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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Projecting the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft picks (part one: forwards)

The lists are officially in.

All 30 teams participating in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft have now submitted their slates of protected (and exposed) players. The NHL made those lists public on Sunday morning.

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Seattle has until Wednesday to peruse through the available players from each team and build a roster for the 2021–22 season. The first 30 members of the Seattle Kraken — in addition to prospect Luke Henman, who was signed in May — will be introduced to the public at 6:00 p.m. MT on July 21.

While rumours have already begun to swirl about which players are more likely to join the Kraken, the picks can’t be finalized until 8:00 a.m. MT on the day of the expansion draft. Until then, fans in Seattle and onlookers from around the league will continue speculating eagerly about the makeup of the inaugural Kraken roster.

Here is FlamesNation’s best guess as to which players Kraken general manager Ron Francis will select from each team. We’ll start by looking at the forwards they could choose; later today, we’ll dig into the defensemen and goaltenders.

Forwards

Alex Volkov (Anaheim Ducks)

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Anaheim has a few worthwhile options on its list of exposed players, including a couple of intriguing young rearguards in Haydn Fleury and Jacob Larsson. Veteran offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is also available, although he’s a little pricey ($3.9 million AAV for two more years) and his first year with the Ducks wasn’t really anything to write home about.

Volkov, 23, was Shattenkirk’s teammate on the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, suiting up for the Bolts’ final-clinching Game 6 win over the Dallas Stars. He’s a versatile forward who acquitted himself well after being traded to Anaheim during the 2020–21 season, finishing the year with four goals and eight points in 18 games with the Ducks.

Christian Fischer (Arizona Coyotes)

Fischer is a big right-handed winger with some snarl to his game. He scored 15 goals as a rookie with Arizona in 2017–18 and followed it up with an 11-goal season in 2018–19; since then, Fischer has tallied just nine goals and 11 assists in 108 games.

Having just turned 24 in April, Fischer still theoretically has room to improve and has provided the Coyotes with defensive value in each of the last two seasons. Evolving-Hockey‘s model suggests Fischer contributed 6.2 defensive expected goals above replacement (xGAR) between 2019–20 and 2020–21, including 3.1 xGAR amassed just while killing penalties last year.

Joonas Donskoi (Colorado Avalanche)

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Donskoi is a good offensive forward who set a career-high with 17 goals in just 51 games last season. He’s 29 and has two years remaining on a deal annually paying him $3.9 million.

Another right-shot winger, Donskoi has scored at least 30 points in five of his six NHL seasons. According to Evolving-Hockey, he’s provided at least $6 million of value to his team in four of those years (including 2020–21). Donskoi would likely fit seamlessly into Seattle’s top-six up front.

Max Domi (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Domi didn’t really mesh with the Blue Jackets after being acquired from Montreal in 2020. He scored a career-worst 24 points in 54 games and provided negative-$4.2 million of value against his $5.3 million salary cap hit.

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That said, Domi has been a positive-impact presence everywhere else he’s played and has just one year left on his contract. He’s only 26, so there should be many more years of upside remaining in his career. While he still needs more time to recover from the shoulder surgery he underwent in June, Domi should be able to play games for the Kraken and could either be a key foundational piece or an attractive trade chip for Francis.

Nick Caamano (Dallas Stars)

With injured goaltender Ben Bishop waiving his no-movement clause to facilitate Anton Khudobin’s protection, Dallas’ list of exposed players is comprised mostly of pending UFAs and middling prospects.

Caamano has just one goal and three points to his name through 36 NHL games. He’s only 22, however, and he scored 23 points in 32 games with the AHL’s Texas Stars in 2019–20. Unless Seattle’s management has a collective hankering for some Blake Comeau action, Caamano’s youthfulness likely makes him the most realistic choice from Dallas.

Tyler Benson (Edmonton Oilers)

Edmonton is another team without much in terms of exposed talent. Benson has some potential, though, having scored 36 points in 36 AHL games with the Bakersfield Condors in 2020–21.

The 23-year-old left wing is a pending RFA who shouldn’t cost much on his next deal. Considering Seattle’s other options (31-year-old Kyle Turris, anyone?), Benson likely offers the most upside and could step into the NHL very soon as a cost-controlled young forward.

P.S. — Why in the world did Edmonton protect Zack Kassian?

Andreas Athanasiou (Los Angeles Kings)

“AA” is a former 30-goal scorer who had a decent year on a cheap deal with the Kings in 2020–21. The 26-year-old pending RFA had 10 goals and 23 points in 47 games and, according to Evolving-Hockey, provided $1.8 million of value (heavily offense-driven) against his $1.2 million salary cap hit.

Athanasiou is an extremely fast forward who can play centre or on the wing. He certainly has problems in his own end but can provide dynamic offense if deployed properly.

Jordan Eberle (New York Islanders)

It’s unclear why Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello chose to protect fourth-line stalwarts Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck over the likes of Eberle and Josh Bailey. Nevertheless, here we are.

