2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview: Nashville Predators

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft: Nashville Predators

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), 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 Nashville Predators preview for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft

The Outlook

After the Predators Jeykll and Hyde-type season, which saw them flunk the first half only to come roaring back on a Juuse Saros-fuelled charge to clinch a postseason berth, general manager David Poile has reached another crossroads.

Heading into the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, Nashville sits in that unenviable tier of the ‘one and done’ candidates within the NHL. They are a fine enough regular-season team but no longer have the roster that’s capable of contending for a Stanley Cup. As a result, the Predators could continue to double-down on their prior investments or instigate a soft reset and prepare to lose a chunk of cap hit to help source younger players.

Either way, the Predators are primed to lose a decent player during the expansion process, but there are ways they can weaponize Seattle’s selection.

Protection List: Forwards

Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Luke Kunin and Calle Jarnkrok

The forward list is a little tricky since I reckon the Predators will go with the eight skaters and one goaltender protection route. Nashville’s modus operandi has always emphasized the backend first and foremost, and so I think they’ll protect four defensemen. That leaves us with four forwards to pick from.

Filip Forsberg is as untouchable as they come. Even when the Predators were contemplating a tear-down rebuild during the season, Forsberg was about the only option aside from Josi who was sure to stay. Ryan Johansen, on the other hand, is a little more speculative. While it is true that the Predators’ other top-six centre, Matt Duchene, probably has more untapped potential, I think David Poile will side with Johansen in a toss-up between the two.

Johansen has all the attributes associated with John Hynes’ system: a decent forechecker, a strong frame and a good stick. He is also defensively responsible and tough to play against. Hynes likes grit, hence his regular deployment of the fourth line to set the tone at the beginning of games. What’s more, Johansen’s excellent performance in this year’s postseason is also going to afford him the benefit of recency bias.

After that, Nashville will protect 23-year-old centre Luke Kunin and finish things off with 29-year-old Calle Jarnkrok. David Poile acquired Kunin in the Nick Bonino trade during the 2020 off-season. This year, he has proven his worth with 10 goals including eight in his last 17 regular-season games. Jarnkrok, meanwhile, comes cheap and is a proven double-figure goalscorer with one year left on his deal.

Protection List: Defencemen and Goalie

Roman Josi (NMC), Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro and Juuse Saros

Captain Roman Josi’s no-move clause has him as a locked-up pick to kick things off. Nashville will also likely hold onto the rest of the defensive core which made them a competitive team. As a result, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are selections two and three. Ellis is a financial no-brainer given his affordable 6.25 million dollar cap hit through 2026-27. Ekholm, on the other hand, provides too much trade value to expose. He was dangled during the Predators’ first-half horror show this season but ultimately no appropriate deal ever surfaced. Given that Nashville managed to right the ship, Ekholm is likely going to remain in gold for the foreseeable, unless, of course, the Flyers come up with an offer that’s too good to refuse.

Finally, Poile will put his faith in fourth-year pro, Dante Fabbro. The 23-year-old had a tough season, making egregious errors at the beginning of the year and then losing his spot in the lineup for the playoffs. I daresay the Predators’ coaching staff are trying to channel his disappointment as motivation. Missing out on the postseason and having guys like Alexandre Carrier step up, puts the onus on Fabbro to respond.

AtoZ Sports’ Predators writer, Alex Daugherty, tweeted out footage of head coach John Hynes discussing Fabbro at the end-of-season interviews. It sounds as though there’s plenty of backing within the organization for the Boston University defenceman.

Goaltending

Juuse Saros is the nailed-on option in net for Nashville. After two Vezina-calibre stretches in two seasons, he is, at the very least, a bridge until Yaroslav Askarov is NHL-ready. I imagine he will sign a deal in the realm of $4 million AAV for three or four years during this offseason.

Left Exposed

The big-ticket item here is Matt Duchene. Since joining the Predators in 2019, Duchene has scored 19 goals and 55 points in 100 games. Out of 35 forwards with an AAV between $7-10 million over that timeframe, he ranks 31st in goals per 60 and 23rd in primary assists per 60. Quite simply, that level of production is not good enough.

