Predators Protection List Roundtable

The OTF crowd discusses Seattle’s options.

After submitting the official Seattle Kraken expansion draft protection list Saturday at 4:00 PM, the Nashville Predators’ selections were released publicly Sunday morning. The front office made the interesting choice to protect five defenders and three forwards as well as goalie Juuse Saros. Here are our thoughts on the choices GM David Poile made.

Protected Players

Who made the list and how we feel about it.

Filip Forsberg

Jeff: Forsberg is the easiest choice of the forward core to protect. He’s a star player with tons of raw skill and is one of the remaining pieces of the core that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. The Predators wouldn’t be the Predators without him. He’s the main attraction and the obvious choice.

Ann: Forsberg is the face of the franchise going forward, and his name on this list should come as no surprise.

Eamon: While Forsberg has a pending extension looming over the future of this team, it would have been ludicrous for David Poile to expose him in the draft and lose a young first-line forward for nothing. If “The Prince” is going to extend his time in Nashville, that would be beneficial to the team and reason to protect him; if he wants to be traded or allowed to walk into free agency, it would also be in the best interest of the Predators to protect him so that he can be traded for assets. Keeping Forsberg away from the clutches of Seattle was probably David Poile’s easiest decision concerning his protection plan.

Nick: There were three people on the team that were going to be 100% no-brainer, no-questions-asked on the protection list. Forsberg, regardless of his future plans, was one of them.

Rachel: Duh.

Luke Kunin

Ann: If the team is committed to a “retooling” or youth movement, protecting Kunin makes good sense. Kunin performed statistically better than Colton Sissons, a player many fans were surprised to see left off the list. Kunin’s double-overtime game-winning goal against Carolina capped off a productive season despite injuries. This is a good keep.

Eamon: Luke Kunin had a pretty nice 2020-21 season, despite some injuries and questionable defensive play. The thing that’s stood out about the young forward (Kunin will turn 24 in December) is his nose for the net and willingness to fight for chances in the dirty areas. If Nashville is looking to sustain a movement towards getting younger and better-equipped for high-low puck movement, Kunin will be an integral part of that vision going forward. He was an easy choice to be protected.

Nick: I really like what Kunin showed towards the end of the year. By no means is he a blue-chip prospect, but he’s the type of player that can develop into a workhorse middle-six forward for the foreseeable future.

Rachel: Luke Kunin was on fire at the end of the season and in the playoffs. I don’t know if he’s even top-six with the addition of Cody Glass...but, okay.

Tanner Jeannot

Nick: I love Tanner Jeannot, I really do. But I don’t get this. Jeannot had a fantastic debut run, but that run has only consisted of 20 NHL games. I’m not saying I don’t love Jeannot’s potential, and I do think he can develop into a fairly decent bottom-six “energy” guy. I just don’t understand why you’d protect him over someone like Calle Järnkrok, a do-it-all player on one of the league’s most team-friendly contracts.

Eamon: I’m one of, if not the, biggest Tanner Jeannot fans in the Nashville community. That said, this choice confused me a bit. While I love Jeannot as a cost-effective, analytically-beloved bottom-six option, the decision to expose Calle Järnkrok (a more valuable player and a potential trade piece after the expansion draft) as well as Yakov Trenin (a similar archetype with a larger sample of NHL experience) strikes me as odd. David Poile asserted in his most recent press conference that he’s looking to execute a “competitive rebuild,” and this seems like a decision made in line with that. The Predators’ front office looks at Jeannot as a piece that can contribute to their lineup being competitive right now, and possibly sacrificed the chance to trade Järnkrok for picks as a result. Will they get burned for betting on a player who has just 20 career games in the NHL? Only time will tell.

Jeff: Jeannot certainly wasn’t who I was expecting in the third or even fourth forward protection slot. While he did have a great season full of entertaining twists and turns, I highly doubt that Ron Francis would have selected a player with just 15 games of NHL experience. It feels like an attempt by David Poile to make the appearance of a “youth and grit” direction and moving out the core.

Ann: This is an interesting one for me. On the one hand, Jeannot has a ton of potential and if you are looking to go younger and play a more physical game, Jeannot fits the bill. Of course, as Eamon said, so does Yakov Trenin. Jeannot also probably takes a spot most fans figured would be reserved for Colton Sissons or Calle Järnkrok. My suspicion is that Jeannot’s protection could cost the Predators Järnkrok in the draft, and those will be mighty big skates to fill for a young Jeannot.

Rachel: By far our biggest surprise, but I’ve been on the Jeannot Train since he played with the Admirals in the shortened 2019-2020 season.

Mattias Ekholm

Ann: Ekholm was the subject of trade rumors last season, and there were times it looked like he might not make it to the postseason in gold. Fortunately, Ekholm survived the trade speculation and now that he is protected from the Kraken, he will continue to be a leader for the team.

Rachel: David Poile said he wasn’t going to lose Ekholm, and he’s going to be protected. Ekholm is evidently a cornerstone for this coming season, and he’s one of my favorites. I’m on board with this.