Eberle, 31, is still a very good player and his contract — $5.5 million for the next three seasons — is pretty reasonable for the offence he provides. He scored 16 goals and 33 points in 55 games with the Islanders last season, leading the team with 10.9 expected goals above replacement (according to Evolving-Hockey). He should be a no-brainer pick for the Kraken.

Julien Gauthier (New York Rangers)

Gauthier is a relatively recent first-round pick (he went 21st overall to Carolina in 2016) who joined the Rangers in 2020 after being traded for defensive prospect Joey Keane.

The 23-year-old right wing scored 26 goals in just 44 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2019–20 but his offensive game is still developing at the NHL level. He played 30 games with the Rangers in 2020–21, scoring two goals and adding six assists.

Evgenii Dadonov (Ottawa Senators)

Dadonov is a very good offensive winger who drove play effectively but struggled at times to produce in his debut go-round with the Senators. The 32-year-old forward placed fifth on the Sens with 13 goals in 55 games but added just seven assists while averaging 15:35 per game.

According to Evolving-Hockey‘s model, Dadonov 6.7 expected goals above replacement in 2020–21 ranked behind only Josh Norris and Drake Batherson among Ottawa skaters. Dadonov has two years remaining on a deal carrying a $5 million annual cap hit.

Zach Aston-Reese (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Aston-Reese is a defensive specialist with a developing offensive game. The 26-year-old pending RFA tallied a career-high nine goals in 45 games this season; he also amassed 2.0 defensive expected goals above replacement, ranking behind Penguins skaters Brian Dumoulin, Sidney Crosby, Teddy Blueger, and Marcus Pettersson.

Capable of playing all three forward positions, Aston-Reese has been a trusted penalty-killing option for the Penguins and could help drive a bottom-six line for the Kraken.

Matt Nieto (San Jose Sharks)

Nieto is a 28-year-old winger with moderate upside at both ends of the ice. The product of Long Beach, CA scored 15 goals in 2017–18 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and has averaged at least two minutes of penalty-killing time per game in each of the last four seasons. He returned to the Sharks in 2020–21 and had a tough year, playing just 27 games and posting seven points to go along with below-average play-driving results.

Even so, Nieto is a hard-working player who won’t break the bank. He has two years at $750,000 remaining on his contract, meaning he can easily be buried in the minors if he doesn’t bounce back.

Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)

Tarasenko is one of the biggest names available to the Kraken. The 2019 Stanley Cup champion has three 70-point seasons under his belt but has played just 34 games (and scoring 24 points) over the last two seasons. He reportedly requested a trade earlier this summer.

With just two years at $7.5 million remaining on his deal, Tarasenko represents the most obvious gamble for the Kraken to take. He’s expensive but has a long history of excellent play. His contract is short and he’d immediately become one of Seattle’s most marketable players. A healthy Tarasenko could help quickly vault the Kraken towards contention in the Pacific Division.

Yanni Gourde (Tampa Bay Lightning)

While Spokane’s own Tyler Johnson is also available to the Kraken, Gourde is younger and a better player. The 29-year-old forward tied for second on the 2020–21 Lightning with 17 goals in 56 games, tallying six more in the playoffs en route to another Stanley Cup championship. He ranked third among Lightning forwards in the 2021 playoffs with 17:36 of average ice-time.

Gourde has four years remaining on a contract paying him an average of $5.167 million per season. He ranked second on the 2020–21 Lightning with 11.3 expected goals above replacement.

Jared McCann (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Yes, the Maple Leafs just acquired McCann from the Pittsburgh Penguins (for the relatively paltry price of Filip Hallander and a seventh-round pick). Yes, it’s a little strange they chose to expose McCann — and Alex Kerfoot, for that matter — to protect 29-year-old defenseman Justin Holl. Alas.

McCann is a promising 25-year-old centre who scored 14 goals and 32 points in just 43 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Pittsburgh, fearing he would be selected by Seattle if exposed, chose to send McCann to Toronto. The Leafs then decided to go with a 4-4-1 protection scheme, leaving two good young centres available in the process.

There’s a future where Seattle selects McCann and he turns into their 6’1″ version of Jonathan Marchessault.

Kole Lind (Vancouver Canucks)

Canucks general manager Jim Benning selected Lind with the 33rd pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Lind has since emerged as a quality right wing at the AHL level, scoring 14 goals and 44 points in 61 games with the Utica Comets in 2019–20 before tallying five goals and eight points in eigh AHL games last season.

Lind also made his NHL debut in 2020–21 and ultimately played seven games with the Canucks. The 22-year-old pending RFA has yet to distinguish himself at the NHL level but would immediately become one of Seattle’s most intriguing forward prospects.

Projected forward lineup

Max Domi – Yanni Gourde – Vladimir Tarasenko
Evgenii Dadonov – Jared McCann – Jordan Eberle
Matt Nieto – Andreas Athanasiou – Joonas Donskoi
Zach Aston-Reese – Alex Volkov – Christian Fischer

Extras: Kole Lind, Tyler Benson, Nick Caamano, Julien Gauthier