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.
If you’ve been following along with this series of articles you’ve seen us mention several times that any player who Kraken GM Ron Francis is familiar with from his days in the Hurricanes’ front office will get a longer look than other players of similar quality. Essentially, first-hand knowledge trumps scouting every time. And that’s true.
We’ve arrived at the one team where that factor is no longer relevant. Why? Because with a few notable exceptions that we will point out as we go, Francis is already familiar with every player on the Hurricanes’ roster who is eligible for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. So nobody from Carolina will be getting preferential treatment; and it’s more than likely that Francis’ selection will reflect so much more detailed inside info than we Monday Morning Quarterbacks could ever hope to conjure.
But that’s not going to stop us from making our best guess.
There is some talk about the ‘Canes employing the 8-and-1 protection scheme, but looking at who Carolina has on the blue line to protect, and who they could lose from their top-six forwards if they try, I’m not buying it. The Hurricanes thrive on offense: when they score 4 or more goals they win — such has been the case with 12 of their 15 regulation victories this season. You dance with the one that brung ya: if you’re winning with offense, you hang on to your offense. Additionally, the number of talented forwards that would necessarily be left exposed doesn’t justify the retention of one bottom-pairing defenseman. Thus, I believe Carolina will use the 7-3-1 protection scheme.
The only remaining question mark then becomes that of top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton, to whom they will probably offer a long-term deal; but as it stands Hamilton will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. If they sign him before the end of the year, they’ll then have to protect him — but that means exposing somebody else in the top two pairings. So I expect what will happen is, they will leave Hamilton unsigned until after the draft, then ink a new deal before free agency begins. We will proceed on that assumption: Carolina will not protect him, and Seattle will not select him.
That being said, we project the Hurricanes protected list will contain the following names:
Forwards: Jordan Staal (NMC), Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Vincent Trocheck, Warren Foegele, Jesper Fast, Andrei Svechnikov
Defensemen: Jacob Slavin, Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce
Goaltender: Alex Nedeljkovic
We’ll add here that Martin Necas, currently logging minutes on the top line for the ‘Canes, is exempt from the draft.
There is also the question of goaltenders, so we’ll go over that quickly. Nedeljkovic was promoted to the big club from the Taxi Squad when starter Peter Mrazek went down with an injury in his fourth game of the year. “Ned” has become the go-to guy for the ‘Canes, with an 8-3-2 record, 2.05 GAA, and .927 save percentage. Mrazek is returning to action shortly, and when that happens Carolina could potentially pull the trigger on a deal to send their other netminder, James Reimer, packing. Both Reimer and Mrazek are UFA at the end of this year, so with Nedeljkovic showing he’s capable of handling starter duties, it only makes sense that he is the one protected.
Aside from two veterans, the four youngsters on this list offer a lot of promise:
LW Nino Niederreiter, $5.25 million AAV, signed through 2022. It’s possible that Carolina management decides they would be better off keeping Niederreiter, in which case Fast will drop off. But with El Nino headed to free agency in 2022 it makes sense they would expose him and his much beefier salary. He’s a capable forward, still has a number of good years in him, and has respectable — if not remarkable — stats. During his stint with Minnesota he was good for 20 goals and 35 points in a normal year, and also threw his weight around to the tune of 150+ hits. But as Carolina’s focus is on speed rather than physical play, he has had to adapt, which has resulted in his numbers dropping during his time in Raleigh.
C Morgan Geekie, $763,000 AAV, RFA. I have — or should I say, had — a lot of hope for this kid. Don’t get me wrong, he still has time to develop into a top-six forward. But given his size, speed, and the numbers he put up playing for Tri-City (WHL) and Charlotte (AHL), I expected him to explode onto the scene with the ‘Canes. That hasn’t happened, though only logging 10 minutes a night on the fourth line doesn’t give him much “explosive” opportunity. He’s tall at 6’3″ but could afford to put on 10 lbs. of muscle. If that happens, and he uses that size as well as his speed, he could be the entire package.
C Steven Lorentz, $725,000 AAV, signed through 2022. Another big, fast center, Lorentz appears to be settling into his NHL surroundings nicely. Last year in Charlotte he posted 46 points in 61 games and ended the year at plus-23. He’s solid at the face-off dot, holding at 53% so far this season, and his surprising acceleration can put him behind defenders before they have a chance to get oriented. He’s difficult to move off the puck, holding his own in board battles against the biggest defensemen in the league. Between the two, Lorentz will likely have a bigger impact sooner than Geekie, and could evolve into a capable 2nd-line center in 2-3 years.
LD Jake Gardiner, $4.05 million AAV, signed through 2023. Gardiner had his best years with Toronto before he was moved to make cap room on an expensive Leafs roster. Since then his numbers have slid, slowly but consistently, and he would be a poor choice for the Kraken given the alternatives. Fortunately Gardiner arrived in Carolina after Ron Francis’ departure, so we don’t have to worry about some potentially irrational connection between the two resulting in Francis wasting his pick on such an expensive bottom-pairing defender.
LD/RD Haydn Fleury, $1.3 million AAV, signed through 2022. Fleury is the first of two defensemen the ‘Canes would love to be able to protect. He shoots left but plays either side effectively, and so adds some flexibility on the blue line. Young, big, and quick, the former #7 overall pick has responsible defensive instincts, but also will pinch when appropriate. That last part is unique with Fleury, as his ability to judge situations bespeaks a maturity beyond his years, and I have yet to see him get caught out of position.
LD Jake Bean, $863,000 AAV, RFA. Younger, smaller, but developing faster than Fleury, this #13 overall pick put up two remarkable seasons in Charlotte — 129 games, 92 points, combined plus-11 — to earn himself a spot with the Hurricanes this year. Bean is a play-making defenseman with solid instincts, good patience, and good positional play, and has established himself respectably in his rookie season — one goal and 10 assists in 24 games with a flat plus-minus, and he does see time at the top of the diamond on the second power play unit. His top-end is potentially higher than Fleury; right now he’s looking like a top-pairing defenseman and power play quarterback in 3-4 years.
Some juicy morsels here, to be sure. Which raises the possibility of a potential deal in the making.
Deal Or No Deal
If Carolina is going to try to prevent anyone from being selected, it will be their two up-and-coming defensemen. The ‘Canes would prefer to have Seattle select a forward, and they could be willing to pay to make that happen. And since the two most vulnerable defensemen are both former first round picks, a first round pick should be the price Ron Francis demands.
There is an obstacle here, and that is the Hurricanes’ GM. Don Waddell was the man who fired Francis from his GM post with Carolina (officially “promoting” him to President of Hockey Operations, but then not renewing his contract 2 months later — I call that getting fired) following which Waddell assumed the GM role himself. So there may be some animosity between these two, and if that’s the case, there may be no possibility for a deal.
That might suit the Kraken just fine. If Carolina sticks to the 7-3-1 protection scheme, the Kraken end up with Jake Bean; if they switch to the 8-and-1, Seattle lands a potent forward such as Teravainen, Trocheck, or Svechnikov. I don’t think anyone in the Seattle front office would be disappointed with any of those outcomes. But if there is a deal to be made, and Carolina wants to push us in the direction of a forward, then Seattle should select either Niederreiter or Lorentz and demand a first round pick for the courtesy. That, too, would be cause for celebration.
You can do some scouting for yourself this weekend, see which of these guys you think would be the best fit for Seattle, when the Carolina Hurricanes host the Dallas Stars. Game time is 4:00pm Pacific this Sunday, April 4th, on NBCSN.