RALEIGH — With the news last Tuesday that the NHL would be adding a franchise in Seattle to start play in 2021-22, so too will come the second expansion draft in just four years.
Last year, the Vegas Golden Knights parlayed their selections in the expansion draft to unforeseen and unprecedented success, reaching the Stanley Cup Final. As rumors of the addition of a 32nd team turned into an inevitable reality, many believed the NHL wouldn’t use the same parameters in allowing its next franchise to select players from each of its soon-to-be opponents.
While the league agreed Seattle was the right destination for its latest franchise, it turns out the NHL — fully embracing that the Golden Knights’ inaugural season’s success kickstarted the team’s acceptance in Las Vegas — will stick with the expansion draft rules from 2017.
That means 30 teams — Vegas will be excluded — will have the option of protecting either:
• 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goalie; or
• 8 skaters (combination of forwards and defensemen) and 1 goalie
There are a few other rules the 30 teams must follow. Any first- or second-year NHL contracted player cannot be selected, and neither can any unsigned draft picks. Each team must expose one defenseman and two forwards who have either played 40 games in the previous season (which will be 2020-21) or a combined 70 games in the two prior seasons (2019-20, 2020-21). Those three players must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. The other 30 teams must also make available one goalie (under contract or a restricted free agent who was tendered a qualifying offer). Players with injuries deemed “career-threatening” cannot be used to fulfill this requirement.
In last year’s expansion draft, the Hurricanes gave the Golden Knights a fifth-round draft pick to influence their expansion choice. Vegas selected forward Connor Brickley, who later signed with the Florida Panthers.
So who will the Hurricanes protect in the 2021 expansion draft? It’s hard to predict, given that any number of players could be added or subtracted from Carolina’s roster in 2½ years. But based on the team’s current roster and assets, here’s a best guess.
Protected (7): Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele, Martin Necas, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Janne Kuokkanen
Exposed: Victor Rask and Lucas Wallmark
For starters, Staal’s no-movement clause means the team has to protect him. Beyond that, there are only three players that would seem like must-protects for Carolina. Aho is the team’s best player and due a long-term contract, while Svechnikov is an emerging star. Necas hasn’t established himself as an NHL star yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.
Beyond that, there’s plenty in flux. Teravainen could be signed to a long-term deal and thus protected, while Foegele, Nicolas Roy, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie or Wallmark all might establish themselves as worthy of protecting over Kuokkanen. And if he’s re-signed, Micheal Ferland is a player the team would likely want to keep. The team also needs to be sure to meet the parameters of the two forwards they are required to make available.
Protected (3): Jake Bean, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin
Exposed: Calvin de Haan
There are a lot of variables on defense. Dougie Hamilton will be an unrestricted free agent the summer of 2021. If Carolina re-signs him, he would need to be protected. Slavin is a lock, but Pesce — the subject of trade rumors — could potentially not be in Raleigh down the road.
Bean and Harvard’s Adam Fox are the team’s best defensive prospects. Bean, who started his professional career this season, would need to be protected and will be if he develops into what Carolina expected of him when they took him 13th overall in the 2016 draft. The Hurricanes likely won’t have to worry about Fox, since in all likelihood he would not be eligible to be selected. This scenario would leave Haydn Fleury, himself a former first-round pick, and Calvin de Haan unprotected. If Fleury trends upward, he could be protected — or the Hurricanes could influence Seattle’s choice with a draft pick. De Haan will be approaching the final year of his deal and might wind up being the most appealing player Carolina exposes.
Protected (1): Alex Nedeljkovic
Exposed: Jeremy Helvig
For now, Nedeljkovic is the goalie of the future. While he’s winning a lot of games behind the high-powered Checkers offense, his other numbers don’t really jump off the page. It seems unlikely any of Carolina’s current goalies — Scott Darling, Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek — are a “three years down the road” solution in net, so for now it’s Nedeljkovic. It could very easily change with the addition of another goalie or emergence of either Callum Booth or Helvig. This is undeniably the hardest to prognosticate.