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Projecting the Hurricanes’ expansion draft protected list

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The Hurricanes need to submit their protection list for the July 21 expansion draft by July 17. Here’s what we think that might look like.

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Three Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL’s 2021 offseason was always going to be jam packed. The Stanley Cup Final being pushed back into July, with the entry draft and free agency that month, made sure of that.

But another event on the horizon makes this upcoming month an even busier one for NHL teams. With the Seattle Kraken set to join the league as the NHL’s 32nd franchise next year, each team must prepare to lose a player to Ron Francis and his staff in the July 21 expansion draft. Each team also has until July 17 to submit its protected list of players.

Fortunately for Canes fans, there’s no need to wait that long. We’ve pulled out our crystal ball to see who the team will protect and leave exposed as the roster stands now. Before we get started, a few reminders on the expansion draft rules:

  • 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-move 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 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)

Hurricanes Expansion Draft

Category Forwards Defensemen Goalies
Category Forwards Defensemen Goalies
Protected Sebastian Aho, Morgan Geekie, Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal (NMC), Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Vincent Trocheck Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Jaccob Slavin Alex Nedeljkovic
Unprotected, meets exposure requirement Jesper Fast, Steven Lorentz Jake Gardiner Jeremy Helvig
Unprotected, does not meet exposure requirement Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Max McCormick, Brock McGinn, Cedric Paquette Jake Bean, Jani Hakanpaa, Dougie Hamilton James Reimer, Petr Mrazek, Antoine Bibeau
Exempt Martin Necas n/a n/a

While the Hurricanes’ loss this time will be more impactful than Connor Brickley in 2017, they’re still set up pretty well here. The decision to slide Martin Necas’ Entry Level Contract looks like a stroke of genius, as the team won’t be forced to use a protection spot on the young Czech forward.

The Canes can satisfy the goalie exposure requirement by qualifying Jeremy Helvig. Jake Gardiner fills the defenseman spot, and Steven Lorentz and Jesper Fast take care of things up front. We considered protecting Fast, but the Canes would have to sign and expose Morgan Geekie in order to do that.

While prospects such as Seth Jarvis and Dominik Bokk who haven’t played in the NHL don’t appear in our table, they are also exempt.

Some notes on the players protected:

Forwards

Sebastian Aho - I’ve used some variation of “not going anywhere” every time, but he’s not going anywhere. Aho is the Canes’ best player and team MVP, and is coming off yet another stellar season. Next.

Teuvo Teravainen - The Hurricanes being forced to play much of the 2021 regular season without Teravainen may have underscored how valuable the two-way Finnish playmaker is. He’s also on a steal of a contract for three more seasons. Like Aho, he’s not going anywhere.

Andrei Svechnikov - Svechnikov had a bit of a down season, but he’s still an elite young forward brimming with potential and a huge part of the Canes’ future. Whether the pending RFA eventually signs a bridge or long-term deal with Carolina, he won’t be an option for Seattle.

Jordan Staal - Staal has a no-move clause, so he has to be protected anyway, and there’s no way the Canes would expose their captain and shutdown center coming off arguably the best offensive season of his career.

Vincent Trocheck - Trocheck being protected wasn’t exactly a sure thing the first time I did this exercise last November. It is now. The former Panther was everything the Canes hoped he’d be this year, a legitimate top-six center that helped round out the Canes’ forward group and gave them formidable depth down the middle. He’s staying.

Nino Niederreiter - A year ago, the idea of a team taking Niederreiter’s cap hit off the Canes’ hands for free would have almost seemed too good to be true. But, coming off the definition of a bounce-back year for Niederreiter, it’s a pretty easy decision to protect him. His power game and finishing ability were sorely missed for most of the series against the Lightning, and the Canes should look to hold onto him, especially with just a year left on his contract.

Morgan Geekie - Again, if the Canes sign Geekie before July 17, this could very well be Jesper Fast. But Geekie is also a good candidate to protect. He’s shown plenty of potential in limited opportunities, and giving Geekie a full-time opportunity could be part of the answer to the Canes finding more production from their bottom six.

Defensemen

Jaccob Slavin - Despite what a certain mad online member of the Canadian media would have you believe, Slavin was very worthy of the Lady Byng Trophy. He’s also worthy of his status of one of the best lockdown defensemen in the NHL, and his spot on the Canes’ protected list.

Brett Pesce - All things considered, Pesce might have been the Canes’ best defenseman from start to finish in his return from shoulder surgery. There’s a reason the Canes weren’t willing to trade him for help up front last fall, and they certainly won’t be willing to let him go to Seattle.

Brady Skjei - This is the biggest question mark on the Canes’ protected list. There’s plenty of reasons to protect Jake Bean here, which is why I did that in my last protection list. He’s younger, will come much cheaper than Skjei, and still has plenty of potential. But there are also a number of reasons I pivoted to Skjei, and they really don’t have much to do with Bean’s struggles in the playoffs.

After a rough start to the year, Skjei seemed to finally settle in as a Hurricane and showed exactly why they spent a first-round pick to get him. Skjei’s skating and offensive instincts make him a perfect compliment to Pesce in the top four and helps round out the top four nicely.

This pick is also made with the uncertainty about Dougie Hamilton re-signing in mind. If Hamilton does walk, the Canes can’t afford to risk losing Skjei, and two members of their top four on defense. That would be a huge step back on the blue line, and one this team can’t afford.

Goalie

Alex Nedeljkovic - Of all the changes for the Hurricanes since the first time I did this list, with Nedeljkovic essentially as a placeholder, this is the biggest. The 2014 second rounder had a phenomenal season, finishing with the highest save percentage and lowest goals against average among goalies with at least 10 games played.

He was a finalist (and finished third in voting) for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, and looks like he could be the Canes’ goalie of the future. This is another pretty easy choice.

Who’s saying good bye?

So, with that protected list in mind, who’s most likely to be selected by the Kraken? There’s three players who seem feasible for Francis to take (given his contract and back issues, I don’t see it being Jake Gardiner unless the Hurricanes provide Francis with an asset in a side deal).

Jake Bean - While Bean had his ups and downs (and plenty of the later in the postseason) in his rookie year, he’s still the most likely Cane to be selected if he’s not protected. Francis drafted Bean in the first round of the 2016 draft, and, as stated before, Bean has potential to be a top four defenseman who can run a power-play unit. He’s got the kind of skillset you want to take a chance on in starting a franchise.

Warren Foegele - Another player Francis drafted, Foegele’s time with the Hurricanes seems to be coming to an end, with Elliott Friedman reporting in his latest 31 Thoughts that both sides are open to a trade as Foegele wants more money and more opportunity. He’s a solid two-way forward who could have potential to do more with bigger minutes, but he’s just not going to get those in Raleigh. If Francis has enough other options he likes on the blue line to pass on Bean, Foegele could very well be the pick.

Jesper Fast - It was well established when he first signed with the Canes that Fast has a reputation as a good teammate and locker-room guy, which is important to have on a brand new group. He’s also a very reliable player on the ice, capable of playing up and down the lineup in a pinch and on both special-teams units. It would be a little surprising to see Francis pass on the youth and potential of Bean or Foegele, but Fast would be a good veteran addition to the Kraken.

While the Canes aren’t set up quite as well as they were for the last expansion draft, they’re still in a good spot to protect their core here. They’ll lose an impactful player, but it’ll be a loss this team will be able to stomach as it continues to look to build a team that can take the next step to contending for a Stanley Cup.