- Seattle’s Potential Targets: Former Thunderbirds
- Seattle’s Potential Targets: Homegrown Talent
- Seattle’s Potential Targets: Vegas Veterans
- Seattle’s Potential Targets: Projected UFAs
- Seattle Mock Expansion Draft: Win Now Team
- Seattle Mock Expansion Draft: Built For Future
- Seattle Mock Expansion Draft: Best Players Available
Seattle’s expansion draft is still two seasons away but — through the process of conducting three mocks this month — several potential targets have emerged in the present as players of interest for 2021.
These players fall into one or more of the following categories: Familiarity With Francis, Former Thunderbirds, Homegrown Talent, Vegas Veterans, and Projected UFAs.
By analyzing the current NHL rosters — as well as the protected and exposed lists from those aforementioned mocks — Seattle can start to identify their potential targets two years in advance of the actual expansion draft.
In the first of a five-part series, the focus will be on finding players that have familiarity with Francis.
Seattle hired Ron Francis to be the franchise’s first general manager on July 18. He previously spent more than a decade (2006-2018) working for the Carolina Hurricanes — serving as their GM from 2014 to 2018.
Therefore, several current and former Hurricanes — those drafted by or otherwise acquired by Carolina during Francis’ tenure in Raleigh — could now be on Seattle’s radar.
It’s safe to assume Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Jaccob Slavin will be protected two years from now. Many would include Brett Pesce in that group too. Jordan Staal has a no-move clause, so he can’t be exposed. Andrei Svechnikov will obviously be protected and fellow first-rounder Jake Bean is a good bet to be on that list by then, especially if Carolina protects four defencemen under the 8-and-1 option. Alex Nedeljkovic could be the protected goaltender after two more seasons.
A couple more young forwards could play their way onto Carolina’s protected list if the Hurricanes go 7-and-3, perhaps two of Warren Foegele, Julien Gauthier and Morgan Geekie. But if Carolina goes 8-and-1, those three would all be exposed.
Justin Faulk will be on a new contract and possibly a new team by 2021 — he is a pending unrestricted free agent in 2020 — so it is hard to say whether he’ll be protected or exposed.
Justin Williams is contemplating retirement in the present and taking it one season at a time, so he would be a free-agent signing rather than an expansion draft selection if he’s still going strong at 40 years old in 2021. But Williams is likely to finish his career with Carolina and a move to Seattle would be surprising despite his strong bond with Francis.
Haydn Fleury is the other name that stands out among current Hurricanes as a potential target for Seattle, but he would need to overtake some of the aforementioned options over the next two seasons.
Francis might hold out hope for Pesce or Bean — if Faulk or Dougie Hamilton re-sign with the Hurricanes ahead of free agency — but his focus will likely be on Fleury, Foegele, Gauthier, Geekie and Nedeljkovic. If Carolina’s roster stays mostly the same, one of those five could be Seattle’s selection.
The other options among current Hurricanes that have some level of familiarity with Francis include Brock McGinn, Lucas Wallmark, Clark Bishop, Janne Kuokkanen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown, Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig. But those nine wouldn’t get much consideration as of today.
Faulk could land on the list of former Hurricanes by 2021, but if he signs a long-term contract with a new team in 2020, that team would presumably be protecting him for the expansion draft a year later.
Jeff Skinner in Buffalo and Elias Lindholm in Calgary will almost certainly be protected. Noah Hanifin, also in Calgary, is another strong candidate to be protected, though some Flames fans would expose him as of today in favour of Rasmus Andersson. But Calgary could very well protect them both by going the 8-and-1 route or risk exposing captain Mark Giordano, who would be entering his final season before free agency.
Those four — Faulk, Skinner, Lindholm and Hanifin — would be appealing to Francis, but he shouldn’t get his hopes up for them any more than Pesce or Bean. They are all long-shots to join Seattle through the expansion draft.
Most of the former Hurricanes with ties to Francis will be unrestricted free agents either next summer or the summer of the expansion draft.
In 2021, Seattle’s potential targets could include Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter, Riley Nash and Derek Ryan. Francis could have varying degrees of interest in all four of those former Carolina centres. It wouldn’t be shocking to see at least one of them on Seattle’s opening-night roster.
The 2020 free-agent class features Patrick Eaves, Joakim Nordstrom, Andrej Sekera, Ron Hainsey and Anton Khudobin. Those five are less enticing for Francis, but if they extend their careers on one-year contracts, they would be UFAs again in 2021 immediately following the expansion draft. If they get two or more years on their next contract, it is unlikely they would be protected and thus could be reunited with Francis in Seattle. But their best years are behind them and there would likely be better options from any and every team in the expansion draft.
That leaves only three other former Hurricanes under contract for the expansion draft — one of whom was drafted by Carolina but never played for the franchise in Pittsburgh defenceman Brian Dumoulin, who would have two years left on his contract at $4.1 million. The other two are Minnesota centre Victor Rask (one year at $4M) and Islanders winger Andrew Ladd (two years at $5.5M). Those three wouldn’t be high on Francis’ list for their respective teams, barring a resurgence for the latter two.
Phil Di Giuseppe, who will be a restricted free agent for the Rangers next summer, failed to stick in Carolina and is looking like a career minor-leaguer at this point, so Francis probably won’t see a fit for him in Seattle.
Cam Ward hasn’t found employment this offseason and might be retired before Seattle enters the league. Francis was loyal to Ward to a fault, but Seattle will have far superior options in goal.
Broadening the horizons a bit further, Francis was also part of the management team for Hockey Canada’s entries at the 2019 men’s world championship and the 2019 Spengler Cup.
That worlds’ team was captained by Kyle Turris (Nashville) as a point-per-game player, while Adam Henrique (Anaheim), Troy Stecher (Vancouver), Philippe Myers (Philadelphia) and Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay) could also be exposed for the expansion draft.
Those are five more names to keep in mind for Seattle, along with Jared McCann (Pittsburgh), Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay), Tyson Jost (Colorado) and Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey), but those four are less likely to be exposed. The rest of Canada’s roster from that tournament are locks to appear on protected lists.
The Spengler roster won’t likely produce any players for Seattle, with the most notable being Nashville defender Dante Fabbro, who will be exempt from the expansion draft. Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk were former Hurricanes on that team, but their NHL days are likely done. Ditto for the rest of that squad, with Colt Conrad and Zach Fucale the only other prospects with a slim chance of making the NHL in the years to come.
Of all the players that have familiarity with Francis, these 14 stand out as the likeliest targets for Seattle’s inaugural roster:
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.