The dust in the Nevada desert has settled, but not for long. A suspenseful weekend consisted of a few trades before the NHL’s roster freeze before the NHL unveiled the lists of 30 teams’ protected players for Wednesday’s expansion draft.
There are plenty of unsurprising names for the Vegas Golden Knights to collect, and a few that no one expected to show up. As the clock begins to tick for George McPhee and Vegas, the suspense around the NHL hasn’t wavered. The Golden Knights’ general manager can still negotiate deals on unprotected players in exchange for draft picks.
While we won’t know until draft day what those deals will be, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on as it gets closer. All players listed are available as of June 18. Here are five important names to watch in the expansion draft.
Red Wings G Petr Mrazek
The Red Wings netminder is without a doubt the most surprising name left off of a protect list. Many hypothesized a Marc-Andre Fleury-Jimmy Howard tandem in Sin City. However, Detroit opted for the veteran Howard over the younger Mrazek.
The 25-year-old carries a meager $4 million cap hit for next season. He performed admirably as the Red Wings’ starter in 2015-2016, compiling a 27-16-6 record.
General Manager Ken Holland may have a short-term memory, though. Mrazek struggled last season, allowing three goals a game and stopping just 90 percent of his shots. Howard, on the other hand, posted a respectable 2.10 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
Vegas already had a delectable pallet of goalies to choose from in Fleury, Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer and Calvin Pickard. Add Mrazek to that list as a younger option for Vegas.
Islanders GM Garth Snow
Snow isn’t a player, and he isn’t on the move, even if some Islanders fans want to see that. Despite that, he’s likely the general manager to observe the most in this process.
The Islanders were the only team to shield three forwards and five defensemen using the eight-skater option. In doing so, they left interesting forwards and an intriguing defenseman up for grabs.
Brock Nelson has had three consecutive 20-goal seasons while Josh Bailey had 56 points on the top line. On the blue line, Calvin de Haan chipped in 25 points, blocked 190 shots, fourth-most in the NHL, and has averaged 20 minutes of ice time in his career.
Snow couldn’t protect all of those players, but he unexpectedly chose to protect Adam Pelech over de Haan and Nelson. Pelech logged valuable minutes under now permanent head coach Doug Weight. It’s also possible that the Isles could send picks to Vegas to have a player protected.
Nonetheless, the Islanders have playoff expectations next season. Snow will have eyes on him to see who could, or could not, end up going to Vegas.
Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault
There were reports earlier last weekend that Marchessault was on the block. Still, it was shocking to see his name available for discussion.
The 26-year-old Quebec native has improved upon each year. He exploded for a team-high 30 goals last season. Eighteen of his 51 points came on the power play. For a team that was 23rd last year in scoring, exposing your best goal scorer is risky. Pair that with his stick handling and his knack for creating his own shot, and it’s incredible he was left off.
There’s always the possibility that Florida works out a trade with Vegas. The Golden Knights could use the leverage to acquire the 10th overall pick. If McPhee doesn’t, they can just scoop Marchessault in the expansion draft. Vegas has the upper hand in this scenario, and they benefit from wherever Marchessault winds up.
Senators RW Bobby Ryan
In the big picture, Bobby Ryan’s availability is not that shocking. Ottawa went 7-3-1 in their order, which was necessary when Dion Phaneuf didn’t waive his no-movement clause. The Senators had to expose a forward and a defenseman, and Ryan was an easy target.
The question is if his stellar postseason entices Vegas. The 30-year-old right winger had a career-low 25 points in the regular season. He responded with several clutch playoff goals, finishing with six tallies and 15 points. His shot looked much better and he meshed well with his teammates. Ottawa doesn’t escape the first round without him.
With that in mind, will Ryan have that much value to Vegas? Overall, he seems on the decline. But, he is a former second overall pick and showed there’s still something left in the tank. Ultimately it comes down to whom on Ottawa’s available list entices McPhee more.
Many linked defenseman Marc Methot to the expansion draft if Ottawa went 7-3-1. With the useful options up front, Methot has more value for Vegas than Ryan. However, what happens here shows where Ryan’s current value is right not.
Rangers G Antti Raanta
As mentioned before, this is a deep expansion draft for goaltenders. With Fleury likely headed to the Strip, Vegas can use the other two spots for a younger netminder and a dependable veteran. Of the goalies in the latter category, Raanta has the most value for Vegas.
The Rangers have had a knack for finding backup goaltenders in the past few years. Cam Talbot flourished and now starts between the pipes for Edmonton. Raanta has almost done the same, posting a 16-8-2 record backing up Henrik Lundqvist. His minutes spiked and he stopped over 700 shots in 30 games.
Raanta is a solid backup for the Blueshirts, and the Rangers would have to figure out an alternative plan if he departs. On the other hand, if Fleury is out of service, Raanta can fill in and contribute. A Fleury-Raanta tandem is solid for a team in its inaugural season.
Vegas could even turn around and trade Raanta for other assets. Arizona is still in the market for a goalie, and teams like Winnipeg and Vancouver don’t have reliable options in net. Like Ottawa, the Rangers have other attractive options like Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Raanta can give Vegas the most flexibility and value.
Feature image courtesy of NHL.com
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