The Chopping Block
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsThe Rules
The rules of the draft state that the Wild can protect players in one of two ways. The first, and more likely in my opinion, is to protect 7 forwards, 3 defenseman, and 1 goalie. The other option allows them to protect 8 skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and 1 goalie.
The Wild also, by rule, must expose the following: 1) One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons. 2) Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons, and 3) One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club's protected list. For more information on the expansion draft rules, you can check out this link from NHL.com.
Who’s For Sure Safe?
Let’s start with what we know for sure based on the rules (this assuming the 7 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie option). Due to no movement clauses in their contracts, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter, and Zach Parise are all protected from being lost to the expansion draft. It’s also pretty safe to assume that Devan Dubnyk will be the Wild’s goalie to protect. So that leaves just 4 more forwards and 2 defenseman for the team to protect, so here’s my guesses to who those players will be.
Who Do I Think is Safe?
I’ll start with forwards. If I’m the Wild, I’m for sure going to protect Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle. The two have been a key component to the Wild’s offense this season and have great chemistry with one another. Eric Staal is just a solid number one center that the Wild have been looking for and they’ll want to get the full value of the three year deal they signed him to. Charlie Coyle also seems to be developing in a really solid power forward as well and I think going forward, he will be Minnesota’s best forward.
It gets a little tricky with the last two forwards. My first pick to keep is Nino Niederreiter. It seems like Nino comes under fire every season for not scoring enough, but he always responds and one thing I’ve noticed is the impact he has on the players he plays with. Look at the Wild’s best two line combinations over the last half a year. Down the stretch last season it was Nino, Haula, and Pominville and this season it was Coyle, Staal, and who else but Nino. I don't think that's a coincidence. He makes the players around him better and is very versatile. I think that he is an extremely talented player with a lot of potential and the Wild need to lock him up and keep him in Minnesota.
The last forward I would protect is Mikael Granlund. I’ve been critical of #64 the last few seasons because he hasn’t lived up to his hype, but as of late he seems to be really finding his stride and producing offensively. He can play special teams and has found success on the wing this season. He also can play center, which like Niederreiter, allows for some versatility in his usage which only helps the team.
For the two remaining defenseman that the Wild can protect, I think one of them is very obvious and the other one is a three way tie. The obvious choice to protect in addition to Suter on defense is Jared Spurgeon. Though he’s small, Spurgeon plays with such high energy and composure. He’s great with the puck, has good vision and defensive awareness, and a shot that should be respected. I’ve said before that if Spurgeon were 4-5 inches taller and a little heavier, he could be one of the best defenseman in the league. The Wild love him and we love him and his role is clear and he should stay in the State of Hockey.
As for the final defenseman the Wild can protect… man I don’t know. You have to choose between Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and Matt Dumba. All three have their strengths and weaknesses, but if it were up to me, I think I would protect Matt Dumba. Though I do think on paper Brodin is better than Dumba, Dumba’s style of play is something the Wild needs on defense. Dumba loves to jump into the play and get involved with the offense. Sometimes that causes him to falter on defense, but that’s okay. You need a defenseman that can also be an offensive threat and that’s not Brodin or Scandella’s game. I think Dumba possesses a little more potential and the Wild just need him to get to the tipping point. I see him as a guy who could be a lot like PK Subban and I want to be sure when that happens, he’s in the red and green.
Who’s on the Chopping Block?
So that means the following players would be up to be selected by Vegas in the expansion draft: Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jason Zucker, Chris Stewart, Erik Haula, Darcy Kuemper, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, and potentially Tyler Groavac depending on how many games he plays.
I think the likely candidates based on the requirements for the Wild to be put up for the expansion draft are Marco Scandella, Jason Zucker, Erik Haula, and Darcy Kuemper.
Who’s Most Likely to Become a Golden Knight?
To me, this seems pretty obvious. Jason Zucker, the Nevada native will likely be the Wild player the Golden Knights select from Minnesota. Zucker is an electric forward with a lot of speed and goal scoring ability. Bringing in a hometown player (Zucker is the only notable NHLer from Nevada) to a new franchise is great for marketing and fan support. It would also be awesome to see Zucks play at home. As much as I love him, I think it makes the most sense.
So, what do you think? If the Minnesota Wild gave you the keys to protecting players, who would you keep safe? Who would you risk letting go? Which player do you think ends up in Vegas? Please let me know in the comments!
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