Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins are back-to-back champions, it is time to begin the offseason. The expansion draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights will kick it off. The protected (and unprotected) lists were released yesterday, and everyone has their own projected picks. I’m going to spend this time making predictions myself.
As everyone knows, Vegas will be drafting one player from each team. I will start with Anaheim. The names that pop out the most are Patrick Eaves, Clayton Stoner, and Sami Vatanen. Eaves can give a team 20 goals or so, but he has a hard time staying healthy. If I was McPhee, I’d look at the two defensemen, Stoner and Vatanen, and probably choose the latter. He’s a good top 4-6 defenseman, and he will be just entering his prime.
Looking at Arizona, the only two that jump out are Jamie McGinn and Radim Vrbata. McGinn is a solid top 9 forward with nice offensive abilities, so he wouldn’t be a bad pick. Radim Vrbata would be a good pickup, too, with better playmaking ability. The only downside would be that he is 36 years old, but, at the same time, McGinn is not a guy that is kept for more than a few seasons, so I’d probably still pick Vrbata.
Boston protected their players very well. The guys that will be considered, most likely, are Matt Belesky, Jimmy Hayes, Colin Miller, and Adam McQuaid. I’d probably cross out Hayes and possibly Miller. Belesky or McQuaid would seem to be the best options. My first instinct says to go with McQuaid.
Matt Moulson, Zach Bogosian, and Dmitri Kulikov are the biggest names out of Buffalo. Kulikov would be great, but he is a UFA, so there is no guarantee Vegas could re-sign him. They could send him to a team that he would sign with for something in return, though. They are also picking 30 players, and 23 is the maximum number of players a team can have on their NHL roster, so it wouldn’t be a huge loss. Still, for a safe bet, they could go with Bogosian. The problem with Moulson is he’s no longer the offensive force he was with the Islanders.
From Calgary, I believe considerations include Troy Brouwer, Deryk Engelland, and Brian Elliott. With goalies like Fleury available, I’d say Elliott won’t be headed to Vegas. I’d probably go with a forward here and grab Brouwer, but Engelland would be good for Vegas’s third pairing, so I wouldn’t rule him out.
The pick from Carolina is almost certainly projected to be Lee Stempniak. Other possibilities include Joakim Nordstrom, Jay McClement, and Eddie Lack. Like Elliott, however, I don’t see Lack (or Ward, who is also unprotected) going to Vegas, and I just see McPhee picking Stempniak over Nordstrom or McClement.
Names such as Oduya, Van Riemsdyk, and Kruger pop out of Chicago. I’d cross off Oduya, though. Kruger could be used in their bottom 6 forward units, and Van Riemsdyk could be pinned into their top 4 defensively. I think it depends on who they take from other teams.
There isn’t much from Colorado. The first two names that I laid my eyes on were the defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercosh. I’d maybe take one of them for the 3rd defensive pairing, but I’d go with the one forward that stands out in Carl Soderberg. He is a solid playmaker and decent goal scorer when at his best.
Out of Columbus, the big name is defenseman Jack Johnson. Forward Matt Calvert is also a stand out, but I think Johnson is someone they have to pick. He could possibly slot into the first defensive pairing.
Dallas has a good amount to choose from. Ales Hemsky, Patrick Nemeth, Cody Eakin, Dan Hamhuis, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrick Sharp, and goalies Antii Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are some of the options. I’d choose Lehtonen or Niemi only for the backup position, but would skip on them all together. Sharp is off the list since he’s a UFA and not worth the risk of losing to free agency. I’d go with Cody Eakin, a very good face-off man who can play on both ends of the ice.
Let’s take a break and see what we have through the first ten picks. I have projected 6 forwards and 4 defensemen. In the forward group, so far we have Eakin, Stempniak, and Brouwer that would make up a 3rd line. Soderberg, Vrbata, and Kruger are the other three. On defense, there is Jack Johnson, Adam McQuaid, Dmitri Kulikov, and Sami Vatanen that’d, so far, make up the top 4.
In Detroit, Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, and Petr Mrazek are all available. I’ve heard some discouraging things about Ericsson and Kronwall lately, so I might hold off on them. Sheahan had a 2 goal season last year, which could be a turn off. Mrazek had a down year himself, and even though he’s a starter caliber goalie, the others available will make Vegas probably pass on him. I would actually stray away from those names all together and take Martin Frk, a young forward with a good upside.
Edmonton has some good possibilities. Those include David Desharnais, Andrew Ference, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart, and Kris Russel. They’d have to renegotiate with Russel, and I don’t think, especially with the salary he might get, he’d be worth the chance. There are some other solid top 6 defensemen they could pick up, but at this point, I believe Vegas would be looking at filling the top 6. Due to this, I’d draft Desharnais, a very good playmaker that can give you 15-20 goals, as well.
Florida has a couple big names unprotected. They are Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Marchessault, and even Jaromir Jagr. Either of those would be a good choice. Personally, I’d pick Jokinen, but, of course, he’s my favorite NHLer, so I may be a little biased there. Still, he can give a team 20-30 goals, 50-60 points, as well as very solid defensive and face-off abilities. Then, come playoff time, you can count on him to “turn on the juice” and give you big goals when one is desperately needed. Marchessault may very well be taken, though.
