Blackhawks 2021 Expansion Draft Projections

It’s a little less than one week until the Chicago Blackhawks and the rest of the league (with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights) are required to provide their protected list for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. The deadline for submission is Saturday, July 17, although the lists likely won’t be made public until Sunday. The actual expansion draft follows on Wednesday, July 21. Its always fun to play general manager and project what your team will do. Here are my predictions on who will be protected and exposed, as well as who I believe the Kraken will select from the Blackhawks.

Guidelines for Expansion Draft

According to the expansion draft rules teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight total skaters plus one goaltender. Obviously protecting 11 players is more lucrative than protecting nine. But some squads might have four defensemen they really want to protect, or eight forwards. You get the idea. Most teams go with the former option, and I assume the Blackhawks will as well.

Related – Blackhawks 2021 First Round Draft Targets: Forwards

To begin with, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have no-movement clauses and therefore must be protected. Duncan Keith would have fit into this category as well. But in a blockbuster move he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers this past Monday for defenseman Caleb Jones and a mid-round draft pick. Obviously he will no longer need to be protected, but the Blackhawks now must decide whether or not to shield Jones (more on this below).

Duncan Keith Blackhawks
Duncan Keith has officially been traded to the Edmonton Oilers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Secondly, all first and second-year pros are exempt from the expansion draft. This includes forwards Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Mike Hardman, MacKenzie Entwistle and Reese Johnson. Alex Nylander is also part of this list since he missed all last season with a knee injury. Defensemen include Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin and Alex Regula. Here is where being in rebuilding mode is an advantage. There are a number of names on this inventory that established themselves as key players last season. It’s advantageous that these youngsters will automatically be protected. (All player lists courtesy of ‘Blackhawks protected list: Who’s staying and who could be picked by the Kraken in the expansion draft’, The AthleticCHI – 6/9/2021)

The Blackhawks need to determine whether or not to protect forwards Henrik Borgstrom, Ryan Carpenter, Brett Connolly, Alex DeBrincat, Adam Gaudette, Brandon Hagel, Vinnie Hinostroza, David Kampf, Brandon Pirri, John Quenneville, Zack Smith and Dylan Strome.

Defensemen for the Blackhawks to make a decision on are Calvin de Haan, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, Nikita Zadorov and now Jones.

Finally, Chicago will be able to protect one of goaltenders Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen or Malcolm Subban.

Protected Forwards Predictions

Let’s start with the obvious. It’s pretty safe to say the Blackhawks are going to protect DeBrincat. He took the NHL by storm with 28 and then 41(!) goals in his first two seasons. Despite a down season in his third year, DeBrincat more than made up for it this season by leading the team with 32 goals. He even took his game a step further, adding some strong two-way play to his repertoire. Combine this with the fact he’s only 23 years old, and it’s a no-brainer to keep DeBrincat in the fold.

Alex DeBrincat Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat will undoubtedly be protected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the upcoming expansion draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hagel is an obvious choice as well. He wasn’t at the beginning of this season, but he’s proven himself a very valuable utility player in his first full campaign with the Blackhawks. His tenacity, speed and energy provides a complement to whomever he plays with, not to mention he can be deployed up and down the lineup. Hagel is also a free agent this offseason. I believe he will be protected and then re-signed.  

This might be a controversial pick, but I also see Strome being protected. After starting the season as the default No. 1 center, Strome ended playing wing on the third line, and was even a healthy scratch a handful of times. Many feel he’s not a good fit with the team anymore. With all that said, I think the Blackhawks would be more likely to trade him and get some value for him instead of expose him.

But let’s face it; Strome had a tough season and he’s not real marketable right now. Which is why the team could protect him and keep him around. He will either have a chance to redeem himself, or he could be more valuable as trade bait down the road at the trade deadline.

Next up is Borgstrom, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers at the last trade deadline. The young center was arguably the centerpiece of this five-player trade. The Blackhawks then signed him to a two-year, $2 million contract. It appears the organization sees Borgstrom as a part of their future.

Henrik Borgstrom Florida Panthers
Former Florida Panther Henrik Borgstrom signed a new deal with the Chicago Blackhawks shortly after being acquired by them. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

My final pick for protection is Kampf. This guy might be underappreciated by many, but not by his head coach, Jeremy Colliton. Kampf was the only center on the team that could consistently win a faceoff last season, and he’s a solid defensive forward. Depth players like him are essential to a successful team. This prompts me to see him being shielded over the more offensively gifted Gaudette, who was also acquired at the trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks. He’s therefore not as established with the team, leading me to believe the Blackhawks will see him as expendable.

