The 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft is coming soon. Even though the playoffs are still going on, most teams will be starting to focus on the offseason as we get further into June. The Seattle Kraken will start their inaugural year in 2021-22, and with that comes the expansion draft. There are plenty of opportunities for this Seattle team and the draft, which will take place on July 21st, is sure to be thrilling. While it will be hard to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights (who are exempt from this draft) first season, fans should be excited regardless. Each day, Last Word on Hockey will go through a team and preview all the possible protection, exposure, and trade scenarios. Today, we take a look at the Los Angeles Kings preview for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Options for the Los Angeles Kings
Heading into the season, the Los Angeles Kings were optimistic in their playoff chances. Especially given the way the West Division and playoffs were structured. After their first two games, however, they choked back-to-back leads losing important points to the Minnesota Wild and quickly realized that this optimism was a mere dream. While they performed significantly better than the previous two seasons, the Kings still came up short and found themselves in the draft lottery yet again. They finished seventh in their division behind only the Anaheim Ducks.
While the Kings fell short of where they wanted to be, they were still able to get some looks at a few of their prospects in NHL action. They got extended looks at Gabriel Vilardi, Lias Andersson, Tobias Bjornfot, and Michael Anderson, all of which seem to be everyday NHLers now. They also got to see Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, Kale Clague, and Austin Strand in some NHL games as well. With most of the Kings key organizational pieces exempt from the expansion draft, they are not going to have to face many hard decisions with their protection list. The only tough decisions they really need to make are which bottom of the lineup players they feel comfortable exposing.
Protection List: Forwards
Anze Kopitar had another solid season for the Kings, holding down their top line yet again. In 56 games, he posted 13 goals and 37 assists for 50 points. This put him on pace to score about 73 points in a full 82 game NHL season. One of those points being the 1000th of his career. As the Kings exit their rebuild, they still believe that some of the core pieces from their cup runs can be a part of the new success they hope to have. Anze Kopitar will certainly be one of those pieces. The captain is not going anywhere.
Alex Iafallo was a name that had some rumours circling it around trade deadline time. He had a career year both offensively and defensively and was a pending unrestricted free agent. With the Kings struggling, many speculated he could be moved to a contender. Rather than being moved though, Iafallo signed a four-year contract extension with the Kings. After the solid year he had on both sides of the ice, it’s hard to envision the Kings exposing Iafallo come the expansion draft.
Adrian Kempe made tremendous progress this past season. He played all over the lineup, but eventually found himself solidified as a top-line winger on the Kings playing alongside Anze Kopitar. Not only did Kempe become a first-line regular, but he also became the main trigger man on Los Angeles’ top powerplay unit. Kempe plays a fast-paced, high-skilled style, which is exactly what the Kings are trying to evolve into as a team. The 24-year-old winger is really starting to come into his own. Los Angeles is going to want to keep him around.
Even though Andreas Athanasiou struggled to produce in the back half of the season, he still provides speed and finishing ability to a team that desperately needs. Athanasiou is a restricted free agent, and the Kings should be looking to re-sign him. As the team waits for its prospects to become NHL regulars, they will need players to fill the holes in their lineup. They need someone to serve as transitional players until those prospects are ready. Athanasiou fits this category. He paced for about 17 goals and 40 points in a full 82 game season, which is the kind of production that the Kings will need from a middle-six player next season if they hope to finally get back into the postseason.
If there was one player that was the biggest surprise on the Kings this season, it was Trevor Moore. Moore played way above expectations, earning the praise of Kings coach Todd McLellan. He provided tons of energy for the team with his high pace of play. Additionally, he is also a tenacious forechecker and backchecker, making the jobs of opposing players more difficult. Along with the great energy Moore provided last season, he also had sneaky good production, scoring 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 56 games. He did this in a somewhat limited bottom-six role with little to no powerplay time as well. Based on the season he had and the appreciation McLellan has for him, Moore should find himself exempt from the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Lias Andersson‘s season had some ups and downs, but overall his play was solid enough to warrant him a spot on the protection list. Andersson struggled early in the season on the NHL roster, so he was sent down to the Ontario Reign. On the Reign, however, Andersson was a force, being one of their most productive, relied upon forwards. He was able to get himself back onto the NHL roster from his solid play in the AHL.
Later in the year, Andersson was placed on a line with Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo. The three of them developed chemistry quickly, and the line was one of the Kings’ best producers of offence. They put together an expected goals percentage (xGoals %) of 52.9 percent according to MoneyPuck. Andersson was also able to be a big contributor in sparking Gabe Vilardi’s offence, which was something the team needed desperately. The Kings are likely going to want to keep the Iafallo – Vilardi – Andersson trio together heading into the 2021-22 season, which would mean Andersson would get himself a spot on the protection list.
