THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft – Jets Lose Appleton

In THW’s Seattle Kraken Mock Expansion Draft, I played the role of Winnipeg Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Related: THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft: Meet Our Seattle Kraken

I protected the players I thought the real Cheveldayoff will later this month when the Kraken select for real. Obviously, with the Jets far more stacked at forward than on defense, I opted to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, instead of eight total skaters and a goalie.

My THW colleague Tony Wolak played the role of Kraken GM Ron Francis. From the Jets, the Kraken selected Mason Appleton.

Protected List: Forwards

Blake Wheeler: He had to be protected, due to his no-movement clause. If I could have left him unprotected, I would have. I believe his contract is going to be a huge problem for the Jets in the seasons to come, and that a player as weak as Wheeler is five-on-five is not worth anywhere close to his salary.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 2020-21 Report Cards: Blake Wheeler

Mark Scheifele: It was a no-brainer to protect the team’s leading points-producer and number-one centre.

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kyle Connor: Another no-brainer, to protect the Jets’ leading goal scorer and someone on a decently-team friendly contract.

Nikolaj Ehlers: Yet another no-brainer to protect the team’s best player in 2020-21, who is a bargain for the immense skill he brings.

Related: Winnipeg Jets 2020-21 Report Cards: Nikolaj Ehlers

Pierre-Luc Dubois: Despite a disappointing first season with the Jets, I still believe Dubois will be a big part of the team’s future up the middle. The 23-year-old’s potential as a play-driving power forward is too enticing to give up on at this point, despite his struggles since coming over to the Jets from the Blue Jackets back in January.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Despite having an overall rough go in 2020-21, Dubois’ potential is too high to give up on. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Adam Lowry: I would have considered leaving Lowry unprotected if he was a pending UFA, but his signing of a five-year extension at a reasonable $3.25 AAV back in April made protecting the physical faceoff specialist an easy decision.

Andrew Copp: I protected Copp because he’s one of the rare players who began his career as a defensive specialist but added offensive flair as he matured.

Despite being an RFA who is due a decent raise thanks to his strong 39-point campaign — and being represented by a challenging agent to work with in Kurt Overhardt — Copp is too valuable to the Jets in too many areas to leave unprotected.

Protected List: Defensemen

Josh Morrissey: A no-brainer, to protect the Jets’ best defenseman and valuable member of their leadership core.

Neal Pionk: Another no-brainer, to protect a player who has been lights-out and has played a top-four role since being acquired in 2019 for Jacob Trouba.

Dylan DeMelo: Despite many Jets’ fans wanting Logan Stanley to be protected instead of Dylan DeMelo, this actually wasn’t that hard of a decision for me. DeMelo has a proven track record in 321-career games as dependable top-four option and was excellent with Morrissey when they were paired together. He has been an analytics darling and a highly-intelligent player for such a reasonable price tag is something you don’t give up, and protecting him over Stanley is something I’ve advocated for since March.

While Stanley played admirably in 2020-21 — and his sudden emergence as viable bottom-pairing option was a boon to the Jets’ thin d-corp — he may never be more than a third-pairing option. Unlike DeMelo, he doesn’t have a large sample size of games to point as justification for being protected. I didn’t let recency bias or the two goals he scored in Game 4 of the Jets’ second-round playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens cloud my judgment.

Protected List: Goaltenders

Connor Hellebuyck: No hard decision to make here. I protected my Vezina winner and the goaltender who gives my team a chance to win nearly every night. He was one of the main reasons the team qualified for the playoffs in 2020-21.

Who Was Left Unprotected:

  • Mason Appleton
  • Nathan Beaulieu
  • Jordie Benn (UFA)
  • Laurent Brossoit (UFA)
  • Derek Forbort (UFA)
  • Jansen Harkins
  • Trevor Lewis (UFA)
  • Sami Niku
  • Mathieu Perreault (UFA)
  • Tucker Poolman (UFA)
  • Logan Stanley
  • Paul Stastny (UFA)
  • Nate Thompson (UFA)

“Chevedayoff” Stays Out of Wheeling and Dealing

While many of myTHW colleagues, representing the NHL’s other GMs, made a number of trades ahead of the Expansion Draft, I stood pat. Like I wrote off the top, I tried to behave exactly like the real Cheveldayoff, and he’s generally loathe to make big trades in the offseason.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Like the real Cheveldayoff does, I stayed out of any discussions for offseason blockbuster trades. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

I did, however, offer my THW colleague Tony Wolak — playing the role of Kraken GM Ron Francis — a deal. I offered to trade away my first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for his second-round pick, if he’d agree not to take Logan Stanley.

There was precedent for doing this as Cheveldayoff traded away his first-rounder for the Vegas Golden Knights’ lower first-rounder prior to the Expansion Draft in 2017, so the Golden Knights would take Chris Thorburn instead of Tobias Enstrom and Marko Dano. However, Wolak/Francis turned me down.

What the Kraken are Getting in Appleton

In Appleton, the Kraken are getting a multi-faceted and talented player who is coming off a breakout season. He took big strides in 2020-21, recording career-highs in goals (12) and assists (13), playing mainly on the third line with Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry. He was strong at even strength, recording a plus-11 rating, and also played a role on the Jets’ penalty kill.

Mason Appleton Winnipeg Jets
Mason Appleton, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Appleton is a player whose maturity goes far beyond his 25 years and will be a threat wherever he is inserted in the Kraken’s lineup. He has developed quietly, but very nicely,

Appleton was originally selected in the 6th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and has 20 goals and 23 assists for 43 points in 138-career NHL games.

Summing it Up

In conclusion, I realized going in that I would be parting with a quality player. But with the Jets’ depth up front, I can deal with losing Appleton easier than I can deal with losing Stanley.

With promising young forwards such as Cole Perfetti, David Gustafsson, and Kristian Vesalainen champing at the bit for a bigger opportunity, I’m confident losing Appleton won’t bring my team to its knees, and I’m more than happy to have the trio challenge for his spot. I wish Appleton nothing but success in his new locale (but not against my team.)