6 Players the Seattle Kraken Must Take at the NHL Expansion Draft

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2021

6 Players the Seattle Kraken Must Take at the NHL Expansion Draft

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    It's official: The Seattle Kraken are a thing.

    The NHL's newest team will take shape for its inaugural season this week, following submission of protected player lists Saturday by 30 of the league's other teams.

    The Kraken will choose from the players who were left unprotected and submit their 30 picks (one from each team) to the league office by Wednesday morning.

    Their expansion draft picks will be announced on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

    Here are a few predraft specs:

    • Seattle must pick at least 20 players who are already under contract for 2021-22, meaning no more than 10 of its choices can be players due to become free agents on July 28.

     The salary-cap hits of the under-contract players picked must account for at least 60 percent ($48.9 million) of next season's $81.5 million cap limit.

     If the Kraken do target a would-be free agent who is unprotected, they have a 72-hour interview window with that player before picks are submitted on Wednesday.

     The Vegas Golden Knights were not required to submit a player list as part of an agreement made when they entered the league as an expansion team in 2017-18.

    OK, got all that?

    Great!

    Needless to say, the B/R hockey writing types have been busily scanning the protected player lists since they went public Sunday morning, and we consequently made it our mission to compile our own list of six players Seattle simply must have on the ice at Climate Pledge Arena when play begins in October.

    Without further ado, read on to see our picks for the Kraken's first starting lineup, and make sure to drop us a line in the comments section to let us know your thoughts.

Chris Driedger, G, Florida Panthers

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    You've got to have a goalie.

    And though there are higher-profile and higher-Priced (pun intended) options out there now that the protected lists have been submitted, none come at a better value than Chris Driedger.

    The third-round pick from 2012 is only 27, is coming off his busiest and most effective season in the NHL—2.06 goals-against average, .927 save percentage—and is about to become an unrestricted free agent, meaning Seattle general manager Ron Francis can acquire his services at an agreeable rate.

    The Kraken could go the Vegas route and select Carey Price, following the model established when the Golden Knights picked veteran Marc-Andre Fleury in 2017, but the Montreal goalie is 33, his regular-season numbers were far off Driedger's in 2020-21 and he's due $10.5 million for each of the next five seasons.

    TSN's Pierre LeBrun has reported a run at Driedger is already in the works, and we agree with the logic.

    Get the emerging talent here, and make the big-money splashes elsewhere.

Vince Dunn, D, St. Louis Blues

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    It's the stuff that executive suite dreams are made of.

    OK, that's a little strong. But perusing the roster of available players and seeing Vince Dunn's name on it has got to be a good thing for GM Francis.

    Not only is the St. Louis Blue defenseman just 24, but he's also a mobile blueliner who thrives in a puck-possession system. A move to Seattle would give him a chance to be a first-pair player who would be in the mix for time on the power play as well.

    Dunn scored 12 goals two seasons ago and had 20 points in just 43 games in 2020-21 on a one-year contract that paid him $1.875 million.

    He's a restricted free agent at this point, meaning he's probably in line for a decent raise, but it's still reasonable money to get in on the ground floor for a player who could blossom in a Seattle uniform.

    Another chance to buy low on a player and conserve cash for other investments.

Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Oh, and speaking of other investments, here's one.

    When it comes to defensemen who may soon be available on the open market, none are attracting more attention than Carolina's Dougie Hamilton.

    The mammoth 6'6", 229-pounder just finished his third season with the Hurricanes and ninth overall in the NHL. He reached double-digits in goals for the seventh time while finishing in the top 10 among all blueliners in multiple statistical categories—fifth in goals (10), ninth in assists (32) and seventh in points (42).

    Hamilton's due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28 and had already gotten permission to speak with other teams before Carolina left him unprotected for the expansion draft. He just finished a deal that paid him $34.5 million over six seasons and is expected to command near $8 million per season going forward.

    So yes, it's a lot of money. But he's a lot of player.

    And the Kraken have an advantage in that they, as an expansion team, could offer Hamilton an eight-year contract if a deal is done before July 28. No other team but Carolina could exceed seven years, and selling him on the idea he would be the foundational piece of a new franchise could be a worthwhile tiebreaker.

    Take a deep breath, offer the contract for eight years and $60 million and start sewing No. 19 sweaters.

James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers

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    You're putting together a hockey team.

    You need a goalie. You need defensemen. And you need players who can score goals.

    James van Riemsdyk can score goals.

    So much so that only six players in the NHL have scored more goals than he has (199) over the past eight seasons while playing fewer games than he has (553).

    Now 32, the New Jersey native scored 17 times and had 43 points in 56 games for Philadelphia in 2020-21 but was not included on the Flyers' protected list.

    He's got two years remaining on a deal that will pay him $7 million per, but it's hard to imagine getting a scorer any more reliable than him for significantly less money. Plus, he's a veteran who provides a locker room presence and does the little things like winning one-on-one battles and making defensive plays that start odd-man rushes.

    Captain JVR, anyone?

Alexander Kerfoot, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Change your scenery. Change your trajectory.

    Alexander Kerfoot has been a worthwhile player in the NHL for two teams, scoring as many as 19 goals in one season for the Colorado Avalanche before a 2019 trade sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    He's been a third-line center on a star-studded Maple Leafs team and has seen his production fall off to the tune of just 17 goals in 121 games across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

    With the Kraken, he would have a chance to become more.

    The energetic 5'10", 185-pounder could slot in nicely in Seattle's top six, and the experience he's had with assistant coach Paul McFarland while in Toronto could help with the transition as well.

    He's signed for two more seasons at $3.5 million apiece, which seems a reasonable price for a smart, versatile player who can play center or wing, kill penalties and aid a power play.

Yanni Gourde, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    This one could come to down to predraft machinations.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning are still publicly basking in the glow of their second successive Stanley Cup championship, but GM Julien BriseBois is busy behind the scenes trying to figure out how to prolong the dynasty while staying within the confines of the ever-present salary cap.

    Several players who had vital roles in the latest title run are unprotected for the expansion draft, meaning the Kraken will have their pick of the likes of Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson. 

    Johnson is a Washington native, so it would make perfect sense for Seattle to take him for competitive and marketing reasons—and there's always a chance BriseBois and Francis could come up with something on the side that would get him to the Pacific Northwest—but the suggestion here is that Gourde is the one.

    The 29-year-old can play any forward position and has been a productive player since arriving to the Lightning on a full-time basis in 2017-18. He reached double-digit goal totals in all four seasons, exceeding 20 twice, and has scored an additional 13 times in the two championship marches.

    Four more seasons at $5.167 million are reasonable and would make him a signature Kraken player.

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