2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft: Winnipeg Jets

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 Winnipeg Jets preview for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft

When taking a look at the Winnipeg Jets overall season there are likely some very different opinions. While they advanced beyond the First Round with a sweep of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers they ended up getting humiliatingly swept by Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens just one round later. Needless to say, there are many question marks surrounding this team. Their defense was not up to par, their coaching was debatable, and their stars weren’t the centre of attention. With Kevin Cheveldayoff there, you can expect deals to be made this offseason.

One major takeaway for Winnipeg is that goaltending can only save you for so long. Realistically, they couldn’t have asked for much more out of Connor Hellebuyck, who did his job in the playoffs after a Vezina caliber season. Jets fans won’t need to worry about goaltending for a very long time. Although, despite reaching the Second Round, Winnipeg won’t be satisfied with how their season ended.

The Outlook

The Jets are definitely going to lose a good player in the expansion draft. The next few years will be crucial for them as they have many younger pieces to sign such as Kristian Vesalainen and Mason Appleton. Winnipeg is generally a younger team which is good for the future. That being said, one advantage is the team has lots of its key players locked up longer-term. Overall, the Jets look good for the draft in the sense that they won’t have to lose a key piece of their franchise in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Protection List: Forwards

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler was single-handedly one of the worst defensive players this season with a whopping 3.1 expected goals against per 60. His current contract stands at an extravagant 8.25 million AAV and doesn’t end until 2025: a pretty steep cost for a regressing 34-year-old. Conversely, Wheeler has been a leader for all the young prospects Winnipeg has brought up; that’s something you can’t take away from him. He has a no-move clause so he’s not going to be exposed in the expansion draft. Although he’s regressing, Wheeler will continue to put up average points and contribute offensively while playing below-average defense.

Mark Scheifele

If you forget about the vicious hit on Montreal’s Jake Evans, you can see there were lots of positives for Mark Scheifele this year. For example, if it wasn’t for a shortened season, he was on pace for 92 points in 82 games, which would have been a career-high. There is also some debate regarding his defensive impact. While Evolving Hockey graded Scheifele as average defensively, according to Natural Stat Trick, he was Winnipeg’s fourth-worst defensive forward with 2.88 goals against per 60. However, to caveat this, goals against per 60 is affected by the defensive quality of a player’s linemates too so Evolving Hockey’s verdict is probably closer to the truth.

Scheifele is currently playing out his eight-year contract with an AAV of 6.125 million dollars, in addition to a modified no-trade clause. If he ever wins a Stanley Cup, bet on it being with this team.

Nikolaj Ehlers

It was a breakout season for the Jets’ 9th overall pick in 2014. Unfortunately, Nikolaj Ehlers suffered an upper-body injury that ended his regular season. Although, he ended up coming back in the playoffs and boy, was he electric! Ehlers was key to propelling his team past the Edmonton Oilers in the First Round. He collected 46 points in 47 games while being one of their best offensive and defensive forwards in the regular season. Just to put into perspective how dominant Ehlers was offensively, he had a goal share of 66.04 percent while on the ice. The Danish breakout forward is currently playing out his seven-year contract at an AAV of 6 million dollars. He’s undoubtedly one of the most important players for Winnipeg’s future.

Kyle Connor

Kyle Connor puts up solid numbers year after year however, his defense needs to be developed immensely. Mind you, that’s something you can say about all Jets forwards. Offensively he did exceed expectations as his expected goals rate was 17.8 and he knocked that out of the park with 26 goals in the regular season. Connor also led the Jets in the playoffs with 7 points in 8 games and 4 high danger unblocked shot attempts. The 24-year-old is in the second year of his seven-year contract at 7.142 million AAV. Kyle Connor will be a part of the contending years for the Jets

Pierre-Luc Dubois

Although it was a disappointing season for Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jets fans got a taste of what he can do. (It’s not just stand in one spot by the way). Dubois becomes an RFA in the 2022-23 off-season, you can expect the Jets to bring him back at not much of a different price than his current 5 million-dollar AAV. Take away this season, it’s clear Dubois can be a solid player in terms of point production and two-way impact. There’s not much to take away from this season except that he needs to improve. There’ll be less pressure on him next season and everyone will hope to see a rejuvenation.

Mason Appleton

All Jets fans were very excited to see this heart-and-soul guy get some playing time for the team this season. Appleton spent time between the minors and majors his entire career. Finally this season he was rewarded with his first full NHL season. He was an underrated dominant player for the Jets collecting an expected wins above replacement (xWAR) level of 1.4 and an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) level of 1.4. Appleton showed what he is capable of and will definitely be expected to put up even better numbers next year. The 25-year-old will become an RFA after the 2021-22 season.

Andrew Copp

The Michigan native has continuously put up solid numbers for a second-line center. One thing to notice is how impactful he is on the powerplay.

Overall, in the regular season, Copp collected 39 points in 55 games. He will become an RFA this season while also having the possibility of being exposed in the expansion draft. He’s a cheap impactful option as a second or third-line centreman. In 2020-21, Copp had an expected wins above replacement (xWAR) level of 0.9 and an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) level of 5.1. In other words, he was valuable to the Jets this season, production-wise.

