Yesterday was a historic day for the NHL as Seattle was welcomed to the league as the 32nd member team. Although Seattle’s yet to be named club won’t begin play until the 2021-22 season, teams can already start preparing for the coming expansion draft that will take place in the Pacific Northwest in June of 2021.
Teams know the rules for this process, they’ll be the same ones followed for the 2017 Vegas expansion draft. A number of teams (Hello, Florida) botched that process terribly and will no doubt be smarter this time around. The gifts that Vegas received likely will not be available to a Seattle team navigating traveled ground for the 30 teams that will be involved in this process.
Edmonton surrendered Griffin Reinhart to their newest division rival in 2017, thanks in large part due to key players not being eligible for selection. That, unfortunately, will not be the case next time around. Looking from here, the Oilers could be in a tough spot heading into the expansion draft.
The Oilers have to be thankful that this draft will be taking place in 2021, not 2020 like Seattle had hoped for. Thanks to that one year delay, the Oilers will only be forced to protect Milan Lucic because of a movement clause. That said, odds are Lucic will be long gone by this point should his play continue on the path it has gone the last year and a half.
Had this draft been in 2020? The Oilers would be forced to protect both Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera. Both of their contracts expire on July 1st, 2021 however and will not require protection. That’s a big win for the Oilers.
On top of that, Evan Bouchard will not be eligible for the process. Bouchard did not play enough games to burn a year, and therefore will be considered a rookie next season. He, like Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse in 2017, will be exempt.
Who Will Still Be Here?:
The danger in looking at this list this early is that changes will certainly be happening and this roster won’t be close to the one we see come draft time. That is especially true if the Oilers miss the playoffs this spring. That would almost certainly mean a change in General Manager and change in direction.
That said, the following players will be under contract with the club come June 2021: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic and Oscar Klefbom.
Yes, only four players are slated to be under contract heading into the 2021-22 season, and one of them isn’t likely to be here if he continues to fail offensively. The Oilers will have some flexibility in this spot.
I think it is safe to assume that the Oilers will, at some point, re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the core group. I’d also add Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody to the NHL group.
Defensively, I think we can assume Darnell Nurse gets his long-term contract while Adam Larsson probably gets re-signed at some point too. Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard would be the most likely candidates to emerge from the system.
What The Oilers List Could Look Like:
The rules, as mentioned above, are the same as the Vegas draft in 2017. That means the Oilers can protect either seven forwards, three defenders and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender.
Based on what I think the Oilers might look like in 2021 and the rules, here is my way too early expansion draft list for the Oil.
Forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Acquired Player (Let’s call him Mike Hoffman for the purpose of this exercise)
Defenders: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse (Evan Bouchard exempt)
I’ve moved Lucic off this list, but unfortunately at the expense of Puljujarvi. I don’t think there is anyway the Oilers can move forward with Lucic beyond this season considering his production and cap hit. It’s going to cost a lot, but with growing frustrations around the Finnish forward I could see the club being willing to pay that price.
The salary cap is expected to rise to $83 million this summer, and if Edmonton moves Lucic they will certainly be in the market for an actual top-six winger at the NHL level. I’ve used Hoffman as an example, but any veteran scorer would do there.
Defensively, I don’t think the current group is near good enough. Depending on contract demands, I’d be tempted to move Larson before re-signing him. One dimensional defenders simply are not top-pairing options, and I fear he is going to ask for too much money. That said, I’ve kept him, Klefbom and Nurse on this list. With Bouchard exempt, this would leave both Bear and Jones open to being selected by Seattle.
Who Does Edmonton Lose?:
I would think a smart GM, which hopefully Edmonton has by this point, would try and make a move to protect the up-and-coming young blue on the Oiler roster. That said, just based on this protection list, Ethan Bear is the obvious pick for Seattle.
By June of 2021, he should be an NHL defender who is both young and fits the modern game like a glove. Consider the facts he played in the WHL for Seattle, was a star for that club and will likely be on a team friendly contract and it all just makes too much sense.