From LA, I’d pick defenseman Brayden McNabb. Names such as Dustin Brown and Marion Gaborik also pop up, but I think McNabb would be a very good addition to their defensive group.
Minnesota has some very good players available. They include Martin Hanzal, Erik Haula, Matt Dumba, and most notably, Eric Staal. By far and away, I’d take Staal. At this point in this projected roster, Vegas has Cody Eakin and Marcus Kruger filling up roles Hanzal and Haula would be taking. They have 5 defensive spots filled and would be looking for more top 6 to 7th defensemen that would be available. Plus, the top 6 forward positions would still need to be filled out, and Eric Staal could fill the first or second line center role and give them 70 points.
In Montreal, left unprotected are players such as Plakanec, Radulov, Markov, and Emilen. I’d cross off the two defensemen. It’d be between Plakanec or Radulov. I’d take the chance with his UFA status and pick Radulov. He has translated his offensive abilities in the KHL to the NHL, and he is worth the risk to try to re-sign him and fill one of the remaining three top six forward positions.
Nashville has an abundance of guys to choose from, from Craig Smith and Colton Cissons to Mike Fisher. The guy I’d go with, though, is James Neal. Not only does he fill another top six spot with his 30 goals and two-way ability, but for chemistry reasons, he’d ve very effective. In his time with Pittsburgh, he played on one of the most lethal lines in the NHL with Jussi Jokinen. Let’s say they do take Jokinen. Add the fact Eric Staal played four seasons with Jokinen in Carolina, a line of Jokinen-Staal-Neal could be frightening.
For New Jersey, there isn’t much available at all. I’d go with Ben Lovejoy to fill in that sixth defensive spot or at least be an extra defensemen.
So we’ve gone through 18 forwards. Now it’s time to draft the extras, of which some could overtake those 18 spots. From the Islanders, the one to pick up would probably be Brock Nelson. As of now, he’d fill in that last forward spot (although that could change as we go forward). Other names such as Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan, and Thomas Hickey come up, but Nelson exceeds those.
The goalie position is still empty. Despite players like Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, and Brandon Pirri, I would pick Antii Raanta as the backup goaltender. Raanta’s availability is the reason I didn’t pick one of the goalies from Carolina or Dallas in my projection.
Names like Alex Burrows, Viktor Stalberg, and Marc Methot are listed as unprotected in Ottawa. I think Vegas should choose Bobby Ryan, who could fit in the top six. He can give a team 20+ goals and 50-60 points in a season.
Here’s a look at the roster through 21 picks:
F: Marchessault/Jokinen-Staal-Neal, Radulov-Desharnais-Ryan, Vrbata-Eakin-Soderberg, Stempniak-Kruger-Brouwer/Frk,
D:Johnson-Vatanen, McQuaid-McNabb, Lovejoy-Kulikov/Bogosian
Philadelphia has players such as Andrew MacDonald, Michael Del Zotto, and P.E Bellemare available. MacDonald and Del Zotto don’t seem like great pickups, and Bellemare, to me, would be questionable. I would go with Michael Raffl, who can add some depth to the roster.
Guys like Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz are available in Pittsburgh, but Vegas has to go with Marc-Andre Fleury for their starting goalie. He still deserves to have that role, and with Murray taking over the crease in Pittsburgh, this is the best opportunity for Fleury and the Golden Knights.
There are several good choices from San Jose. They include Mikhail Boedker, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward, and Brandon Dillon. You can’t go wrong with any of them. With some veteran forwards who can score already, Patrick Marleau can be crossed off the list. Mikhail Boedker and Joel Ward, while very good, can be easily replaced. I’d go for defenseman Brandon Dillon as an option to fill one of the defensive spots.
Not many high quality players are available in St. Louis; they did a good job protecting players. The most notable names are Kyle Brodziak and David Perron. I’d have to draft David Perron. He would give them 20 goals and about 40-50 points, fitting into the top 9 well.
Tampa has some pretty good names available, especially on defense. They are Jason Garrison, Slater Koekkoek, and Andrej Sustr. Out of those three, I’d take Sustr.
There isn’t much in the way to choose from in Toronto. The best one to take would be Brian Boyle, who is a solid physical presence in a bottom six position.
I don’t see much in Vancouver. Depth forwards and top 6 defensemen seem to be the only ones available. I’m guessing Vegas may draft the young defenseman, Andrey Pedan, from the Canucks. He seems to have a lot of upside.
Names in Washington include Brooks Opik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, TJ Oshie, and Justin Williams. Williams is a UFA, and not worth the chance. Shattenkirk would be great for the defense; maybe he’d pair up with Johnson. Orpik would sit well with the second pairing. TJ Oshie is also enticing. I would go with Shattenkirk to solidify the top 2. Oshie wouldn’t be an improvement on any of the top six forwards already drafted.
The last team is Winnipeg. There are a couple good names out there, such as Toby Enstrom or Brian Strait. I would draft, however, Marko Dano, who could fit in a 3rd line role.
Here is what the roster looks like:
F: Marchessault-Staal-Neal, Radulov-Desharnais-Ryan, Vrbata-Eakin-Soderberg, Stempniak-Kruger-Brouwer
D: Johnson-Shattenkirk, Vatanen-McNabb, Kulikov-Dillon
G: Fleury, Raanta
Lovejoy, Sustr, Dano, Perron, Raffl, Frk, Boyle, Pedan, Nelson, McQuaid