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.
The New York Rangers have in their stable of players some of the most exciting names in recent memory. Forwards Artemi Panarin, Kappo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere; defensemen Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller; and goaltenders Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin are the headliners on the Broadway Blueshirts. With that lineup, one would expect them to be dominating the standings.
But the Rangers are decidedly under-performing at present, sitting 6th in the East Division behind perennial powerhouses Washington, Pittsburgh, and Boston — but also behind the pesky little brother NY Islanders. That can’t be sitting well in Madison Square Gardens, and one would think the seeds of impatience with their expensive roster are taking root among Rangers’ management.
The advantage the Rangers have when it comes to the expansion draft is, most of their stars are so young they are exempt from the draft, leaving plenty of available protection slots for the remaining members of the team. This means that Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis and his scouting staff will have their hands full trying to find talent in the nooks and crannies of the Rangers’ roster. But there is one choice that is likely to draw the most attention.
The large number of exempt players on the Rangers’ nightly lineup card, as well as having four players with no-movement clauses, means putting together the list of protected players is only mildly difficult. We have, as we usually do, adhered to some general guidelines, but also consulted with Gotham-based media sources to help narrow down the question marks and make some key decisions.
To that end, we first assume that the Rangers will adopt the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:
Forwards: Artemi Panarin (NMC), Chris Kreider (NMC), Mika Zibanejad (NMC), Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Brendan Lemieux
Defensemen: Jacob Trouba (NMC), Brendan Smith, Ryan Lindgren
Goaltender: Alexandar Georgiev
The list of exempt players includes the aforementioned Lafreniere, Kakko, Miller, and Shesterkin, as well as defenseman Adam Fox who is currently logging minutes on the top pairing. You will also hear the name Vitali Kravtsov bandied about when the Rangers are discussed. He is a Russian winger who played 39 games last season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack before returning to Russia this season. He is rumored to be headed back to North America soon, possibly even this spring, but has played so few games on this continent that he, too, is exempt from the draft.
The remaining oddity on the Rangers lineup is defenseman Anthony Deangelo. He had quite a loud and public split with the team early in this shortened season, and has not suited up since January. He is officially on the taxi squad while the Rangers try to find somebody willing to give up more than a bag of pucks for him in a trade. He is eligible for the expansion draft, and if he is still on the Rangers’ roster they won’t waste a protection slot on him. However, he is such a head case and an attitude problem that the Rangers are not allowing him to participate in practices or team activities — they even refuse to allow him on the premises with their AHL affiliate. As such, he will not be considered by us, or likely by any NHL team, including the Kraken. Once the Rangers abandon any hope of trading him, I expect he’ll receive an offer from the KHL and disappear from our collective consciousness altogether.
Set In Jell-O
There are some complexities to the protected slots among the Rangers’ forwards that warrants some exploration. Beyond the 4 players without no-movement clauses that we listed, there are another 3 guys who could potentially knock one of the protected forwards out of their safe position for the expansion draft.
We’ll start with the fact that the Rangers had contract negotiations with Ryan Strome this past off-season, but word out of New York was that the club was not willing to commit to Strome beyond a 2-year deal. This suggests that Strome may not be in the Rangers’ long-term plans. Additionally, Pavel Buchnevich is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, but owns arbitration rights. He is leading the team in points, second in plus-minus, and the Rangers might not be willing (or able!) to swallow the award the arbitrator hands down should it come to that. NY management might want to tempt Seattle to take that problem off their hands entirely by leaving Buchnevich exposed.
Among those we did not project as being protected, you have a number of young, potentially talented forwards who are not far enough along in their development to earn many NHL minutes. So, do the Rangers expose them and protect Filip Chytil, who doesn’t appear to project beyond his current role as a 3rd-line center, with a face-off win percentage consistently at or below 40%?