Protection List: Defence and Goalie

Neal Pionk

Since being traded to the Jets from the Rangers in 2019, Neal Pionk has been an unexpected boon for the Winnipeg Jets. The Nebraska native has displayed proof of comfort on the backend, raising his game since arriving from New York. He was arguably Winnipeg’s top defensemen this season. Pionk is solid offensively and the numbers display that very clearly. To end off the season he had a points per 60 rate of 1.62 leading all Jets defensemen. He also finished the season with 1.3 expected wins above replacement (xWAR) and 7.1 expected goals above replacement (xGAR). Winnipeg is a far better team with him on the ice as the data shows he has an on-ice expected goals percentage of 52.5 percent whereas the team’s expected goal share with him off the ice is 43.7 percent. Pionk is an upcoming RFA at 25 years old and you can bet he deserves a payday.

Dylan Demelo

Like Pionk, Dylan Demelo has been a very pleasant surprise for the Jets. Demelo is not a guy who’s going to jump up on the rush, instead, he’ll hold down the backend. He’s currently on a four-year contract with an AAV of 3 million dollars. Demelo is not much of an offensive player so he doesn’t put up points; he produced only 0.61 points per 60 and failed to score in 2020-21. That said, he’s a guy you can put on the ice when you’re protecting a lead with minutes left, which is invaluable in and of itself.

Josh Morrissey

Josh Morrissey, on the other hand, is all offense, no defense. Although he wasn’t very pleasing to the eye nor up to the required standard this season, Morrissey has previously displayed the ability to be a solid impact defenseman. At a steep price of 6.25 million per season, the Jets will expect Morrissey to rebound in 2021-22. One awful season isn’t going to lead to your team leaving you exposed; it would be foolish for the Jets to do that. For no matter how he plays next season, it’ll be an improvement compared to this year. Though, in spite of the down-year, Morrissey still put up 21 points in a shortened season, playing at a points per 60 rate of 0.95.

Connor Hellebuyck 

This doesn’t even need an explanation. Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the NHL who is bound to win a few more Vezina trophies. He’s locked up until the 2025 season at a price of 6.1 million which is a steal considering his last two seasons. There’s no chance the Jets will move the young star before his contract ends unless he pulls a Sergei Bobrovsky. The former Vezina winner put up impressive numbers this year. He led the league with 19.3 goals saved above expected (GSAx) and 3.21 wins above replacement (WAR). You can expect to see Hellebuyck in the Jets’ crease for years to come.

Left Exposed

After this year the Jets are looking at some roster restructure. They have many redundant players taking up cap space. Jansen Harkins has been an underwhelming middle man for the Jets. The former 2015 second-round pick has struggled to put up numbers in the NHL despite being a force in the 2019-20 season with the Manitoba Moose. He will be dangled as bait for Seattle.

At the other end of the ice, the Jets are repeating old mistakes. It seems they have a thing for big lanky NHL’ers; this season we saw Logan Stanley turn into Tyler Myers 2.o. He’s one of the most average NHL defensemen you’ll see. Sure, he can slot into a bottom D-pairing but you wouldn’t want him to showcase your defensive core. Furthermore, Nathan Beaulieu had a pretty bad season in Winnipeg. He’s never played a full season in the NHL and seems to be injury-prone. Both of these guys are there for the Kraken too.

Elsewhere, Mathieu Perreault, who has also been a popular player in Winnipeg, but like Beaulieu, has been injury-prone mainly due to his smaller stature. Trevor Lewis, Nate Thompson, Tucker Poolman, Jordie Benn, and Derek Forbort provided little to convince Winnipeg of spending a protection spot on them.

Lastly, Laurent Brossoit was reliable between the pipes when Hellebuyck needed load management. He can be a great backup for any team while also being a cheap option.

But all in all, there’s really only one clear player for Seattle to pick and that’s winger Adam Lowry.

Alternate Options

With the Jet’s abundant cap this off-season and the precarious landscape of the UFA market, Winnipeg will have plenty to work with. The biggest decision they’ll need to make is between three players: Adam Lowry, Mason Appleton, and Andrew Copp. There is definitely an argument for Lowry over Copp or Lowry over Appleton. Lowry’s contract is team-friendly coming in at an AAV of 2.9 million. It is a very big possibility the Jets protect Lowry over one of those two players in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Going Forward

This offseason we could see Kevin Cheveldayoff completely redesign this team. With the amount of veteran UFA’s they had this season, it’s unlikely they keep many of them. They could let players like Paul Stastny, Mathieu Perreault, Jordie Benn, and Derek Forbrot walk. That would clear up 13.625 million right there and give them the chance to sign younger depth players. The Winnipeg management holds all the cards this off-season. Either the Jets are going to go all-in or we can predict another early playoff exit due to a depth issue. As Connor Hellebuyck mentioned, this is a potential dynasty in the making.

*All stats by Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick

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