Carl Grundstrom was one of the pieces involved in the Jake Muzzin trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings just don’t seem quite ready to lose him yet. Grundstrom plays a gritty, physical, and skillful game. Which is something that the Kings roster generally lacks as a whole. Add in the fact that he’s still just 23 years old. The team views Grundstrom as a similar player to Dustin Brown and believes he can develop into a player that will provide a lot of value to them. With Brown getting older, having a player like Grundstrom who plays a similar style will be important to the team. While protecting Grundstrom means exposing Brown, it is a risk the Kings should be willing to take given the similarities between their play styles and the difference in their ages.
Protection List: Defence
Drew Doughty has a no-movement clause on his contract, so he must be protected from Seattle. Even so, he is another one of those players from the Kings cup winning core that they believe can help them in a future playoff run. Although he has been on the decline the past few seasons, Doughty seemed to rebound fairly well this past season. He scored 34 points in 56 games, which is about a 50 point pace in a full 82 game season. Doughty has a passion for winning and wants to do it again in Los Angeles.
Arguably one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL, Matt Roy had another steady season on the Kings’ back end. He is the anchor of this team’s blueline and has quietly been one of their best defencemen for the past two seasons now. Additionally, he has found some chemistry with Kings rookie defenceman Tobias Bjornfot, as the two of them played together for the majority of the season. Roy’s steady, reliable play will earn him a surefire spot on the Kings protected list.
Being a right-shot, top-four defenceman on a cheap contract, Sean Walker is a valuable asset. He provides a great transition game with his skating, as well as some decent production and defensive play. While the Kings will want to protect Walker to ensure he stays in their organization, it may not be to ensure he’s on the roster come next season. The Kings want to make some additions this offseason, and Walker could be their biggest trade chip on the NHL roster. They certainly are not going to want to lose him without gaining anything in return.
Protection List: Goaltender
While Jonathan Quick‘s contributions and success with the Kings are unmeasurable, it does not change the fact that currently, Calvin Petersen is the team’s number one goaltender. Petersen had a phenomenal season, posting a .911 save percentage. Additionally, he tore up the Men’s IIHF World Championship, being named the tournament’s top goaltender. Petersen is expected to be the full-time starter on the Kings next season, meaning he is the goalie that gets protected.
While the Kings are in the exiting stages of their rebuild, their team still lacks depth. There are not too many great players to pick from that are left exposed. With that said, however, Seattle will still have a couple of solid options. At the end of the day, the Kraken will likely be focusing on six players. Those players being: Dustin Brown, Martin Frk, Blake Lizotte, Austin Wagner, Kale Clague, and Austin Strand.
If Seattle is in search of a goal scorer, their best option would be to take Frk. He saw minimal NHL action this year due to injury. Another option for goal scoring could be Brown, as he did lead the team in goals this past season. The question with Brown, however, is whether or not Seattle wants to absorb his $5.875 million cap hit or 36 year age for next season. If the Kraken are looking to add speed, Austin Wagner is their guy. Wagner struggled later in the season to crack the Kings roster though. He has a hard time putting the puck in the net. With the way the protection lists are formatted, most teams are going to be protecting their top-six centres. Seattle could be on the hunt for one. If they plan on going this route, they should take a hard look at Lizotte.
On the defensive side of things, Seattle really has two options. If they are thin on right-handed defensemen, they might look to Austin Strand. Strand saw some NHL time this year and impressed many in the Kings organization. The development staff liked what they saw, and placed Strand higher up on the organizational depth chart. While Strand would be a good option, Seattle’s best option from the Kings will be Kale Clague. Clague, a 23-year-old, is a speedy, offensive left-handed defenceman who can play both sides. He saw a handful of NHL games this past season but spent most of his time in the AHL. This still remains a mystery, as Clague looked very impressive during his NHL time. Seattle has a golden opportunity to nab Clague for free and they should pounce on it.
The Kings have eight picks in the 2021 NHL draft, five of which are in the first three rounds. They plan on being very active this offseason and moving a few of those picks seems bound to happen. Whether or not they plan on moving some of those picks to Seattle depends on how attached the organization is to Clague. If the front office has a hard time with Clague being taken from them, don’t be surprised to see the team incentivize Seattle with a draft pick to take a different player.
Another option could be protecting Clague. If the Kings really want to keep Clague around, he could find his way on the protection list. But not above the three defencemen that are currently projected to be on there. For this to happen, one of those defencemen would need to be moved. As mentioned before, that player would most likely be Sean Walker. If the Kings are thinking of moving Walker to bring in some outside help anyway, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to trade him prior to the expansion draft. Then they can use his spot on Clague. The only problem with this, however, is that they will likely want to protect the player they trade Walker for. That just brings them back to square one. In that scenario, maybe they entice Seattle with a draft pick to not take that player, almost combining options one and two.
Overall, the expansion draft shouldn’t give the Kings too much trouble. They will be able to protect all of their core players. Additionally, most of their key organizational pieces are exempt from the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. The only big question mark heading in is whether or not they can accept losing Kale Clague for nothing. Given the number of assets and draft capital they have though, it could be a mistake not to give Seattle a sweetener to leave Clague alone. Based on Clague’s usage this year, it does not seem as if the organization would be that heartbroken to let him go. Only time will tell.