The Florida Panthers will lose a key piece of their blue line in this year’s Expansion Draft. The Seattle Kraken could select a forward like Mason Marchment or Patric Hörnqvist, but the real value will come from picking a defenceman. Although the player the Kraken pick may not be a top-pairing defenceman, adding either Markus Nutivaara, Gustav Forsling, or Radko Gudas provides the Kraken with a depth defenceman that will be crucial for the team’s success in the future.
Nutivaara really stepped up this season for the Panthers in the absence of Aaron Ekblad. Before Ekblad’s injury, he averaged 14:41 TOI and was a minus-4. Since the injury on March 28, he has been averaging 16:55 TOI and is a plus-5. Before Ekblad’s injury, he averaged 14:41 TOI and was a minus-4. He has earned the coach’s trust to the point where he played the most minutes out of any player on the Florida roster in game one of the playoffs. Although not the most physical player, Nutivaara is strong on the puck and can provide some offense. He is just coming it his prime at 27 and would be a safe selection for the Kraken to make.
In the offensive end, he is creating chances despite not getting opportunities on the powerplay. Nutivaara finished the season with a 53.6% shot-through percentage and has never finished below 49% in that category throughout his five-year career. This means he is not just throwing the puck blindly at the net. He is taking his time and ensuring there is a shooting lane available. In Florida, he will not get opportunities on the powerplay due to the logjam of offensive defenceman on the roster. Depending on how the Kraken build their roster, he could be a good second powerplay option as a player who can get shots through to the net for tip-in chances and rebounds.
Forsling (25 next season), an RFA at the end of the season, has had a breakthrough season. With his production rate this season, he may even go down as the greatest waiver claim in Panthers history. He had a career-high 17 points in 43 games and has a Corsi percentage of 52.9% at even strength. Ever since Ekblad went down, Forsling has been playing top pairing minutes. He went from 18:56 TOI average to 20:00 TOI. His plus/minus rocketed from plus-1 to plus-16 and he added 12 points to his season total. Given the right partner and situation, Forsling is turning into a stud defenceman who the coach trust, as evident by his 24:08 TOI in Game 2 of the Panthers playoff series against Tampa.
Forsling has improved his overall game this season. It is the perfect example of a player making the most of the opportunity he is given. However, one area that has been really impressive this season is his work in the offensive zone. Forsling’s ability to get pucks on net has improved significantly. Last year, he had a 51.8% shot-through percentage on 110 shot attempts. This season, his percentage is at 57.0% on 165 shot attempts. This means Forsling is making the most of his opportunities in the offensive zone and creating chances.
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Like Nutivaara, however, he is not given powerplay time. When he has been given time, the Panthers have produced. In 20 minutes of powerplay this season, Forsling has been on the ice for five goals scored. This is the perfect opportunity for Seattle to acquire a young, up-and-coming defenceman who can produce on the powerplay. Taking Forsling is a gamble because his numbers could be correlated to his surroundings, but it may be worth it for the Kraken.
Gudas is a physical player that led the Panthers in hits with 250 and was second in blocks with 72. He is currently playing as the anchor on the third line with Keith Yandle and is tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top players on a regular basis. Although Gudas will only get you between 15-20 points a season, he helps control play in the offensive zone while on the ice. He finished third on the Panthers in chances for a while at even strength this season with 782, which means the Panthers were creating scoring chances with him on the ice at even strength. His defensive play and willingness to stand up for his teammates, along with his ability to create scoring chances, make him a good choice for the Kraken to select in the Expansion Draft.
One part of Gudas’s game that is really impressive is his penalty kill work. During his NHL career, Gudas has played 1142 minutes on the penalty kill during the regular season. He has only been on the ice for 137 goals during that time. That means you can put him out there for 8 minutes of penalty kill time before a goal is conceded. This season, he has only been on the ice for 11 goals against shorthanded in 106 minutes of shorthanded time. Having a good penalty kill is key to a team’s success, so being able to acquire a stay-at-home defenceman you can rely upon while shorthanded is a must. Gudas’s ability to bring that intensity and kill penalties is a major reason why Seattle should select him in the Expansion Draft.
Who to Select?
This is a tough decision and will come down to how Seattle wants to construct their roster. If you already have three solid defensive defencemen, Nutivaara is the better selection. If Seattle wants to go more offensive from the blueline, a player like Gudas can slide in and be that anchor on the back end. There is also Forsling, who is having a breakthrough season, but it is not clear if it has to do with his surroundings or development. Whoever Seattle selects, one of the three options will provide them with value. This will be another Expansion Draft where Florida loses a player that will become a key contributor to an expansion team’s success.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.