And finally there is Brendan Lemieux, son of legendary NHL agitator Claude Lemieux, who shares his father’s spear-first-ask-questions-later playing style. The role of the pest has morphed in the decade since his dad last laced ’em up in the NHL, and today’s players amassing 1,777 penalty minutes over a career had better contribute some astounding point production to offset the disadvantage they put their team on every time they land in the box. Brendan has not yet shown such scoring talent, but in his 2 full seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose he amassed 300 PIMs! Is having such a player a big enough priority for the Rangers that they would use up a protected slot to keep him?
Plainly, the protected list we have assembled is far from being set in stone; more like set in Jell-O. How Rangers GM Jeff Gorton handles the situation will likely depend a lot on how the team does in the few weeks remaining before the trade deadline, whether the Rangers make any moves (like trading away Buchnevich, who could bring quite a return), and how certain players perform down the stretch.
Best Of The Rest
While the juiciest morsels can be found on the protected and exempt lists, there are a couple of options that the Kraken will want to consider — and in fact, one that is almost a lock for selection if he doesn’t end up protected.
C Brett Howden, $863,000, RFA. Here’s a former 1st-round pick who hasn’t found his legs in the NHL yet — or may never. This 6’3″, 195 lb. center regularly displayed point-per-game performance in Juniors, serving as Assistant and then Captain of the Moose Jaw Warriors, but logged only 5 AHL games before landing a roster spot with the Rangers. That lack of AHL development may have hurt his progress, as the big club has him confined to the bottom-six, usually the 4th line, and his role there hasn’t afforded him much opportunity to rack up the points.
C/RW Colin Blackwell, $725,000, signed through 2022. Here’s a twist: a team signs you during free agency to make sure they have somebody they can expose in the expansion draft; then you perform so well on the 2nd line that the team is this/close to giving you a protected slot. Blackwell is a natural center with a right-handed shot, and excels at the face-off dot: he boasted a 56% win percentage last year in Nashville, and is sitting at 61% when squaring off this season in NY. He’s a decent and cheap option if the Kraken are looking to fill out the bottom-six.
RW Julien Gauthier, $863,000, RFA. Gauthier has all the tools to become a top-six power forward in the NHL. 6’4″, 217 lbs, and not afraid to throw his weight around. Elite-level skill and remarkable speed for his size, he had 3 straight point-per-game seasons with Val d’Or in the QMJHL before turning pro. Whether it’s wide open ice or a scrum in front of the net, Gauthier can deliver. He has matured nicely in the AHL, where he most recently posted 37 points in 44 games for Charlotte. That’s right: Gauthier was the 1st round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016, under then-GM Ron Francis. He is now getting roughly 10 minutes of ice time per game with the Rangers, and is starting to find his scoring touch.
There is the chance that the Rangers go off script, leaving Strome or Buchnevich exposed in favor of one of the three players we’ve just reviewed. That’s not such a big stretch, as New York is staring down the barrel of some monster contract extensions in the next two years — including goaltender Shesterkin, who is due for a new deal this summer. They just might leave Strome or Buchnevich exposed, knowing their lost point production will be made up by their up-and-coming stars, and possibly clearing some cap space. If either one is available, the Kraken will need to give that some serious consideration.
There is also the possibility that Lemieux is exposed. The NHL is a different place from when Brendan’s father was the thorn in the side of the Detroit Red Wings one playoff series after another. Unless the kid can return to the kind of scoring output he had in Juniors — 189 points in 209 games — I can’t see the Rangers making him a fixture in their lineup. But, unlike Strome or Buchnevich, I can’t see the Kraken giving him a roster spot either.
So to wrap up, I’m going to repeat my assertions from earlier articles, which I understand is starting to sound like a broken record. But I wouldn’t be hammering it so hard if it wasn’t true: first-hand knowledge trumps scouting every time. For that reason, unless somebody in the Rangers’ top-six is left exposed, I’m of the belief that Ron Francis will put his faith in his earlier decision and select his former 1st round pick Julien Gauthier to join the Kraken. Given the limited options available, that seems like the most obvious choice.
You’ll get your chance to scout Gauthier, Strome, Buchnevich, and the rest of the Rangers this weekend when they take on the Capitals in an early morning tilt. Game time is 9:00am this Sunday, March 28th, broadcast nationwide on NBC.