Updated: Jul 20, 2021
***image from nhl.com
We are a week away from the NHL Expansion Draft for the new franchise, the Seattle Kraken. If you are unfamiliar with the expansion draft, what it does is set up an opportunity for the new franchise to fill their roster with players from the existing NHL rosters (except for the Vegas Golden Knights because they are the newest team). Teams are allowed to protect players, meaning Seattle cannot take them. There are many other rules, such as protecting players with no-movement clauses (unless waived by the player), but you can research that at your own leisure. I would frankly confuse anyone reading this as well as myself if I broke that down.
The Blues have an interesting offseason ahead of them, especially with the now old news that winger Vladimir Tarasenko wants to be traded. The Blues also have three UFAs they need to replace or re-sign (Schwartz, Bozak, Hoffman) and a myriad of RFAs they need to make decisions on (Thomas, Kyrou, Barbashev, Sanford, Dunn). They also have to evaluate most likely internal options to replace defenseman Carl Gunnarsson who retired after sustaining a fairly gruesome injury that ended his 2020-21 season. The draft is the first step or wrinkle in that. I'll break down categories that I would put the players into and then predict what will happen on July 21. There are 2 ways you can protect players, and I will be using the protection model of 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie.
The Locks to Be Protected
You may look at the lock list and realize that it really only leaves two slots at the forward position to protect. I would expect that this is the case with a lot of NHL teams. Thomas and Kyrou and still cheap and RFAs and seemingly the future of the franchise at the forward position. O'Reilly is your captain, Perron arguably your best offensive player, and Schenn, you just signed through 2027-28. Your top 3 defensemen are Faulk, Krug, and Parayko. As much as I like Marco Scandella, he doesn't break the protection list. The same goes for Ville Husso. You protect the guy who literally won you a Stanley Cup.
The "Hopefully We Can Trade Them Before the Draft" Guys
Tarasenko has said he wants out. It would be nice not to have to waste a lock spot potentially on a guy who doesn't want to be there. Dunn would be on the outside looking in for a protected spot. Still, for a young defenseman who certainly has shown some skill (despite how Blues fans on social media may feel) and is a relatively inexpensive RFA, it would be nice to at least get a draft pick for him. If not traded, he certainly becomes a candidate to be selected by Seattle. Keep in mind that if forwards are obtained via trade before the expansion draft lists are due, they could easily be protected.
The "Probably Protected" Guy
Sundqvist has proven to be an outstanding player over the last few seasons (Blues got him for Ryan Reaves. They also got a first-round pick which turned into Klim Kostin in the deal). I think he has earned the right to get the nod of protection. He is a guy who can play on your third or fourth line, contribute offensively, and penalty kills effectively. If left unprotected, a potential guy to lose.
Yes, there are other available UFAs at the forward position for the Blues like Nathan Walker, Austin Poganski, and Curtis McKenzie. But their loss wouldn't be felt. More likely, with these guys, as opposed to drafting them, they would speak with them during their exclusive free agency period from July 18-21. Why waste a pick if you can sign a guy?
The "Other Guys Who Could Be Drafted"
If there is one spot open for a forward, I will give it to Barbashev. I think he brings a lot to the team as Sundqvist does. Sanford is another I would consider (probably in the minority of Blues fans). I don't necessarily see Seattle wanting to add a player like Clifford, Blais, or MacEachern for the rest of them. They could, but I haven't seen much chatter in that. An interesting player who impressed me that I would take a hard look at if I were Seattle GM Ron Francis would be Jake Walman. Walman is an exceptional skater and even filled in as a forward at the time for the injury-riddled Blues last season. I liked what I saw out of both him and Mikkola. But without being an expert on what players are most likely available from other teams, I just haven't heard them mentioned too often. Husso is another player who I think is an interesting choice. He showed flashes at times and doesn't seem to factor long-term into the Blues plans, with Joel Hofer rising through the ranks over the next few years.
Who Does Seattle Draft?
Ultimately if one of Sundqvist or Barbashev is left unprotected, I think they lose them. Unless they take Tarasenko, which would be possible if he isn't protected. Vince Dunn is another who could be gone if not traded. Husso also is an outside shot. My official prediction is that the Blues will say goodbye to Ivan Barbashev, and I will solemnly play Aqua's "Barbie Girl" in a minor key to lament the loss.