With the regular season winding down for the Vancouver Canucks, eyes will soon be turning to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on July 21 and the 2021 NHL Draft shortly thereafter on July 23-24. First will be the expansion draft, which has gotten more complicated in recent weeks. With Kole Lind making his NHL debut and Jonah Gadjovich following him soon, tough decisions will have to be made on who to protect from being selected by the Kraken.
Speaking of the Kraken, general manager (GM) Ron Francis is now free to sign players and make trades with other NHL GMs, so we may also see some trades happening in short order. Though that’s a conversation for another article. This one is about who the Canucks should include on their protection list. A lot has changed since I did my last one in November. For one, Adam Gaudette is no longer with the organization after a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jake Virtanen will likely be left exposed after another disappointing season and concerning allegations off the ice. As such, there are now two more slots on the protection list to be filled. So, who gets the coveted spots, and who will the Kraken ultimately choose? Let’s find out!
Fortunately for the Canucks, there are some important players that will be exempt from this expansion draft. This of course also includes all 2020 and unsigned draft picks, which right now includes top prospect Vasily Podkolzin.
Forwards: Nils Hoglander, William Lockwood, Marc Michaelis, Carson Focht, Vasily Podkolzin
Defencemen: Jack Rathbone, Quinn Hughes, Jett Woo, Mitch Eliot
Goaltenders: Michael DiPietro, Arturs Silovs, Jake Kielly
Kraken Expansion Draft: Canucks Protection List
F – Elias Pettersson
This one is beyond obvious. Since Pettersson joined the Canucks in 2019, he’s been nothing short of amazing. He already has 65 goals and 153 points in 165 games in the NHL, which includes two 20-goal seasons, and a Calder Trophy. Before a wrist injury took him out of the lineup, he was clicking at a pretty good pace with 10 goals and 21 points in 26 games. Without him, the team has struggled to gain any traction offensively, both five-on-five and on the power play. He is clearly their MVP and one of the first names that should be on this list.
F – Brock Boeser
Like Pettersson, Boeser is one of the Canucks’ most important players. He has two 20-goal seasons under his belt and has seen a massive improvement in his production this season, leading the team in goals with 19 in 47 games. He is a fixture on the first unit power play and in the top-six and is closing in on 100 goals in the NHL. He’s definitely not going anywhere.
F – Bo Horvat
Horvat has done it all for the Canucks the past few seasons. He’s been their most consistent matchup center, faceoff man, and point producer, all while toiling on the second line without elite wingers. He hasn’t dropped below 20 goals since his sophomore season in 2015-16 and he’s also the captain of the team. Basically, he’s all you need in a forward, which is why he’s another obvious choice for this list.
F – J.T. Miller
The revelation that is J.T. Miller has been everything and more for the Canucks since coming over in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He recently eclipsed 100 points with the team after a career-high 27 goals and 72 points in 69 games last season and is one of their top point-getters once again with 12 goals and 36 points in 44 games. There have been questions about his attitude this season, but his competitive nature and overall presence in the locker room cannot be denied at this point. All in all, he’s a huge part of this team and deserves to be protected from the Kraken’s jaws.
F – Tanner Pearson
The recently re-signed Pearson is now on this list, more so because of the reported verbal agreement with GM Jim Benning that he wouldn’t be exposed to the Kraken. Having said that, despite my misgivings about re-signing him, he has proven to be a solid veteran presence for the Canucks and their young players. He’s also become more of a point producer since getting a new contract with four goals in his last ten games.
F – Jonah Gadjovich
This may turn out to be the wrong choice, but as of right now with Gadjovich’s dominance in the AHL with the Utica Comets, I am going with him for one of the final slots. He’s got all the makings of a power forward who is a monster in front of the net ala Tomas Holmstrom and Patric Hornqvist. I would hate to see the Kraken select him, and have him become their version of Alex Tuch or William Karlsson.
