This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.
Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.
It sucks to be a Duck right now. Anaheim is the chum in the Pacific Division waters, with only 8 wins in 30 games as they wallow — likely intractably — in last place. The Ducks’ season can be encapsulated in the form of their Tuesday game against Colorado. They took advantage of young Hunter Miska’s sloppy play between the pipes and jumped out to a 4-2 lead. Philipp Grubauer took over in the Avalanche net starting in the second period, stymied the Ducks’ offense for the remaining 40 minutes, and Anaheim lost 8-4.
Losing is a team effort in Anaheim; absolutely everybody is contributing to their dismal performance. The Ducks’ leading scorer, left wing Max Comtois, has 9 goals and 19 points, putting him roughly in 90th place league-wide. The range of plus-minus scores on the team tops out at plus-4, and sinks all the way to minus-15. And the better of the two netminders, starter John Gibson, has a goals-against average of 3.11 and save percentage of .894.
All of this makes the upcoming expansion draft a particularly sticky wicket. First, it’s going to be hard for Ducks management to figure out who to protect. With so many potentially talented forwards at varying ages and salaries, how do you decide which guys are going to make up the foundation upon which you re-build? There are already a number of competing theories about how the Ducks will proceed with their protection list, and they vary wildly.
But it also makes it hard to decide who the Kraken should select from the Ducks. Which of these guys is capable of producing on a team with actual potential — and who just plain sucks? If a kid did well in Juniors and hasn’t played for any other team, can he replicate that earlier success on a more balanced and successful NHL squad? If a 10-year veteran did well before they came to Anaheim, then their stats took a nose-dive, can they perform up to previous levels, or are they washed up?
That’s why they pay Kraken GM Ron Francis the big money, this is his problem. But as we’ll soon see, who Anaheim ends up protecting in the forward ranks really doesn’t matter that much. Unless something unforeseen happens, there really shouldn’t be much debate concerning who Seattle eventually selects.
Anyone who tells you they know who Anaheim will protect in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft has been drinking too much seawater. There is an argument to be made that even management does not know, at this point in what is for them a horrible season, who they are going to protect. So what we have to go on is philosophy: do you keep the guys that have a track record and you can rely on; or do you protect the youngsters and let the Kraken have their way with the rest of the lineup?
We do know a couple of things for sure. First, starting goaltender John Gibson will be protected. Next, forward Ryan Kesler has not played since the 2018-19 season, and will likely receive a “career-threatening injury” exemption. And finally, youngsters Max Comtois and Trevor Zegras are both exempt from the draft.
Beyond that, literally anyone in the forward ranks could end up being either protected or exposed, and there are very few guarantees in the defensive corps either. We’ll get to the defense later, but for now let’s look at 3 forwards who, if left exposed, could potentially be on the Kraken’s radar.
C Sam Steel, $863,000, RFA. If Seattle is going to choose a forward, this is the guy. He put up 131 points in 66 games (!!!) with the Regina Pats of the WHL (then added 30 points in 23 playoff games the same year), served as Captain of that squad the following season, and in his pro debut with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls he notched 41 points in 53 games. He has cleared the 100-game mark in the NHL with a dozen goals and two dozen assists, and if he continues to develop at this rate he’s going to be a monster.
LW Max Jones, $863,000, RFA. Jones is playing the left side on Anaheim’s 2nd line right now, and he’s making the most of it. He’s big, fast, and strong on the puck. He is also a major irritant to opposing defensemen, and he’s the first guy in to any scuffle on the ice if there’s trouble. The point production isn’t as impressive as Steel, but this is the guy who makes plays happen so his linemates can score. Think Brandon Saad with a temper.
RW Rickard Rakell, $3.79 million, signed through 2022. Less enticing due to the high price tag, this former first-round pick is still a reasonable choice if these other two are unavailable (which seems likely). He’s on the right side on the Ducks first line at present. His 9-year NHL career has seen him rack up 302 points in 477 games, all with the Ducks, so this is one of those guys who might (?) blossom on a more talented team. He regularly delivered at a point-per-game pace in Juniors, so anything’s possible.
While there are still no guarantees with the Ducks’ blueliners, I am going to go out on a limb and say that top-pairing stalwart Cam Fowler is going to get a protected slot. He’s signed for another 5 years at $6.5 million AAV, something tells me they want to hang on to him. Just a guess.
But here we run up against the question about philosophy: expose the veterans and maybe free up some cap space? Or expose the youngsters and hope they take a forward instead?
Among the veterans they have 6’3″, 211 lb. Hampus Lindholm, who has 199 points in 520 NHL games while logging a combined plus-74; and crushing stay-at-home blueliner Josh Manson, who has the distinction of playing at a penalty-minute-per-game pace throughout his NHL career — but still delivers solid defensive stats. Both are signed through next season; Lindholm at $5.2 million, Manson at $4.1 million.
The youngsters in the defensive corps include Jacob Larsson, a two-way defenseman in just his 4th season in the NHL; tough and reliable Brendan Guhle, who has played all 59 of his NHL games with Buffalo and Anaheim, leading one to wonder what he could do on a better club; and Josh Mahura, who impressed in his WHL years with Red Deer and Regina, but has yet to get his feet under him in the NHL.
If you’ve been following along at home you’ll notice I’ve left out one prominent name; that’s because we’re saving the best for last.
Kevin Shattenkirk signed a 3-year deal with Anaheim this past off-season at $3.9 million AAV. He came to the Ducks from Tampa Bay — fresh off hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in his 10th year in the league. He’s a right-shot defenseman. He’s the quarterback of the #1 power play unit on every team he’s played for. He’s suited up for 709 regular season games, notching 395 points. Add to that 85 playoff games where he tallied 47 points including 3 game-winning goals.
Last season with the Lightning is indicative of what he can bring to the Kraken. 70 games played during the shortened regular season, 34 points, plus-22, with 66 blocked shots; 25 playoff games in the bubble, 13 points, 39 more blocked shots, and a plus-8.
But the intangible that trumps all of that, and puts Shattenkirk head and shoulders above the rest of the potential selections from Anaheim, is that Stanley Cup ring. This young Kraken squad will be cobbled together mostly out of third-line wingers, young and inexperienced defensemen, and backup goalies. Those players must have leaders among them — guys who know what it takes to post a winning season, guys who have gone deep in the playoffs, and hopefully a few who have raised the venerated silver chalice. Kevin Shattenkirk has done all of those things, and he can be a cornerstone of this new Seattle team for the bargain price of $3.9 million.
There are only a couple of teams in the league where there is a player who is all but certain to be exposed, and that player is hands-down the best option on the team. The Ducks are one of those teams, and Kevin Shattenkirk is that player. I honestly can’t envision a scenario where Shattenkirk winds up being protected — Lindholm and Manson are younger; Larsson, Guhle, and Mahura are one-third the price or cheaper. Anaheim’s loss; Seattle’s gain.
You can draw your own conclusions about Shattenkirk and the rest of the Ducks squad when they visit Minnesota this Monday, March 22nd. Game time is 4:30pm Pacific on NBCSN.