It’s expansion draft day. By the end of the night, the Seattle Kraken will have a real hockey team with real NHL (and quite a few AHL) players on it.
The New York Rangers find themselves in the enviable position of not having to lose anyone too valuable for the second expansion draft in a row. But they will lose someone.
The last time around, the Vegas Golden Knights pried Oscar Lindberg away from the Rangers when they could have had Jesper Fast. This time around, it appears likely that the Rangers will lose another forward — but you never know. Here’s who is available to the Kraken today, including players who are pending UFAs.
- Available Forwards: Colin Blackwell, Jonny Brodzinski, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Gabriel Fontaine, Julien Gauthier, Tim Gettinger, Barclay Goodrow, Anthony Greco, Ty Ronning
- Available Defensemen: Anthony Bitetto, Brandon Crawley, Tony DeAngelo, Nick DeSimone, Mason Geertsen, Jack Johnson, Darren Raddysh, Brendan Smith
- Available Goaltender(s): Keith Kinkaid
- UFAs: Barclay Goodrow, Phil Di Giuseppe, Brendan Smith, Jack Johnson, Nick DeSimone, Darren Raddysh
Now, let’s highlight three players who seem to be the most discussed as options for the Kraken on the cauldron of chaos we know as Hockey Twitter.
The most valuable player the Rangers can lose tonight is Gauthier — and his value is tied up almost completely in his potential.
Gauther will be 24 in October but he has only 47 games of NHL experience under his belt. Originally a first-round pick of the Ron Francis-led Carolina Hurricanes (21st overall, 2016 Draft), Gauthier was acquired by the Rangers in exchange for defensive prospect Joey Keane. A proven goal-scorer at the AHL level, Gauthier won a Calder Cup with the Checkers in 2019 and won silver with Team Canada at the 2017 World Juniors.
Since becoming a Ranger, Gauthier hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to live up to his potential. In 2020-21, he scored two goals and picked up six assists in 30 games — five of those assists were primary — while averaging 9:39 TOI/GP. He showed flashes of being the prospect the Rangers hoped he was but simply didn’t get the ice time and opportunities he needed to show anything more than that.
The same skill set that made Gauthier an attractive project to the Rangers will likely be the reason the Kraken call his name. There are aspects of Gauthier’s game are still raw, but there’s a lot to work with here. General managers covet speed and size, and the winger has both. In the right situation, he could develop into a valuable third-line winger that provides scoring depth. A few seasons from now he could be a player the Rangers really wish they had back or he could be another Oscar Lindberg.
Seattle can only take a combination of 10 free agents, and those slots could fill up fast. So, the fact that the Rangers extended the pending restricted free agent ahead of the expansion draft could increase his chances of being picked.
Blackwell had a marvelous 2020-21 campaign — scoring 12 goals in 47 games — but everyone knows what he is. He’s a journeyman who flourished when given a unique opportunity to play up in the Rangers lineup. The chances of Blackwell repeating or building off of last season are unlikely — remember, he’s 28 — but his success story was easy to get wrapped up in.
So, what are the chances that the Kraken got swept off their feet by Blackwell, the lovable underdog, too?
I’d say it’s unlikely given the brainpower that Seattle has gone out of its way to collect heading into the expansion draft. Per Shayna Goldman’s public list, Seattle’s analytics department features Alexandra Mandrycky, Dani Chu, Namita Nandakumar, Eric Mathiasen, John Mavroudis, and Tom Ohashi as head video analyst. If some of those names don’t sound familiar to you, they should.
I don’t expect the Kraken to bite on Blackwell but they could see him as a valuable depth forward to fill a utility role. He’s duct tape. A guy you can move around your bottom-six that belongs on the fourth line but, hey, injuries happen. Maybe Francis likes Blackwell’s work ethic and resiliency and wants that on the ice in Seattle. He could also take Blackwell with the intention of moving him at the deadline for picks but there might be better options available who have more value. Then again, maybe Francis sees Blackwell as a 5-foot-8 journeyman that isn’t nearly as attractive as Gauthier.
I guess we’ll find out tonight.
In seven starts with the Rangers in 2020-21, Keith Kinkaid posted a record of 3-2-1 and a .898 save percentage. So, there are better goalies available out there but, that doesn’t mean the Kraken won’t at least consider the veteran netminder.
The New York native has 144 starts in the NHL to his name and his three seasons away from playing 2301:58 and starting 38 games with the Devils in 2018-19. He’s also a popular player with his teammates, which could mean something to a team that wants to establish an identity in the way that the Vegas Golden Knights did. At the end of the day, Kinkaid is an easy guy to like. That counts for something in a lot of front offices around the league and Seattle might be one of them.
With all of that said, I’d be shocked if Seattle takes Kinkaid given who else is out there in the goalie pool. Then again, maybe Francis goes hog wild and takes as many goalies as possible to hold the rest of the league hostage. Hey, you only get this opportunity once, right?
The Seattle Kraken will unveil their picks in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, and TVAS. The Kraken must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies, and at least 20 players who are under contract for next season. They will select one player from each team, excluding the Golden Knights.