Red Wings Expansion Draft Projections 4.0

Much has changed since I last projected the Detroit Red Wings’ expansion draft strategy back in November.

For one, Anthony Mantha—once thought to be part of Detroit’s young core—is no longer with the organization. We’ve also seen Adam Erne emerge as the Red Wings’ top goal scorer.

So with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft a few short months away, let’s look at how Detroit’s strategy has changed since the 2020-21 season began.

Exempt Red Wings

Before diving into which Red Wings should be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, it’s worth noting that several key prospects are exempt from the festivities: 

  • LW Filip Zadina
  • D Moritz Seider
  • C Joe Veleno
  • D Jared McIsaac
  • G Filip Larsson
  • D Albert Johansson
  • G Victor Brattstrom
  • C Chase Pearson
  • D Seth Barton
  • LW Mathias Brome

All 2020 draft picks are exempt from the expansion draft as well.

Protected Red Wings

Now onto the Red Wings’ protected list. As with past projections, Detroit should protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie over the eight-skaters-and-a-goalie option.

  • F Dylan Larkin
  • F Tyler Bertuzzi
  • F Michael Rasmussen
  • F Robby Fabbri
  • F Jakub Vrana
  • F Adam Erne
  • F Givani Smith
  • D Filip Hronek
  • D Dennis Cholowski
  • D Troy Stecher
  • G Thomas Greiss

The first five forwards are no-brainers. Larkin, Bertuzzi, Vrana, Rasmussen, and Fabbri are expected to be part of the young core moving forward.

From there, it gets tricky. There are four forwards worthy of the last two slots: Erne, Smith, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Evgeny Svechnikov. It ultimately came down to Erne and Smith for a few reasons.

Adam Erne of the Detroit Red Wings
Detroit’s top goal-scorer was one of the last inclusions. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

First, 28-year-old Namestnikov will be a UFA after the 2021-22 season. While he’s a solid third-line center, would the Red Wings want to risk the futures of younger players like Erne and Smith to guarantee one more year from Namestnikov? With Rasmussen solidifying his claim to the shutdown, third-line center role, it doesn’t make sense to protect Namestnikov at this point.

In addition, you have to wonder about Detroit’s willingness to expose Svechnikov on waivers multiple times this season. If they’re fine with losing him for nothing via waivers, the same logic should apply to the expansion draft, right? Plus, there’s no guarantee the Red Wings re-sign Svechnikov – he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer without arbitration rights and could be non-tendered.

For those reasons, I used the last two spots to protect Erne and Smith. Like Svechnikov, both will be restricted free agents after the season, but are more likely to be re-signed – especially Erne, who leads the Red Wings with 11 goals this season.

On defense, Hronek was an automatic inclusion here. Cholowski was protected based on age and his offensive upside. The real decision came down to protecting Stecher or Gustav Lindstrom.

Despite playing second- or third-pair minutes, Stecher has been Detroit’s best defenseman this season. Per Evolving-Hockey, His 4.8 goals-above replacement (GAR) tops all Red Wings blueliners. For comparison, Marc Staal ranks second with 1.1 GAR.

On the other hand, Lindstrom is only 22 and starting to look the part of an NHLer – albeit a third-pairing defenseman. He’s also controllable for the next several years, whereas Stecher will be a UFA after the 2021-22 season.

The decision to protect Stecher ultimately came down to this: If the Red Wings expose him, the analytics-inclined Kraken will choose him. The cheap, right-handed, slick-skating defenseman would be a coveted asset for the Kraken if available.

Note: With these players protected, Detroit satisfies the minimum exposure requirements. Richard Panik, Frans Nielsen, Danny DeKeyser, and Kaden Fulcher (among others) meet the required games-played and contract stipulations of the expansion draft.


As they did with Staal and David Savard, the Red Wings could potentially acquire (or help broker trades for) players with high cap hits for the 2021-22 season. This could be especially useful for teams with a handful of players with no-movement clauses (NMCs) or teams that are just really, really deep.

For instance, the Carolina Hurricanes will need to make some difficult decisions regarding who to protect – even after trading budding defenseman Haydn Fleury. After all, Kraken general manager Ron Francis used to run the Hurricanes.

For these reasons, Detroit’s roster could change between now and the expansion draft in July.

And the Kraken Select…

To determine Seattle’s likely pick based on my protected list, I reached out to THW’s Kraken coverage team for their insights.

Both Adam Kierszenblat and Carson MacRae selected Namestnikov as their preferred choice. The two also mentioned Danny DeKeyser as a backup option.

Vladislav Namestnikov of the Detroit Red Wings
Vladislav Namestnikov could be gone from Hockeytown after only one year. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Losing a player like Namestnikov would be frustrating, but not the end of the world for the Red Wings. They should be able to find a similar player on the UFA market later this summer if need be.

Once the season wraps up and we get closer to the expansion draft, I’ll share my final protected list for the Red Wings. A lot can still happen between now and then.

Who should the Red Wings protect in the expansion draft? Share your thoughts below.