Here’s my list of forwards to be protected for the expansion draft, as well as who would then be left unprotected.

  1. Toews
  2. Kane
  3. DeBrincat
  4. Hagel
  5. Strome
  6. Borgstrom
  7. Kampf

Forwards Left Unprotected: Carpenter, Connolly, Gaudette, Hinostroza, Pirri, Quenneville, Smith

Protected Defensemen Predictions

Moving on to defensemen. Not having to worry about Keith allows the Blackhawks to protect one more blueliner, but the acquisition of Jones now adds another name to that equation. Did Chicago acquire Jones with the intention of also picking up his older brother, Seth Jones? It that’s the case, the organization will certainly want to protect Caleb. Ah, but the price for Seth appears awfully steep. Would general manager Stan Bowman actually give up one or more of top prospect Lukas Reichel, Murphy, Strome or Boqvist? Well he apparently managed a pretty good deal unloading Keith and not retaining any of his cap hit, so let’s hope he can do the same with the elder Jones brother. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume Caleb is on the protected list.

Related – Blackhawks News & Rumors: Keith, Jones & Fleury

Now to the existing Blackhawks defensemen. Similar to DeBrincat among the forwards, Murphy is a shoo-in to make the list. The 28-year-old was arguably the Blackhawks’ best all-around defenseman last season. He’s certainly more of a defensive defenseman, but he finds ways to contribute offensively as well. He’s a smart, solid and reliable player. The Blackhawks wouldn’t dream of parting with him (I hope!).

As with Borgstrom above, the team promptly signed Stillman to a three-year contract extension with a $1.35 million annual cap hit after they acquired him from Florida. He suited up for only six games before he inked this deal. But that was enough for the Blackhawks to determine he was a good fit with the team. He has a physical style similar to Zadorov, but he’s younger and cheaper. Which is why I think he will be protected over the Russian blueliner.

Finally, in my opinion de Haan offers even more than Zadorov. The later is apparently asking at least $4 million and a five-year term for his next contract. Shucks, de Haan makes $4.5 million for only one more season before becoming an unrestricted free agent. The Blackhawks would have the flexibility to determine whether they still want him around after next season, unlike Zadorov. 

Calvin de Haan Chicago Blackhawks
Will defenseman Calvin de Haan be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft? (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

But here’s the rub. According to Mark Lazerus from The Athletic article cited above, the Kraken will have better defensive options elsewhere. So, maybe it doesn’t even matter who the Blackhawks protect or not. It’s just a hunch, but I’m sticking with it. I don’t think the Blackhawks really have to worry about their protected defensemen.

With that said, here’s my list of defensemen to be protected for the expansion draft, as well as who would then be left unprotected.

  1. Murphy
  2. Stillman
  3. Jones

Defenseman Left Unprotected: Zadorov, de Haan

Protected Goaltender Prediction

Do we even have to debate this? Lankinen has established himself as the No. 1 goaltender this past season. The upcoming 2021-22 campaign will determine whether he really is a true No. 1 netminder, but he’s shown enough talent and potential with the Blackhawks to earn that designation for now. They’re invested in his continued growth, and he will be protected.

Goaltenders Left Unprotected: Delia, Subban

The Kraken’s Choice From the Blackhawks

Based on the calculations above, I think Seattle will choose forward Adam Gaudette from the Blackhawks. They will be targeting forwards instead of defensemen. I also don’t believe Delia or Subban are strong enough goaltenders to be considered. Sure, one of them could be chosen as the No. 2 or No. 3 guy. But if Gaudette is exposed it would be difficult for the Kraken to pass him up.

Adam Gaudette Chicago Blackhawks
Adam Gaudette could be a top candidate for the Seattle Kraken if exposed by the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

Gaudette is a solid depth forward, and has tons of potential to be even more. He looked strong in his stint with the Blackhawks, recording one goal and three assists in seven games. The 24-year-old created chances and complemented his teammates wherever he was placed in the lineup. He was even rewarded with some time among the top-six forwards, and didn’t look out of place.

It was obvious he wasn’t happy in Vancouver, and Chicago offered a change of scenery, albeit for just a short time. I assume the Blackhawks would be excited to keep him if they could, but he may very well end up being the odd man out on the protected list. Who knows, maybe Seattle will also be the change of scenery he needs to thrive!

Related – How Toews’ Return Will Impact the Blackhawks

Of course these are all just projections; we won’t know for sure who is protected and exposed until next Sunday. We further won’t know who will actually become a member of the Kraken until next Wednesday. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Feel free to drop your thoughts and ideas in the comments section!

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