It’s going to be an ever-changing topic all season long. As players struggle or find success, fans will hotly debate who the Edmonton Oilers should consider protecting in the upcoming 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. This draft will see the new franchise out of Las Vegas select one player from each team to create a roster that has the potential to be the most competitive expansion franchise in NHL history.
Just 20 games in, Edmonton’s list has already changed dramatically. Of course, at the end of the day, we don’t know for sure who Oilers management is going to protect, but we can make some logical conclusions.
Rules of NHL Expansion
The NHL is giving each team two options. Option one is to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. If the team has a well-rounded roster with depth in all positions, this may be the best route. Option two is to protect eight players and a goaltender. This would allow teams who have more than three defensemen they want to keep, to do so. The trade-off is that they leave two extra forwards unprotected.
In both cases, first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits). In Edmonton’s case, that means players like Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Darnell Nurse and Drake Caggiula do not require protection.
Finally, all players who have currently effective and continuing “No Movement” clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits). For the Oilers, this includes Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera and Cam Talbot.
Expansion Protected List Prior to the Season
Before the season started, Edmonton had quite a different roster than they do now. One example was that Nail Yakupov was part of the team. There was some debate about whether or not the Oilers would leave exposed a first-overall draft choice. Many believed it would be insanity to do such a thing, but the Oilers might have been helpless to do anything about it.
The Oilers also had Brandon Davidson who was coming back healthy after a strong showing in 2015-16, but ended the season with an injury. What fans in Edmonton saw was enough for many to think that Davidson might get scooped if left unprotected. His underlying numbers and advanced statistics gave reason to believe those people had and argument.
The Oilers had also just recently traded for Adam Larsson. With the investment they’d made in his future ability, there was no logical reason to expect Edmonton would leave Larsson exposed. As a result, and if you believed Davidson earned the right to be protected, the Oilers protected list would have looked like the following (the goaltending has been excluded from the chart):
The First 20 Games
Edmonton’s pre-season expansion list left some names vulnerable. If the Oilers were forced to go with the eight skater option, thus protecting Brandon Davidson, it left Patrick Maroon and Nail Yakupov exposed. This was a situation where Edmonton lost a valuable piece they likely would have hoped to keep in the system.
However, the season began and a few changes occurred. First, the question about whether or not to protect a first-overall draft pick was answered when the Oilers traded Yakupov to St. Louis for pennies on the dollar. Yakupov once again failed to offer productive offense and Edmonton felt it best to give him a different opportunity. The Blues were ready to take a chance on a very talented kid, who up to that point, hadn’t lived up to his potential.
Second, Brandon Davidson went down with another injury. The opportunity Davidson had to show Edmonton that his strong season in 2015-16 wasn’t a one-off, vanished quickly. To make matters worse, just days ago, as Davidson was skating with the team, hoping to make his anticipated return, he suffered another setback to his shoulder and isn’t returning anytime soon.
Finally, Benoit Pouliot regressed terribly. He’s been ineffective, is on pace for a mere 18 points and has now been scratched for two straight games after showing the coaching staff he’s still prone to making poor team decisions with bad penalties at worse times.
Those were the negatives. The positives were that Tyler Pitlick, who was offered what looked like one last chance to make himself a bonafide NHL player, has turned in an unbelievable start to the season. Anton Slepyshev has been a tremendous surprise as a depth forward and Zack Kassian, while still making some questionable choices, has been good for an Edmonton team who likes his style of play.
These changes have reshaped the expansion list in a major way. So much so, Edmonton may look to go with the seven forwards and three defensemen option when it comes to draft protection. The Oilers new list may look more like the following:
This list is vastly different from the one Edmonton was potentially looking at during the summer. First, with the potential flexibility of protecting seven forwards, — seeing as how Yakupov is out of the picture — Edmonton leaves fewer bonafide NHL players at risk.
Second, because of Davidson’s unfortunate injury, the already iffy odds that he was going to be selected by Las Vegas, went down dramatically. The key here is to remember that 29 other teams have potential blueliners available and since Davidson isn’t afforded the opportunity to show his stuff, would Las Vegas really be willing to take that chance with another option available?
The one thing that requires work for the Oilers is deciding who on this roster, should the list not dramatically change between now and the end of the season, has earned a contract extension.
Tyler Pitlick and Zack Kassian would need new contracts and then need to be added to the protected list. Does Edmonton do such a thing? It’s a safe bet that as time goes on, players will again struggle, making these types of decisions even more difficult for Oiler management.
What will be interesting to see is where this list is in 20 more games. Will players like Slepyshev and Pitlick still be worthy of consideration? Will Kassian take another step forward, or two more backward and into replaceable territory? Will Davidson return and start making waves?
Keeping an eye on the potential ramifications of the Oilers and the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft is almost as entertaining as watching the Oilers actually ice a competitive team. Not quite, but almost.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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