Oilers Protection List Announced

The Edmonton Oilers protection list for Wednesday’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft has been revealed. To the surprise of no one, the club elected to go the 7-3-1 route, protecting seven forwards, three defenseman and one goaltender. This path has been telegraphed for weeks and was first reported by Daniel Nugent-Bowman of ‘The Athletic‘.

Here is the Oilers official protected list for Wednesday’s expansion draft.

Forwards – Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Josh Archibald, Zack Kassian

Defensemen – Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Duncan Keith

Goaltender – Stuart Skinner (RFA)

In goal, Skinner’s protection means that he will likely receive his qualifying offer from the club. This shouldn’t come as any surprise after Skinner enjoyed a breakout season with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. Expect Skinner to get a second contract and to start for the Condors in 2021-22.

The club would have protected veteran Mike Smith, but contract talks are not progressing as fast as expected. As a pending UFA, the Oilers had no reason to protect Smith, and the sides will continue to grind away on a new contract.

On defense, there are no surprises. Nurse enjoyed the best season of his career, while Bear rebounded nicely from a slow start and is expected to play with Nurse on the top pairing in 2021-22. Keith, of course, was acquired via trade six days ago and has a no-movement clause.

The Oilers were hoping to have Adam Larsson under contract by this point, but Larsson has been hesitant to put pen to paper prior to seeing what is on the open market. However, it seems like the Oilers have returned to the driver’s seat in the race for Larsson, and a deal could come as soon as Thursday, when teams can again sign players.

Up front, the five obvious protection slots went to McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto and Puljujarvi. There was debate on the last two spots, but the Oilers opted for veteran depth pieces Archibald and Kassian. Archibald is seen as a key piece to the bottom-six and the club’s highly successful penalty kill. His speed, versatility and physicality pushed him into protection territory.

Kassian is a less clear protection. Since signing his new four-year contract in January of 2020, Kassian has struggled. He was a complete non-factor in the ‘Return to Play’ bubble last August, and struggled to the point where he was demoted to the fourth line early in 2020-21. Kassian then ran into injury trouble, and never really got going again. Outside of a strong Game 3 against the Winnipeg Jets, he’s been a non-factor making over $3,000,000 per season.

GM Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett believe in the player, however, and the hope is that Kassian returns to his typical self with fans back in the building this season. The belief is that when Kassian is on, he provides more value than any of the other options the club had in front of them to protect.

Who Goes To Seattle?

It’s doubtful the Kraken take a goaltender from the Oilers. With Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, Chris Driedger and a handful of other goalies available to them, Alex Stalock and Mikko Koskinen likely won’t even be on the expansion club’s radar.

Defensively, with Caleb Jones now in Chicago, Kris Russell is really the only option for Seattle to select. Russell is a darkhorse candidate for selection in my mind. He’s a fine shutdown defenseman for a third pairing who kills penalties and is praised as a leader. Considering he is playing on a one-year deal for $1,250,000, Russell could fit in with the Kraken.

The likely outcome, however, is a forward going to Seattle. Pending RFA’s Dominik Kahun, Tyler Benson, Jujhar Khaira and Cooper Marody are available for selection. Kahun is the most proven option at the NHL level, and would provide the Kraken with a two-way third line forward who can score a little.

Benson and Marody are both impact players at the AHL level, but neither has broken into the NHL on a full-time basis. Marody’s skating seems to be what is holding him back, while Benson doesn’t score goals at a high enough rate for some. Still, Benson is a terrific distributor of the puck and added penalty killing to his skillset this past season.

Khaira, of course, has been a heavy presence in the bottom-six for a few seasons now in Edmonton. He’s also an elite penalty killer and played his Junior hockey down the road in Everett for the Silvertips.

If I were making the pick, it would be Benson. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Kraken GM Ron Francis went with Khaira, however.