What makes him interesting though is the fact that some of his struggles can be explained by puck luck. Duchene’s shooting percentage as a Predator (9.1 percent) is well below his career average (12.5 percent). He also has decent underlying metrics: first on the team in penalties drawn per 60, second in high-danger scoring chances and third in individual expected goals. Consequently, Seattle could take a flyer on him if they are staying cheap elsewhere.

Otherwise, Viktor Arvidsson is another interesting omission from the protection list. Since his record-breaking 34-goal season in 2018-19, the 28-year-old has churned out diminishing returns. It seems his recent loss of speed has exposed his one-dimensional style of play, but there is a chance that a change of scenery coupled with the right line combination could see a reasonable bounce back from him.

One final offensive consideration for Seattle would be a depth forward like Yakov Trenin or Tanner Jeannot. Either would be a fine asset for the Kraken’s fourth line. Their knuckleduster-type aggression and high-octane energy make them an under-the-radar pick and one that would hurt the Predators, particularly since both players are archetypes of the teams’ newly-forged identity.

Exposed on the Backend

For those wondering about Alexandre Carrier, he has been omitted from these discussions for the most part because there are simply too many good defensive options for Seattle across the board. Players like Jamie Oleksiak, Matt Dumba, Vince Dunn and Jake Bean are all likely exposure candidates. The calibre of that list alone will push Carrier to the periphery of Seattle’s defensive wishlist.

In net, Connor Ingram is exposed but this will be of little interest to the Kraken. Florida, Arizona and Dallas (to name a few) all have juicier goaltending options for Seattle to pick from.

Alternate Options

I speculated that the Predators would employ the eight skaters and one goaltender protection scheme in order to shield Dante Fabbro from Seattle’s selection pool. However, you could quite easily foresee David Poile opting for the 7-3-1 route, instead. In that case, Fabbro would be exposed and Nashville would likely protect Duchene, Arvidsson and Sissons in addition to the original four forwards mentioned above.

Ideally, Nashville wants to protect youth and expose undesirable contracts as bait for Seattle’s front office. With that said, is there an appetite to dangle both Duchene and Johansen to see if the Kraken bite? It would certainly relieve the Predators organization of a sizeable chunk of cap hit, which should be the aim at this stage, with the team in need of a soft reset.

Duchene or Johansen?

However, from the evidence of the playoffs, at least, Duchene is the odd one out when discussing the albatross contracts on this team. Johansen, while frustratingly inconsistent, can bring a level of intensity that reminds us all why he got the contract in the first place. Those moments are few and far between but Joey fits in better with the identity of the Nashville Predators and to risk losing him over Duchene is probably not the fire Poile wants to play with.

Personally, I would prefer to protect Duchene over Johansen. As mentioned above, there is a lot going on with Duchene’s game under the hood; he could go to Seattle and go off next season and his advanced stats certainly imply that his renaissance is a very real possibility. But I do wonder about Duchene’s professional fit with head coach John Hynes. That relationship is probably key to whether Nashville ultimately protects him or not.

Jarnkrok or Sissons?

Alternatively, in the current 8-1 plan, there is a conversation worth having over whether Sissons is protected over Jarnkrok. Though I feel Sissons’ contract, which runs through 2025-26 at 2.857 million dollars AAV, is enough of a deterrent for Seattle, who will want to remain cheap and circumspect with most of their depth selections.

Going Forward

Nashville has some tricky decisions to make here. However, if David Poile plays his cards right, he could open a whole host of opportunities for this roster moving into 2021-22.

Whether it’s Duchene, Johansen or Arvidsson, Nashville will definitely benefit so long as Seattle takes one of those three. How? Well, if the Kraken does end up taking a more expensive Predators option, the team will gain some much-needed cap maneuverability. Cap space is key right now as Detroit showcased during the 2021 Trade Deadline. But will Nashville be brave enough to expose their big-ticket items? Only time will tell.

 

*All stats sourced from Natural Stat Trick.

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