2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft
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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 Pittsburgh Penguins preview for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Options for the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Outlook

The Pittsburgh Penguins had another successful regular season as they got first place in the East Division. This happened despite being top five in man-games lost. At one point, they were even without five of their top nine forwards but still played some outstanding hockey going into the playoffs. After that, they got “goalie’d” as Tristan Jarry choked when Pittsburgh needed him most, and Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin played like superman. Pittsburgh had the edge in shots, shot attempts, high-danger chances, and overall scoring chances in the series. In the end, it was all for nothing as New York advanced and Pittsburgh bowed out in the first round for the third consecutive season.

NHL free agent frenzy

There was the potential for a lot of sweeping changes during this offseason as general manager Ron Hextall has no loyalty to any of these players (except Jeff Carter). He didn’t sign or trade for any of them prior to arriving in Pittsburgh. It looks like that’s not going to be the case though, as Hextall spoke after the season about being all-in with this group for at least one more year.

The Penguins are still going to be short at least one player going into next year due to how deep this roster is. Seattle will have plenty of good options available when their turn to select a Penguin player is up, and it’s likely going to be a forward. With that said, here’s a look at which seven forwards the Penguins will likely protect.

Protection List: Forwards

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Jared McCann, Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter

The first four forwards mentioned here are the obvious slam dunks. There’s been some talk that the Penguins should try and get Malkin to waive his NMC to go to Seattle. However, that’s a) a pipe dream and b) foolish because Pittsburgh would be a worse team next year without him there. Both Crosby and Malkin will retire as Penguins as they should with how much they’ve accomplished for this team.

Guentzel and Rust are two of the more underrated players around the league. Rust has perhaps the best bargain deal in the NHL at $3.5M per year and he’s scored 25 or more goals in his last two seasons. Guentzel has established himself as one of the 10 best goal scorers in the league as he has 20 or more goals in his last four seasons. This is while also being close to a point-per-game player. He also was one of the Penguins’ best players in the playoffs as Pittsburgh had 58% of the shot attempts and a tad over 60% of the scoring chances at 5v5 when he was on the ice. To add on, the Penguins also had over 53% of the high-danger chances when Guentzel was on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both of these players won’t be going anywhere.

The other one’s

It gets a little tricky after those first four, but McCann should also be a slam dunk to be protected. He came into this season with a lot of question marks but reverted back to his 2019 form when he was acquired from the Florida Panthers. The Penguins had 54% of the shot attempts when he was on the ice at 5v5, plus 56% of the scoring chances, and 69.2% of the actual goals. He did all of that while rotating between left-wing and center throughout the season. With Malkin’s recent knee surgery, he has to be protected.

Kapanen was also a major surprise this season. Many pundits were unsure if he would live up to being acquired for a top-15 pick, but he sure did. Part of that does have to do with Kapanen shooting at a career-best 16.2% this season, as shown here by Geoff from The Pensblog:

He definitely is a candidate for some regression next season, but that’s not likely how the organization is going to think going into this. Kapanen was always there when there was a big moment for Pittsburgh and they’ll try to hope for that being the case next season.

Carter or Blueger?

The last spot was tricky but after what Carter did when he was acquired, there’s no doubt the organization will protect him. He had 13 goals and 16 points in 20 games, while Pittsburgh also outscored the opposition 19-9 when he was on the ice. Protecting Carter will also likely be more insurance for Malkin. The Penguins likely trust Carter more than Blueger in a 2C role if Malkin has to miss time, especially offensively. There’s definitely a strong case to be made for Blueger to get the nod over Carter, but it doesn’t look like it’s going that way.

Protection List: Defence and Goalie

Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson

Casey DeSmith

The defensive list would’ve been a lot harder if John Marino and P.O Joseph weren’t exempt. Letang and Dumoulin are the obvious first two to be protected as they make up the top pair. Letang enjoyed one of his finest seasons yet as he finished with 45 points in 55 games. Pittsburgh also had 60% of the shot attempts when he was on the ice at 5v5.

Even though Letang still excels in his own end, Dumoulin may have him beat there. He’s arguably Pittsburgh’s best defensive defenseman as he shuts down the opposition each time they come into the defensive zone. There’s a night-and-day difference when he’s out of the lineup versus when he’s in. The Penguins aren’t nearly as sharp defensively when he’s out, and that was evident during the early portions of this past season. There’s no reason for him to not be protected.

As for that last spot, it can go to one of Pettersson, Matheson, or even Friedman if Pittsburgh wanted to. Pettersson’s on here though because of his great defensive work down the stretch. It’s also likely that Hextall would dare the Kraken to take Matheson’s contract from them, even though that’s highly unlikely. This one is mainly just a pick-em since this isn’t where Seattle is going to look when the draft comes around.

It may look a bit odd to see DeSmith as the goaltender protected, but it really shouldn’t be. Jarry wasn’t good during the playoffs and if Seattle somehow takes him, that’s $3.5M off the cap for the next couple of seasons. DeSmith also makes less money and had his best season yet. There are also those incentives for the Penguins to protect him.

Left Exposed

Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jason Zucker, Mike Matheson, Mark Friedman, Chad Ruhwedel, Tristan Jarry, Juuso Riikola, Frederick Gaudreau (UFA), Evan Rodrigues (UFA), Mark Jankowski (UFA), Cody Ceci (UFA)

As mentioned above, Seattle has many options to look at when selecting from Pittsburgh. With that being said, it’s highly likely that the pick will be one from the ZAR-Blueger-Tanev line. It makes the most sense, especially with how great all three were defensively this season. The Kraken have built a very impressive analytics staff so that may favour them taking Aston-Reese. He’s one of the best defensive forwards in the league. However, it would also sting to lose one of Blueger or Tanev. Losing Tanev would clear four years of salary left at $3.5M per. An asset the Pens could use.

Away from that line, Seattle could look hard at Zucker, even though his cap hit is at $5.5M. He had a bit of a down year for Pittsburgh. They could get a decent haul for him at the deadline and eat half his salary. That would be the best-case scenario for Pittsburgh. It clears almost $6 million in cap going into this summer where they likely want to improve along the edges.

There are other options for the Kraken outside these four players. However, they’re all way less likely since they’re not as effective players.

Alternate Options

Pittsburgh could choose to change up their protected list a bit before the draft. However, they won’t be deviating from seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie. They could swap out Carter for Blueger and hope that Seattle doesn’t take the former. Pittsburgh also could choose to protect Tanev over a player like Kapanen. He’s always been an executive who loves pushback and physical play, and Tanev has both of those. Tanev was also on pace to shatter his point total from last season. It’s not as far-fetched as some would think he can do it again.

Outside of those two, the only other ones that could happen are a goalie swap and protecting Friedman over Pettersson. The latter was first mentioned by Rob Rossi in his article here. It makes sense due to both Pettersson and Matheson making over $4M per season and that Hextall has a history with Friedman.

Looking Forward

Pittsburgh was always going to lose a good player to expansion this summer. That’s the nature of having one of the deepest teams in the league. Fortunately, there will be a lot of action on the free agent and trade market this summer. Hextall can find a suitable replacement for whoever Seattle takes.

This team is still good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup. The new regime will do everything in their power to ensure that. As long as Pittsburgh has the “big three” at the helm, anything can happen. This Seattle Kraken expansion draft will maybe help the Pens with some of their salary issues.

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