F – Kole Lind
As much as I love Tyler Motte and what he brings to the ice and dressing room, I am going with youth and potential in Lind for the final spot on this list. Yes, Motte brings penalty killing and energy from the bottom-six, but the Canucks have players like William Lockwood, Carson Focht, and Lukas Jasek in the system who play similar games, should the Kraken decide to select him. Lind, on the other hand, has the potential to be a top-six winger or solid third-line center who can chip in 15-20 goals every season. I’m sure the Kraken would be enticed by that, especially considering he is only 22-years-old.
D – Tyler Myers
Myers’ contract may be less than palatable, but he’s probably been one of the Canucks’ best defencemen this season. In the face of unprecedented circumstances related to the ongoing pandemic, he’s been a rock on the blue line through it all. Averaging over 22 minutes a night, he’s been the perfect partner for Olli Juolevi and a solid presence on the penalty kill as well. With how the blueline is right now, he’s probably better than most of the veterans available in free agency or trade this off season. So he stays.
D – Nate Schmidt
Schmidt has had his blunders, but overall he’s been a solid addition to the Canucks’ blueline this season. His mobility on the ice and personality in the dressing room more than makeup for his occasional defensive mistakes. When everything hopefully gets back to normal next season, we will most likely see the Schmidt that anchored the Vegas Golden Knights backend only a season ago.
D – Olli Juolevi
Despite not getting any consistent ice time, Juolevi has looked very good during his rookie season. He’s been poised in his breakouts, solid defensively and has looked rather comfortable on the penalty kill. He is also tenth on the team in blocked shots with 26, despite only playing 21 games. At 22-years-old, the Canucks cannot afford to lose him to the Kraken considering the state of their blueline right now.
G – Thatcher Demko
Similar to Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat, this choice was one of the obvious ones. Thatcher Demko is only 25-years-old, is one of the up-and-coming goaltenders in the NHL, and could potentially be in the category of elite one day. If not for the COVID-19 shutdown, he probably would still be riding the momentum of March where he sported a sparkling .937 save percentage (SV%) along with a record of 8-3. Unfortunately, due to his recent performance, he likely won’t be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy this season, an honour he probably will receive many times in the future.
The Kraken’s Menu
The Kraken will have quite the grab bag to choose from when it comes to the Canucks. Mostly bottom-six players and depth defencemen, but for a team to compete you need those pieces as well. If Francis is looking for a veteran presence, look no further than Eriksson, Beagle, or Roussel. If he’s looking for potential, MacEwen, Virtanen, and Highmore definitely fit the bill. Finally, if he’s in the market for speed and energy, Motte and Hawryluk are there for the taking.
Then there’s the veteran Stanley Cup winner, Braden Holtby. His contract is reasonable, he’s got experience as a starter and his performance lately has shown the NHL that he’s still a solid option in the crease. It’s hard to say if he’s going to be the best goaltender available when all the other teams submit their protection lists, but his resume will probably keep him near the top of the list.
So with all that said, who will they ultimately choose? Before a few days ago I was leaning towards Virtanen, but with the recent allegations towards him, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Francis will want to bring that type of drama into his dressing room. That leaves four choices, Motte, MacEwen, Roussel, and Holtby.
The Kraken’s Order
Braden Holtby. He was my choice the last time this list was released, and six months later he remains my choice. With the resume and pedigree he possesses, it’s going to be difficult to pass over the Canucks without coming away with him as the prize. He is still only 31-years-old and he has a Stanley Cup ring, something a lot of goaltenders that will be exposed won’t likely have. Considering Marc Andre Fleury was 33-years-old when the Golden Knights chose him to be their starting goaltender, the Kraken might want to look at recreating that magic with Holtby.
Fleury has transformed himself back into the elite goaltender he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is an early favourite for the Vezina Trophy this season. Holtby’s situation is eerily similar. He doesn’t look like the goaltender he used to be and he’s a former starter and Stanley Cup champion that was usurped by a younger option in goal. Tell me if you’ve heard that story before.
In the end, it will all depend on who Francis has on his roster by the time the Canucks come up on his draft board. If he has a younger goaltender in mind, then Holtby is probably off the table. If that’s the case, he probably will go for Motte or MacEwen for his bottom six. Either way, Benning (or his replacement) will be losing a solid player from his roster that will have to be replaced in the offseason. An offseason that could be filled with a lot of changes, depending on who is running the show at the time.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.