For the second time in four years, the National Hockey League is preparing for an expansion draft. In 2017, the league went through the process with the Vegas Golden Knights. Now, they will prepare for 2021 when the 32nd NHL team based in Seattle will hold their draft.
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Teams are in the process of making their list of who they will protect and who they will have to expose and risk losing. The Boston Bruins have plenty of young defensemen who could be intriguing to Seattle general manager Ron Francis and who could be available in a year for his choosing.
Who the Bruins Should Protect
Torey Krug’s contract expires at the end of this season. With that said, two young Boston blueliners who should top the list of protected players are Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
McAvoy struggled at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, but his play since the All-Star break, before the coronavirus pandemic put the NHL season on pause, was more like what the Bruins expected. The 6-foot, 208-pound defenseman has a bright future and the potential to be a No. 1 d-man.
Carlo at 6-foot-5 and 212 pounds has spent the last four seasons learning from captain Zdeno Chara, even being paired with the future Hall of Famer, and is next in line to be the Bruins’ shut-down d-man. He has a physical style and long reach that can frustrate opponents.
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Both young defensemen would be picked right up by Francis if left unprotected. As the future 1-2 combination on the Bruins blue line, protecting these two is a no-brainer.
Who Could Be Left Unprotected
While McAvoy and Carlo likely won’t be made available, there are other young Bruins defensemen who could be available for Francis. Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon would be big losses for Boston general manager Don Sweeney should one be scooped up by Seattle.
Grzelcyk might have the highest upside of the three and would be the most attractive to select early in the expansion draft. In his third full season in Boston, he has steadily raised his point production each year. When the defense was hit with injuries this season, he was bounced between partners but one thing that stayed the same was his consistency. In 20 postseason games last season, he scored four goals and four assists during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. He brings a lot of experience at 26 years old.
Lauzon has played in 19 games this season for the Black and Gold. He impresses in each game to the point of making a case for his future in Boston. At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, he brought his physical game from the American Hockey League to the NHL. If Krug leaves in free agency this summer, Lauzon should be the third defenseman protected. Losing him to Seattle would be a blow to the Bruins’ future on defense.
Clifton has been battling injuries this season, but his play in the 2019 Playoffs should draw a lot of attention. As a rookie last season, he played in just 19 regular-season games before making 18 playoff appearances. He scored two goals and three assists with a plus-2 rating. He played in six of the seven Stanley Cup Final games against the St. Louis Blues and scored a goal in a Game 1 victory at the TD Garden.
There is a lot to like about Clifton, but his postseason play should put him on Seattle’s radar in terms of a young up-and-coming defenseman.
Bruins Have Other Options
Krug is a free agent following this season and with that uncertainty, if he returns to Boston or not, things can change. If he re-signs in Boston, that’s good news for the club but could risk someone else being exposed.
Regardless of what happens and who is chosen in the expansion draft, the Bruins and Sweeney know that there is more talent and defensive depth in the minors that can ease the burden of a loss on defense to Seattle.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.