Canucks: Expansion Draft Preview – The Exposed (Part Two)

The Vancouver Canucks are officially less than one week away from the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Much like what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, the Canucks’ management will need to finalize a list of players that they’d like to protect from the Seattle Kraken.

Earlier this week, we took you through the detailed list of players that the Canucks will likely be protecting from the NHL’s 32nd team. On paper, it’s unlikely that they lose anyone of significance, especially compared to other clubs around the league. Regardless if they go with seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie, or with eight skaters and one goalie, the Canucks shouldn’t have too much difficulty selecting which players they’d like to keep.

At the end of the day, however, there still might be question marks as to why certain contracts were protected over others, depending on how the final draft of the list turns out. No matter how the Canucks stack up against other teams when it comes to making their roster decisions, they will be losing one player to Seattle, and only time will tell if that exposed player comes back to haunt them on the West Coast.

Next, The Canuck Way continues with part two of its three-part series, looking at which players might be left unprotected and what it could mean for the team’s future.

Let’s start with the forward group first.

Projected Exposed Players – Forwards

Loui Eriksson (LW): The first no-brainer on our list.

The Eriksson era in Vancouver has been nothing short of a nightmare since he signed with the team in 2016. In his first five seasons as a Canuck, Eriksson registered a measly 90 points in 252 games played, and consistently found himself a healthy scratch this past year as a result.  Set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the Canucks would love nothing more than if Seattle picked up Eriksson’s $6 million cap hit for the upcoming season, but we all know that’s not going to happen. The team would need to include a fairly large sweetener in order for the Kraken to go through with that transaction and, at this point in his contract, it would be best for the Canucks to bury Eriksson in Abbotsford for his final year.

Brandon Sutter (C): This is an interesting one for Seattle.

Based on his pending UFA status, it is expected that the Canucks will leave Sutter exposed for the Kraken. The 32-year-old just finished the final season of his most recent five-year deal and, according to insider Elliotte Friedman, will not be returning to the Canucks for the 2021-22 campaign. Despite his growing injury history, Sutter still has a few years left as a serviceable bottom-six centre, and would provide valuable leadership in any locker room. If Kraken General Manager Ron Francis decides to go down that road with Sutter, they would be able to engage in contract talks with him as early as July 18th. Given his recent production, however, it would be shocking if Seattle opted for Sutter as their selection from Vancouver. Despite what happens in the expansion draft, it appears that Sutter will playing for a new club next season, no matter what.

Jay Beagle: The summer of 2018 was one to forget for General Manager Jim Benning. First, we can look at the four-year, $12 million deal for Beagle. Brought in for veteran leadership and Stanley Cup winning pedigree, Beagle hasn’t lived up to the expectations for most of his tenure in Vancouver. The former Washington Capital has been a key piece of the team’s penalty kill and in their faceoff winning percentage, but has also struggled to stay healthy for a good chunk of his contract, including his current stint on LTIR. His on-ice production, speed and defensive capabilities have fallen and, as a result, should be ignored by the Kraken.

Antoine Roussel: Continuing with our trend of poor signings in 2018, we now move onto Roussel. The former Dallas Star had a promising start with his new club, registering nine goals, 22 assists and 118 PIM in 65 games. Unfortunately, it would be all downhill from there. Roussel’s offensive production dipped, and he found himself relegated to the bottom-six as a result.  Much like his contract twin, Roussel has also struggled to stay healthy, particularly in the last two seasons with the Canucks.  There is a small chance that the Kraken take a chance on Roussel, especially if they want to inject some grittiness and chirping into their forward group. However, at this point, it appears that injuries have turned Roussel into damaged goods, meaning that the Canucks will likely be dealing with the last year of his contract, either in Vancouver or in Abbotsford.

Jake Virtanen: Despite a breakout campaign in 2019-2020, Virtanen has come back down to Earth this past season. It’s hard to believe that we’re only one year removed from Virtanen registering 18 goals and 18 assists, especially when compared to the five goals and no assists he potted this past year, but this wouldn’t be the first time that a former first-round pick didn’t turn out. At just 24 years old, Virtanen can still provide flashes of speed and strength on the wing, but he’s yet to find any consistency with those skills, which could be an immediate white flag for Seattle. Mix in the sexual allegations reported against him, and Virtanen might not have any team to play for next season.

Zack MacEwen: Over the past two seasons, MacEwen has shown flashes of being a solid bottom-six energy forward with physicality and grittiness. Much like Virtanen, however, MacEwen has also yet to find true consistency in his game. Not to mention, his offensive numbers are nothing to write home about, even for a bottom-six forward. Despite all of this, MacEwen, who clocks in at 6’3″ and 205 pounds, is still one of the more legitimate possibilities for the Kraken, and could very well turn into a full-time NHL contributor for them.

Jonah Gadjovich: Similar to Kole Lind, Gadjovich is relatively unproven in the NHL. He had a strong 20-2021 campaign in the AHL with the Utica Comets, recording 18 points in 19 games for just under a point-per-game pace. Not to mention, 15 of those 18 points were goals. Gadjovich’s low ceiling and current lack of translatable NHL skills will likely limit him in the big leagues, particularly in the next few years. On the flip side, he could also turn out to be a smart gamble for Seattle. Give him a few more years of strong development, and Gadjovich might have the ability to transform himself into an everyday power forward in the NHL.

