In June of next year, the unnamed Seattle NHL franchise will make their selections in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. As was the case with the Vegas expansion in 2017, the Columbus Blue Jackets will lose a player.
The Draft will follow the same rules as 2017, and Seattle will select one player from each team (excluding the Golden Knights) for a total of 30 players (14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies).
A refresher, courtesy of NHL.com:
Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions.
* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team's applicable protection limits.
* All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits.
The Blue Jackets, like many other teams in 2017, gave up quite a bit in order to protect the player(s) they felt needed to be protected (in this case, Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo), and it's likely that these teams will have learned from their mistakes. Columbus effectively bribed Vegas to take on the contract of David Clarkson by sending over a 2017 first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick. Oh, and in exchange, the Golden Knights took William Karlsson, who parlayed his new opportunity in Vegas into a top-six role and an eight-year contract.
Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff will be careful to ensure such a heist doesn't occur again on his watch, but still, Columbus must participate in the Expansion Draft. Which players could be selected by Seattle?
Obviously, a lot can and will change between now and next June. With that said, think of this as "Primer 1.0."
In 2017, seven teams chose to protect eight players and one goalie, and 23 chose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. The math makes sense: teams more often chose the 7/3/1 route simply because they'd be able to protect more of their players. However, the Blue Jackets may fall into the 8/1 category, as their high-end defensive depth is better than their forward group. For this projection, we're assuming they fall in the majority of teams that utilize the 7/3/1 option, though that may change in future primers.
Protected Forwards (7):
Cam Atkinson, Gustav Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, Eric Robinson
This projection assumes that Josh Anderson is re-signed (which is far from a given). If he's gone, look for the Blue Jackets to protect the person who backfills him in a potential trade. The Blue Jackets get some help from the exempt list, where they won't have to protect Liam Foudy, Emil Bemstrom, or Alexandre Texier. They'll have to expose Alexander Wennberg, but the only way Seattle would take on his contract is if they needed to get to the salary floor. Note: Nick Foligno, Riley Nash, Stefan Matteau, and Brandon Dubinsky are all UFA in 2021, so they're not pertinent to this analysis, at least, not yet.
Other forwards on the current roster that will be exposed in this projection: Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund, Nathan Gerbe.
Protected Defensemen (3):
Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov
This is where it gets interesting for Columbus. Obviously they'll protect their two franchise defensemen, but it's hard to say how they value their players after that. Like Foligno, Nash, etc., Ryan Murray is a 2021 UFA, but the truth is, I'm not sure management could justify protecting him even if he were extended beyond that. David Savard has been a solid contributor to this franchise for a long time, and it's possible he's extended between now and his 2021 UFA date as well, but even so, he'll be a 30-year old defenseman. Seattle could probably do better to find a long-term solution. Andrew Peeke is exempt from being exposed, and he's seen as the long-term solution on the second-pairing on the right-side, anyways.
That leaves Vladislav Gavrikov, Markus Nutivaara, and Dean Kukan (no offense Scott Harrington, Adam Clendening, or Gabriel Carlsson). If it were up to me, I'd protect Gavrikov. He's younger than the other two, and just as importantly fills a theoretical void that losing Savard would leave. He's a no-nonsense, plug-and-play type that makes the Blue Jackets a better team. Plus, let's say Seattle selects one of Nutivaara or Kukan. Columbus would be left with a left-handed, in his prime, puck-moving defenseman with offensive upside.
Protected Goaltender (1):
Not much to overthink here, with the caveat that it's possible that plenty could change in the next 12-15 months in net for the Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins is on the exempt list, saving the Blue Jackets from a difficult decision. It would be a bit surprising if Seattle selected Matiss Kivlenieks, but I suppose there are crazier things than a team selecting a young goalie with NHL upside on an inexpensive contract.
Projected Selection: Markus Nutivaara