NHL expansion has once again become a hot topic in the hockey community after it was announced on Wednesday, Mar. 16th, that any, and all, expansion teams will be confirmed by the NHL before the 2016 NHL Draft in June.
As a result, the process for the expansion draft also became a big question for teams and fans alike. TSN insider, Darren Dreger, shed some light on the details of how many players each team would be able to protect.
Expansion draft potential. Each team has option of protecting 3d, 7F and I goalie or 8 skaters +1 goalie. Expansion determined before draft
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 16, 2016
Once an executive committee makes a recommendation for the potential expansion – no expansion, one team, or a two team expansion – organizations will begin to make their list of protected players.
At this time, most general managers believe it will be a one team expansion, with Las Vegas as the frontrunner for a NHL franchise.
Who Will the Leafs Protect?
Moving forward with the concept of each team protecting seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, these are the players that the Toronto Maple Leafs need to protect. Keep in mind that players with no trade clauses will not need to be protected. As well, players with two years or less of professional experience, which includes both AHL and NHL time, will not need to be protected. We have also assumed that the Expansion Draft will take place sometime before the 2017 NHL Draft, pro-rating players which will have at least two years of professional experience by that time.
- Nikita Soshnikov
- Connor Brown
- William Nylander
- Nazem Kadri
- Leo Komarov
- Kasperi Kapanen
- Josh Leivo
The Leafs do not have a ton of NHL calibre players to protect, and will be more worried about retaining their up and coming prospects. There is a strong possibility that the Leafs will choose to leave a decent NHL forward unprotected, in the hopes that the expansion team would select him instead of one of their young guns.
The seventh protected player will be an interesting choice, and it should come down to Connor Brown, Tobias Lindberg, or Frederik Gauthier. However, at this time, Brown has shown the most consistent success at the AHL level. In any case, the Leafs do not have to worry about losing a significant part of their future up front due to an expansion draft.
- Morgan Rielly
- Jake Gardiner
- Connor Carrick
Rielly and Gardiner are clearly the only NHL defencemen that the Leafs have a plan for in the future, and will be the obvious first two choices to be protected. However, Toronto also has plenty of decent, young defencemen, albeit none of them would classify as top prospects.
With that said, the third protected defenceman will be chosen from a pool of about six guys, all of which are 24 years old or younger. However, Carrick seems to be a head above the rest, with solid NHL experience and a promising showcase with the Leafs since the trade deadline. GM, Lou Lamoriello, also said he considers Carrick to be an ‘A’ prospect, so he is likely unwilling to let him go unprotected.
- Garret Sparks
This was surprisingly the toughest choice of any position. With Jonathan Bernier struggling through much of 2015-16, even warranting some time in the AHL, the Leafs have had to think about who their goaltender of the future will be.
The development of Sparks has been a nice surprise, and some think that the 22-year-old has the talent to be relied upon as Toronto begins to emerge as a playoff threat. In any case, the Leafs will not likely have to worry about losing one of their goalies, as there are much better options available. For example, Anaheim will only protect one of John Gibson or Frederik Andersen, St. Louis has Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and Detroit will probably make Jimmy Howard available.
Who Could They Lose?
Lindberg and Gauthier would be two intriguing players for an expansion team to pick up, as they will face a tough time in quickly stockpiling a prospect pool. Lindberg was acquired as a key piece of the Phaneuf trade, and has been solid in his AHL rookie season. Meanwhile, Gauthier was a first round pick in 2013, and is valued as a strong two-way center for the Leafs’ future.
Among defencemen, Rinat Valiev or Stuart Percy may draw some attention. Valiev was a 2014 third round pick, and has shown flashes of offensive instinct in his rookie AHL season. His play warranted a call up in which he played three games. Percy was a first round pick in 2011, and has proven himself to be a valuable two-way defenceman. He has also appeared in three NHL games this season.
Regardless, the Leafs – in the beginning of their rebuild – are not in the position to lose any extremely valuable pieces of their future, and shouldn’t need to worry too much.
Which players do you think the Leafs should protect in a NHL Expansion Draft? Share your opinion in the comments below!