4 Canadiens Who Could Be Targeted in Expansion Draft

The Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft is fast approaching and the NHLs 32nd franchise will be selecting the framework of their first-ever roster. The rules for how teams need to approach this draft will be identical to the previous Vegas Golden Knights Draft held in 2017. 

Here at The Hockey Writers, we have taken a look at how the Montreal Canadiens can approach this draft. Regardless of the player protection method laid out in the league rules that general manager Marc Bergevin selects, whether it be the 8-1 or the 7-3-1, the Habs are going to lose a good player.

Marc Bergevin Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One thing to consider is that, according to Elliotte Friedman on his 31 Thoughts podcast, the Kraken will want financial flexibility. This means they are less likely to take longer-term or expensive contracts. The expense is relative, of course, depending on the role and the player’s production. For example, a team can make a player like Jeff Skinner available for the draft, but that is not likely to be the Kraken’s choice. For this exercise, let’s look at a few Canadiens, assuming they would be left unprotected, and see what the impact of losing them can be.  

Ben Chiarot

The first name to look at is defenceman Ben Chiarot. He is entering the last season of his three-year deal with a salary cap hit of $3.5 million. He finished the season with one goal and seven points in 41 games played, and finished third among defencemen in average time on ice in the regular season at 21:47.

Why Would He Be Picked?

The Kraken would select Chiarot for two reasons. First, he is a top-4 defender who can play a shutdown role. Secondly, his contract. It provides them the financial flexibility they would want from a top-4 defenceman.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Secondly, it gives the organization the choice to either extend him or to trade him for more assets if the Kraken are outside of a playoff position by the trade deadline.

What Do the Canadiens Lose?

As mentioned, Chiarot is a top-4 defenceman who played a big role on the penalty kill and provided physical play and protection in front of Carey Price’s net.

Why Would He Be Passed Over?

The Kraken may have already decided on another shutdown defenseman to choose. Also, they may see other players on the roster, such as Jake Allen, as a better target.

How to Replace Him?

If Chiarot were selected, replacing his style of play in the system would be difficult. However, with Joel Edmundson still paired with Jeff Petry, losing Chiarot could provide an opportunity for head coach Dominique Ducharme to replicate that style of pairing, a puck mover with a stay-at-home type. It could be an opportunity for Alexander Romanov to step into a second-pairing role, or for Bergevin to use the cap savings towards signing a free agent, puck-moving defenceman.

Jake Evans

Jake Evans is a 24-year-old NHL rookie who played the role of a fourth-line center until Eric Staal arrived at the trade deadline. Evans, a right-handed center, is entering the final year of his contract making $750,000 — he will be a restricted free agent (RFA) with arbitration rights.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Why Would He Be Picked?

At only 24 years old, Evans is young enough to grow into his role on a team finding its way. He is able to play a speed game and can provide some offence. Also, he has a keen awareness of his defensive role and can provide quality play in a penalty kill or shutdown role.

What do the Canadiens Lose?

The Canadiens would lose an inexpensive depth player with the versatility of playing at center or on the wing. His defensive play has become trusted by Ducharme and his staff. Losing Evans means losing another quality penalty killer and defensive player

Why Would He Be Passed Over?

Evans has a medical history. In the last three seasons, he has suffered three concussions, the latest in this last playoff run when he was hit by Mark Schiefele. 

How to Replace Him?

The Canadiens have some young centers in Lukas Vejdemo and Ryan Poehling that are ready to graduate from the Laval Rocket who could fill his role. Vejdemo can play all three forward positions, is signed to a one year $750,000 contract and has already played in the role for the Canadiens in a limited capacity. Poehling is a former first-round pick who has the advantage of size and pedigree.

Phillip Danault

Phillip Danault, the 28-year-old Victoriaville, Quebec-native, has just completed his three-year, $3.083 million per season contract with the Canadiens, making him an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Last season, he scored five goals and 24 points in 53 games while playing in a second-line role.

Phillip Danault, Connor Hellebuyck
Montreal Canadiens Phillip Danault scores on Winnipeg Jets Connor Hellebuyck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Why is a UFA on this list? Well, Seattle can sign an unprotected free agent (RFA or UFA) to a full eight-year contract with the former team having no option to match. That signing would count as the player selected to that team.

Why Would He Be Picked?

Danault is one of the NHLs better shutdown centers. He can play heavy minutes in all situations and he received Selke Trophy votes, finishing sixth in this last season’s voting. He is an ideal second- or third-line player for a team just starting out.

What do the Canadiens Lose?

Not only would the Canadiens lose a Selke Trophy-worthy center, but they would be losing their most experienced center as well. Danault is also the team leader in faceoff percentages — he is consistently over 50 percent on a team that has been consistently below 50 percent overall. Another aspect to consider is that he is one of a handful of local born, francophones, something that is a factor in the Montreal market.

Why Would He Be Passed Over?

As a UFA, he has the right not to sign any contract offer. If left unprotected, Danault is in control — he can choose not to sign any contract offer and wait for the Canadiens to sign him, or he can test the open market.

How to Replace Him?

It would be very difficult to replace Danault as he played a key role for the Canadiens. However, the emergence of Nick Suzuki makes it easier for the team to cover his position. Also, Evans could be seen as an heir apparent for the role as fans saw Ducharme had created a second shutdown line in the Stanley Cup Final centered by Evans. 

Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin is a special case as he has his own situations that placed him on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) that must be dealt with. That being said, to protect him or not is still a divisive topic among Canadiens fans on social media. Drouin finished his season on LTIR, yet before that, he scored 23 points in 44 games in a middle-6 forward role. He also has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5.5 million.

Why Would He Be Picked?

If left unprotected, Drouin would present Seattle with an opportunity to add a skilled playmaking winger to their lineup who can create offence. His age and contract are excellent fits on a franchise looking to have cap flexibility as well as try to build a mid-term plan. 

Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin #92, Montreal Canadiens – February 20, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A fresh start in a non-Canadian market could be seen as an additional motivating factor that Kraken management would want to take advantage of.

What do the Canadiens Lose?

Despite the rocky history Drouin has with the Canadiens, he is a proven top-6 forward with an offensive skill set they do need on the left side. He has had good chemistry with Suzuki in the past and his playmaking skills would be a good fit with an elite shooter like Cole Caufield, especially on the power play. Also, the Canadiens would lose a player for nothing that they acquired by trading away their top defensive prospect at the time in Mikhail Sergachev. That is not ideal.

Why Would He Be Passed Over?

The Kraken would pass over Drouin if they see him as not capable of continuing. His reasons for being on the LTIR would be investigated by their team medical staff and if the risk was seen as too great on their part, they’d move onto the next name on their list of Canadiens.

How to Replace Him?

There has been plenty of talk on social media of the Canadiens “making the Final without him.” But what could they have done with him? Replacing him and the offence he brings to the left side in the top six or even top nine is not easy. There are players graduating from Laval as mentioned before, including Jesse Ylonen who could compete for a spot on the wing in the top nine. But, with where the Habs are in their retool path, they are ready to compete now, and without a veteran addition, they’ll have a difficult time in the reformed Atlantic Division.

Jesse Ylonen of Espoo United
Jesse Ylonen of Espoo United (Ilari Nackel/Espoo United)

The expansion draft brings with it many questions for the Canadiens on what direction they need to take. Without a side deal by Bergevin prior to the July 21 draft, they will lose a quality player that fits their needs going forward. 

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