Mathew Highmore: Acquired in a midseason trade that sent fan-favourite Adam Gaudette to the Chicago Blackhawks, Highmore was able to make a decent impact with his new club. Similar to Motte, Highmore was able to inject energy and toughness into the line-up. At first, Highmore didn’t contribute much offensively, going pointless in his first nine games with Vancouver. Fortunately, he was rewarded in the latter half of the season, registering three goals and two assists while logging minutes on the top two lines. Along with MacEwen, Highmore is another possible choice for the Kraken. The fringe NHL forward is still young enough to be part of a new core moving forward, and could find himself succeeding in a more significant role with the expansion franchise.

Projected Exposed Players – Defencemen

Alex Edler: Again, no surprises here for Edler. The 35-year-old just finished the last season of his most-recent two-year deal with Vancouver, and appears to be looking for another extension. Reports are indicating that the organization has engaged in contract talks with Edler and his agent, but it’s important to remember that Seattle can technically meet with and sign pending unrestricted free agents who are left unprotected, such as Edler, between July 18th and 21st. Could Seattle take a look at Edler in a bottom-six, leadership role? Possibly, but unlikely. Edler, who sits first all-time in points and games played for Canuck blueliners, hasn’t been shy about his desire to remain in Vancouver and, as long as he isn’t scooped up by Seattle, could finish his career with the Canucks if both parties can agree to a team-friendly extension.

Travis Hamonic: Similar to Edler, Hamonic is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The right-handed blueliner signed a one-year deal with Vancouver before the start of last season, and was able to bounce back from early injury to finish the campaign strong. It appears that Hamonic has engaged in contract negotiations with Vancouver ownership as well, but who knows what could happen. Earlier in June, it was reported that Hamonic wanted to stay with a Western Canadian team due to family reasons, but that narrative shortly changed. And with the close proximity of Seattle to Western Canada, there is a chance that Hamonic could still sign a contract with Seattle if they don’t select him from the expansion draft.

Jalen Chatfield: Chatfield finally made his debut in the NHL this season, but ultimately failed to show himself as anything more than a depth call-up. He wasn’t a complete mess in his own zone, but it appears that Chatfield is poised to be a number seven defenceman at best at this point of his career. Chatfield is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and, if he wants to build upon his previous cup of coffee experience from last year, will likely need to go with another cheap, short-term deal from Vancouver.

Madison Bowey: In reality, Bowey was one of the first names to appear on the Canucks’ exposed list. The former Detroit Red Wing was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, but didn’t suit up in a single game for the Canucks after the trade. Bowey played 53 games in Detroit last year and, as a result, meets the criteria for defencemen that must be exposed. Bowey is signed for another season, meaning he should be in Vancouver’s plans for the 2020-21 season.  The once-highly regarded prospect has failed to make his mark in the NHL, but comes to Vancouver with an opportunity to compete for a roster spot. Bowey is a depth option for the Kraken should they decide to go in the defenceman route when selecting from the Canucks roster, but most likely isn’t too high on their list.

Brogan Rafferty: The AHL All-Star did not get much of an opportunity in Vancouver, despite recording seven goals and 38 assists in 57 games with Utica this past season. As a result, it was recently reported that Rafferty doesn’t want to sign a contract extension with the Canucks. The 26-year-old should be considered a prime candidate for the Kraken, especially if they’re looking for a cheap, depth defenceman that could eventually blossom into a first or second pairing blueliner, but might also be fairly low on their list.

Projected Exposed Players – Goaltenders

Braden Holtby: Our last no-brainer on the list.

The former Vezina Trophy winner has fallen mightily during his first year in Vancouver. He was able to bounce back in the latter half of the season when the team returned from their COVID-19 outbreak, but those performances didn’t change his numbers drastically. At the end of the year, Holtby posted an .889 SV% and 3.67 GAA, the lowest totals of his career. If selected, Holtby would provide Seattle with one of the more veteran goaltending options on the market. However, that seems unlikely considering the multitude of goaltending options the Kraken will have during the Expansion Draft, as well as Holtby’s remaining $4.3 million AAV on the cap.

Other Exposed Players:  Jimmy Vesey (LW),  Lukas Jasek (RW), Jayce Hawryluk (RW), Justin Bailey (RW), Travis Boyd (C), Tyler Graovac (C), Petrus Palmu (LW), Ashton Sautner (D), Guillaume Brisebois (D), Josh Teves (D).

The deadline for teams to submit their protected list is July 17th at 5:00pm ET, with the Expansion Draft taking place on July 21st at 8:00pm ET.

Other Upcoming Dates:

  • July 23rd: First round of 2021 NHL Draft (8pm ET)
  • July 24th: Rounds 2-7 of 2021 NHL Draft (11am ET)
  • July 28th: Restricted free agent/unrestricted free agent signing period begins (12pm ET)

What do you think, Canucks fans? Which player would leave the biggest hole in the lineup should they be selected by the Seattle Kraken? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for part three!