3 Blackhawks the Kraken Are Likely to Focus on in the Expansion Draft

With the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft around the corner, we’ll finally get to witness the Seattle Kraken roster come to fruition. In the meantime, though, this is still a topic fuelled by hypotheticals as every fanbase continues to ponder who will remain on their team’s lineup by the end of it. While some clubs have left talent exposed that leads to a more obvious prediction, the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t done Seattle any favours in that respect.

Dominik Kubalik Chicago Blackhawks
2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, as much as this draft is designed to build the Kraken, it could simultaneously benefit the Blackhawks. Especially if it’s one of these three who end up being selected.

Adam Gaudette (F)

Recently acquired by Chicago during this past season’s trade deadline, Adam Gaudette hit the ground running with his new squad in an effort to prove skeptics wrong. Averaging 10:54 per night through 33 games with the Vancouver Canucks, Gaudette was only able to accumulate seven points in that span. Playing more than a minute extra every game in Chicago, he earned one goal and three assists through seven contests.

Builds the Kraken

Depth at centre is a known ingredient, necessary within any successful recipe throughout the NHL. As such, talent at that position can be hard to come by. Although Gaudette has yet to make his mark as a household name throughout the league, the chip that now rests on his shoulder after being dealt could propel his performance to new heights.

Adam Gaudette, Chicago Blackhawks
Adam Gaudette, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

After all, Gaudette is a former Hobey Baker Award winner for a reason. Nearing his 25th birthday, he has time ahead of him to find a higher peak that can work to both his and the Kraken’s advantage.

Benefits the Blackhawks

Chicago’s situation at centre has quickly become a complicated one. They currently have eight rostered players who can fill that role, yet there are only four spots that require it. While others worked their way into the lineup all season long and deserve to maintain playing time as a result, Gaudette may simply be the odd man out. Add in Jonathan Toews‘ potential return and it shifts the entire hierarchy of who fits where.

On top of it all, Gaudette is currently a restricted free agent (RFA) and will likely be looking for a raise at a time when the Blackhawks need to be counting their pennies in every which way.

Nikita Zadorov (D)

Having been acquired in yet another trade that sent Brandon Saad packing, Nikita Zadorov immediately had the wrong type of spotlight shining his way when he joined the Blackhawks in October 2020. Zadorov was going to have to really impress to shift that focus. That was a tough ask, given what he was brought in to do.

Builds the Kraken

With the game now full of defensemen fixated on a more offensively minded approach, an effective physical presence to protect has become that much more coveted. Zadorov fits the bill. Perhaps, to a degree that Seattle’s defense can round out around him, given that he’s still barely 26 years old and looking to settle into his peak playing years.

Nikita Zadorov, Chicago Blackhawks
Nikita Zadorov, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Zadorov’s 190 hits not only nearly doubled that of the second-highest total on the Blackhawks in 2020-21, but it was also seventh most throughout the entire league. Infusing intimidation into the foundation of a franchise isn’t a bad way to start the journey.

Benefits the Blackhawks

As the Blackhawks entered their 2020-21 campaign, they had made it clear that they were heading into rebuild mode. One such stipulation outlined that they were going to provide more of a path for their prospects to blossom. Having a defenseman in their mid-20s join an already busy blue line wasn’t very conducive to supporting that strategy.

To his credit, Zadorov did do what was asked of him. Yet, he hasn’t necessarily found a smooth transition that aligns with Chicago’s style of play. Being that he’s a restricted free agent, looking for an increase in pay beyond his previous $3.2 million, not having to have that discussion would allow the Blackhawks to focus on investing in their future instead.

Malcolm Subban (G)

After being flipped to Chicago from the Vegas Golden Knights mid-way through the 2019-20 season, Malcolm Subban was well aware of the role he’d play in backing up Corey Crawford. However, heading into 2020-21, his storyline centred around a different narrative since he was the most experienced netminder that remained upon Crawford’s departure.

Builds the Kraken

When you’re setting out to build a franchise from the ground up, what could be the type of intangible experience that would make it a smoother process for all? Having people around who have done it before. That’s exactly where Subban fits in, as he was acquired by Vegas during their inaugural season of 2017-18 and ended up playing a major role with Marc-André Fleury out of their lineup for much of that year.

Malcolm Subban, Chicago Blackhawks
Malcolm Subban, Chicago Blackhawks and Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Subban was able to conclude last season with a record of 6-8-1 and two shutouts. Not bad at all for backup results, especially during a rebuild. The 27-year-old’s $850,000 AAV is also the type of hit that won’t hurt Seattle’s financials while helping to fulfill their roster requirements.

Benefits the Blackhawks

Subban likely expected to do more in Chicago last season, after surveying his surroundings and recognizing that he stood well above both Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen in terms of NHL-level experience. However, after both he and Delia struggled out of the gate, Lankinen then stole the show and never looked back.

That said, Subban has proven to be a professional throughout it all and appeared ready for whatever was asked of him. The issue, though, is that no one should expect the Blackhawks to be seeking much of his support moving forward. It’s Lankinen’s net to lose, so it only makes sense to wish Subban well with succeeding elsewhere.

Beyond the Expansion

These clubs are heading into the event from very different perspectives and that could mean there is mutual benefit for both by the end of it.

Seattle has the advantage of being as strategic as possible with every respective pick, selecting an athlete that can either play a key role or fill a necessary roster spot. Whereas Chicago hopes this is an opportunity to force a detour and pave a smoother path towards their future.

Whichever direction Seattle chooses to take, there really isn’t a lot for Chicago to lose. They are in rebuild mode, which means much is yet to be determined.

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Besides, the majority of their star power — both current and potential — has been protected anyway. It really doesn’t matter who the Kraken choose, as the Blackhawks’ immediate outlook will ultimately remain the same.

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