seem like the obvious three blue liners that Don Waddell and the Canes would protect, but that could change based on Hamilton’s contract status.

Hamilton is an unrestricted free agent following the 2020-21 season, though a long-term extension with the talented D-man is something Carolina will likely try to get done. If Hamilton and the Canes reach a deal in the coming year, then he would take up one of the three protected spots for defensemen.

If Carolina and Hamilton don’t reach a deal though, then that final protected defenseman spot would be available for Fleury, Brady Skjei or even Jake Bean. In all likelihood, though, Hamilton is a Hurricane past the 2020-21 season, and Fleury is the most attractive available choice for Seattle.

Brady Skjei

Most of what applies to Fleury applies to Skjei, a talented defenseman that couldn’t be protected assuming Hamilton signs an extension.

Skjei has a ton of NHL experience, much more so than Fleury, and he’s been productive throughout his career. He was new to the Canes in 2020, and like Fleury, offered a strong contribution in the postseason.

While Fleury’s upside would be a bit higher for Seattle, there’s no question that Skjei has the ability to be a top-four defenseman, especially for an expansion team. The biggest difference between Fleury and Skjei comes in the price, as Skjei’s contract comes with a $5.25 million cap hit while Fleury’s is just $1.3 million (though that will likely go up after the 2021-22 season).

Fleury is the more likely selection for Seattle, especially considering his history with Francis, but Skjei would be a definite option. If Hamilton doesn’t receive a new contract and Fleury is the third protected defenseman, then Skjei being Seattle’s pick becomes more likely.

Jake Bean

Bean provides a different option to Seattle, an opportunity to bolster things on the younger end with a prospect. Bean has played in just two NHL games, but he’s still only 22-years old and is a former first-round pick. Like Fleury, Bean impressed Francis enough back in 2016 to be the Canes’ first-round selection.

Bean would offer Seattle youth, a cheap contract, a bright future coming off a season that saw him named the AHL’s top defenseman and years of team control. Depending on what Seattle gets from other NHL teams, grabbing Bean to strengthen the prospect pool may make some sense for Francis.

Fleury and Skjei are still much more likely choices for the Kraken, but don’t rule Bean completely out.

Jake Gardiner

File this one under “completely unlikely, but technically not impossible.” Gardiner is an experienced NHL defenseman, but he’s significantly older than Skjei, Fleury and Bean.

Gardiner also comes with a $4.05 million price tag, one that doesn’t necessarily match his production. If Francis wants an experienced defenseman to plug in right away, Skjei or Fleury make a lot more sense than Gardiner.

Again, Gardiner almost certainly won’t be the selection, but he would technically be exposed and an option.

Jesper Fast

One of the newest additions to the Hurricanes, Fast signed a three-year deal with Carolina last month. Fast has quite a bit of NHL experience, a solid third- or fourth-line winger whose career high is 33 points back in 2017-18.

As mentioned above, the most likely move for Seattle is to take a defenseman from the Hurricanes. However, if Francis does decide to go with a Hurricanes’ forward, Fast is one of the top options.

There’s also a chance that Fast gets protected, as the final forward spot will likely come down to him and Morgan Geekie.

Morgan Geekie

Again, a defenseman will probably be Seattle’s choice, but Geekie would be a top forward choice if the Canes don’t choose to protect Geekie.

Geekie very well could be protected by Waddell, and is on our projected list, but if the Hurricanes elect to protect Fast instead, Geekie becomes the top forward option. He’s just 22-years old, and was pretty great in his very limited action with the Canes in 2019-20.

In two games, Geekie scored three goals and had one assist. He’s the NHL’s all-time leader in points per game, if you decide to ignore every leaderboard rule for sample size. Obviously that sort of production isn’t sustainable, but Geekie has shown he can play at an NHL level.

If Geekie doesn’t get protected by Carolina, he’ll make the decision a little bit tougher for Francis. While Seattle is still overwhelmingly likely to take one of Fleury, Skjei or Bean, Geekie does have a bright future.

Nino Niederreiter

Another extremely unlikely candidate, Niederreiter would have to have some sort of incredible rebound year in 2020-21 for Francis to even consider him. Niederreiter takes up a $5.25 million cap hit, and his production in 2019-20 was nowhere near what it was the year before.

Niederreiter is an older option than Geekie, and he’s a much more expensive option than Fast. If Niederreiter has a career year in 2020-21, then maybe he’s an option for Seattle. If not, he’s someone Francis will look right past.

Wrapping Up

The fact of the matter is that Carolina will almost certainly lose one of Fleury, Skjei or Bean. Even if Hamilton doesn’t re-sign with the Canes, two of those guys would have to be exposed to the expansion draft.

Any of the three would be a tough loss for Carolina, but it’s only one player and none of them are franchise changers, especially with Slavin, Pesce and likely Hamilton still a part of the Canes’ defensive corps.