Exploring Expansion: Which Columbus Blue Jacket Will Leave For Seattle In July's Draft?

By Ed Francis on May 27, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Is Eric Robinson on his way to the Seattle Kraken this summer?
Sam Navarro-USA Today Sports

All indications are that the 2021-22 NHL season will start on time.

If that holds, it means that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in the infancy of what will be their shortest offseason ever.

For a team (and a fan base) that struggled as much as the Blue Jackets did this year, that's a great thing. For Columbus management, though, it takes an already packed offseason agenda and condenses it just that much more.

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen, along with newly rehired president of hockey operations John Davidson, will need to hire a new head coach. They need to figure out the long-term status of Seth Jones. They need to make a decision on which goalie they want to keep. They need to determine where Patrik Laine fits into the lineup, and they need to seek out a player that can gel well with him.

And for the second time in four seasons, they'll need to plan for an expansion draft that will see them lose a player.

It can't go any worse for Columbus this time around than it the first, can it? In the NHL's 2017 Expansion Draft, when the league welcomed the Vegas Golden Knights to the league, the Blue Jackets gave the Knights exactly what they wanted - and more.

In exchange for Vegas not selecting forward Josh Anderson or goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (and taking the contract of the injured and unofficially-retired-at-the-time David Clarkson), Columbus send a first and second round pick to the desert. The Knights didn't so much with those picks, but they took William Karlsson with the Blue Jackets blessing. 

Karlsson, 24 years old at the time, would finish his first season in Vegas with 43 goals and 35 assists en route to a top ten finish in the Hart Memorial voting for the league's regular season MVP. The Knights would come within three games of winning the Stanley Cup as an expansion team.

Still with the Cup-contending Knights, Karlsson - who is now 28 - is approaching 100 goals (96) in 283 regular season games with the Knights. He showed promise with Columbus, picking up 15 goals and adding 30 assists over two full seasons, but few (if any) would have predicted the offensive explosion he would see upon his arrival in Vegas. 

“I think we’ve looked at probably 100 times already, ‘Could we have done something different the last time around?’” said Kekalainen said. “Probably not. You’re going to make some mistakes and you might let the wrong guy go."

"It’s not an exact science.”

It was an experience that can be learned from, though. As the Blue Jackets ready to finalize their list of eligible players for the Kraken to choose from, they find themselves in a better position to avoid a colossal lose. Elvis Merzlikins is protected, so Columbus can protect Korpisalo and in turn, keep their goalie depth in its entirety. 

They also don't have to leave a player like Anderson unprotected, who was coming off a breakout season with 17 goals and 12 assists in 78 games, despite averaging just over 12 minutes per game. His 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns would see success in Columbus, but an injury would derail his 2019-20 season and Anderson was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens last offseason.

When it comes down to it, the Blue Jackets are most likely to lose either defenseman Dean Kukan or forward Eric Robinson. Veteran forward Gustav Nyquist could be in play as well, but will Seattle want a player coming off shoulder surgery who will be 32 when the season starts? Kevin Stenlund, Gabriel Carlsson, and Matiss Kivlenieks are all potential options for Kraken, as is the possibility of some type of deal between the two teams. 

If the Blue Jackets want to have a coach in place sooner rather than later, as Kekalainen has hinted at wanting to do, the new bench boss may have a say in who goes to Seattle. It's no secret that the Blue Jackets need to find a way to improve the offense next season and their next coach will likely reflect that urgency.

For the expansion draft, that could go either way: a coach that sees a higher ceiling for a guy like Robinson could be inclined to encourage the Blue Jackets to find a way to make sure they keep him, even if exposed. If the new coach decides that the team needs different personnel more than a different philosophy, it could push a Robinson (or Stenlund or Nyquist) type out of the picture completely. 

The difference between this expansion draft and the last one is the ceiling. Losing any of the previously mentioned players would not have the same impact as losing Karlsson did in 2017, and the Blue Jackets won't need to leave a player with the skill set of Anderson unprotected as they did last time around. 

If they go the route of a trade, they certainly won't be giving up the quality of draft picks they did the first time. Not only do they not need to ensure an unprotected player remains with the team (a la Anderson), there also isn't an outrageous contract that needs to be dealt as there was with that of Clarkson's in 2017. In fact, the Blue Jackets don't really have a "bad" contract on their books as it stands now. 

Perhaps that's something they use to their advantage this time around.


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