For all of the disruptions to the hockey schedule, the Seattle Kraken’s NHL inauguration is continuing as planned. They are slated to begin play during the 2021-2022 season, with the Expansion Draft taking place in June of 2021.
For any new fans of hockey and the Rangers (or for anyone in need of a reminder), Seattle will select one player from each NHL team to fill up its organizational depth chart. However, teams will be able to protect an assortment of players from the draft. There are a couple of ways for teams to do so, but the most common scenario, and the one the Rangers are virtually guaranteed to use, is protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Furthermore, players on the first or second year of an entry-level contract are exempt.
We last projected what the Rangers’ protection list could look like back in March following the trading deadline. Although the Rangers haven’t made radical changes to the roster this offseason, the outlook has still changed. Here is an updated look at how the Rangers are set up for the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft.
Panarin, Kreider, and Zibanejad all have to be protected because of their no-movement clauses, not that the Rangers would have exposed any of them otherwise. Buchnevich and Chytil, unless traded, are also locks to be protected.
After that, it gets interesting. I’m currently projecting Strome as the sixth protected forward but I don’t think that spot is safely his. There are likely other reasons why he was signed to a two-year deal, but that contract conveniently makes him a realistic Seattle target in a way that a one-year deal or a long-term deal wouldn’t have. If the Rangers badly need cap space or believe they are going to upgrade at center later in the offseason, they could decide to expose Strome to Seattle in hopes that they take him and therefore leave some other, younger players alone.
But assuming Strome is protected, that leaves one spot for Brendan Lemieux, Brett Howden, and Julien Gauthier to fight for. Lemieux is the “safest” NHLer of the group but probably peaks out as a fourth-liner. Like Strome, conveniently is signed to a two-year deal and therefore is prime Seattle bait. The Rangers love Gauthier’s upside, but his NHL capabilities are based mostly on circumstantial evidence at this point. If the 2020-21 season is dramatically shortened, or canceled altogether, due to COVID, will the Rangers have enough of a sample to comfortably use a slot on Gauthier? If I were in charge, Howden would need a monster season to make it onto the protected list, but I’m not in charge. The Rangers have a different view of Howden and they could very well decide to protect him.
Something else to consider: Each team is required to expose at least two forwards under contract for 2021-22 who will have either played 40 games in 2020-21 or 70 total games between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. COVID might force the NHL to amend those rules, but it’s something to consider.
The biggest change from March is that Jesper Fast signed in Carolina, eliminating him from this discussion.
In essence, there are currently two spots available for Strome, Lemieux, Gauthier, and Howden to battle for, with Strome well ahead of the pack at this moment.
At face value, this one is pretty straightforward. Trouba is a required protection because of his no-movement clause. DeAngelo and Lindgren are no-brainer selections for the remaining two protection slots.
The problem is, as mentioned before, those pesky rules about exposure requirements. The Rangers will be required to expose a defenseman who has played the minimum number of games cited earlier. Again, the league may loosen those requirements in light of COVID, but as it stands this is a problem for the Rangers. Johnson, and likely Smith, will fit the games played requirements but aren’t under contract for 2021-22. Hajek is 40 games away while the newly signed Bitetto is 19 games away. If the rules remain, the Rangers will either have to extend one of Smith or Johnson, acquire a defenseman prior to the expansion draft who meets the requirements, play Hajek or Bitetto in a lot of games this upcoming season, or leave one of DeAngelo or Lindgren exposed.
Unless something unexpected happens, the Rangers’ situation at goaltender is locked in for Seattle Expansion. Shesterkin is exempt from the draft as a second-year NHLer, meaning that Georgiev is the obvious player to protect. To satisfy the requirement to expose one goaltender under contract for the 2021-22 season, the Rangers signed veteran Keith Kinkaid to a two-year deal this offseason.
A lot can change between now and next June. One trade could completely upend everything. In the current conditions, it seems that two of Strome, Lemieux, Gauthier, and Howden will get protected while the other two join Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto as notable names on the Rangers’ exposure list.
We also know that Seattle has invested significantly in analytics, with Alexandra Mandrycky, Namita Nandakumar, and Daniel Chu making up a Murderer’s Row for an organization that is expected to lean heavily on its data department for expansion draft advice. Given that, we can project with a moderate degree of confidence that Seattle will steer clear of Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Anthony Bitetto, all of whom most advanced data project as liabilities on the ice.
At least based on the current makeup of the Rangers’ organizational depth chart and expansion draft rules, the best projection for June 2021 is this: The Rangers will protect two of Strome, Lemieux, and Gauthier, with the remaining player heading to Seattle.