Eamon: With Ellis traded and the team seeking to execute what most would refer to as a “reload” rather than a true rebuild, keeping Ekholm on board is a logical progression. All talk surrounding the Swedish defender’s contract situation indicates that David Poile would like to extend him, allowing the team to bring back one of their most surprisingly successful defensive pairings in recent memory (Ekholm-Carrier). If Nashville is looking to have a veteran mentor who can teach young defenders about the “little things” that can make or break a career, Ekholm is a perfect fit for that role. It doesn’t hurt that the back half of No. 14’s season was outstanding and alleviated most concerns about how he’ll age. Even if Ekholm doesn’t extend his time in Nashville, he’ll be a valuable trade piece at worst. No-brainer here.

Nick: During his trade deadline press conference, David Poile specifically mentioned Ekholm by name as “someone we’re not losing the expansion draft.” Like Forsberg, I’m not sure what Ekholm’s long-term future is. He was the focus of trade rumors for the bulk of last season, and he’s on the last year of his deal. But he’s too valuable a piece to lose for nothing.

Jeff: Ekholm isn’t going to be lost to expansion any time soon. He’s one of the best defenders in the league and a backbone of the Predators organization. Extend him ASAP.

Roman Josi

Eamon: Nobody is surprised by this. Josi is the captain, one of the greatest players in franchise history, and the engine that drives what little offense the Predators have been able to conjure. If he had been exposed, David Poile’s head would be paraded around Centennial Park on a pike.

Rachel: I mean, he has a NMC...he’s the captain...he’s one of the longest-tenured players...why expose him?

Ann: Josi being exposed is basically inconceivable. His experience and leadership (despite critics saying he is “too quiet” as a captain) are invaluable. I agree with Eamon—if Josi wasn’t on this list there would be a run on pitchforks and torches in Nashville.

Nick: Do you really need me to explain why Roman Josi was protected?

Jeff: He’s Roman Josi. Next.

Alexandre Carrier

Eamon: After seemingly stagnating in Milwaukee over the past few seasons, Carrier appeared destined to become a bottom-pair defender with some nice skating and sneaky offensive ability. Nineteen regular season games and six playoff appearances later, and he’s become an intriguing part of the future of the Predators. Carrier was outstanding next to Mattias Ekholm, assisting in the revival of Ekholm’s season while putting up strong numbers of his own. As one of his major doubters, Carrier’s puck movement and calm control of the pace of play surprised me when I watched him; while he had displayed such abilities with the Admirals, I didn’t expect him to translate so smoothly to the NHL. It’s important to consider sample size here, but it makes sense that Nashville preferred protecting Carrier over some of the more lackluster forwards. His upside now appears to be a solid fourth defender next to Mattias Ekholm, and that’s worth protecting.

Nick: Carrier’s a guy who can be a reliable NHL defender, perhaps even a top-four guy if paired with the right partner. Still, if you were to ask me to cut the list of five protected defenders down to four, he would have been my pick.

Rachel: I was pleasantly surprised to see Carrier just blend right into the blueline after an eternity with the Admirals. It’s surprising to see him get a protection spot, though.

Dante Fabbro

Nick: Fabbro just turned 23 a month ago and has just two full NHL seasons under his belt. He has a lot of growing to do before he’s the player the Preds want him to be. But he’s not worth giving up on just yet.

Eamon: Dante Fabbro hasn’t been a top-four NHL defender in his first two years in the league. Dante Fabbro is also still young at 23 and has considerable talent that might coalesce into a legitimate third or fourth defender. Both of these things can be (and are!) true. For Nashville to justify not protecting Fabbro, they would have had to issue protection to Yakov Trenin. Other than that, there’s nobody else worth extending that distinction towards on the rest of the roster, besides maybe Calle Järnkrok. Talented young defenders are harder to come by than bottom- or middle-six wingers, so this move makes plenty of sense.

Ann: Fabbro’s name on this list makes perfect sense to me. Fabbro falls in that sweet spot of youth with experience. You are getting an experienced defenderwho still have many good years ahead of him with Fabbro, and giving that up makes no sense with how the Predators are moving so far in this offseason.

Jeff: Fabbro up to this point has been very underwhelming. However, I think there is still a lot of untapped potential. I vividly remember checking Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) charts towards the beginning of the season and seeing him at the top among all Predators players. He did fall off gradually, but his start to the year was excellent. There are things to improve on that comes with time, and considering he didn’t get any AHL seasoning, I think it’s only fair that we cut him a bit more slack.

Rachel: Honestly, you could have exposed Fabbro and I wouldn’t have cared.

Philippe Myers

Eamon: Myers is inarguably the most talented of Nashville’s new crop of blue line prospects, and a recently acquired asset on a cheap, team-friendly deal. To expose him would be malpractice by David Poile, so this is pretty straightforward.

Rachel: It doesn’t make sense to trade for someone and then expose him in the expansion draft, right?

Nick: David Poile wasn’t going to immediately lose the guy he got in return for Ryan Ellis for nothing...

Kate: The only argument I could see for exposing Myers would be that Poile had traded for him specifically to expose him, making Glass and another skater, probably Järnkrok, the intended net return on the Ellis trade. Overly-complicated and kind of silly, but it would make some degree of sense despite making a lot of people angry.

Juuse Saros

Ann: I mean, really. I am sure Saros would have been protected regardless of Pekka Rinne’s recent retirement announcement, but seeing “Juuse Saros” on the list was a reassuring exhale for Predators fans. The real debate around goaltending for the Predators wasn’t whether Saros would be protected, but what will Poile do filling the backup role now. There was zero chance the Kraken would get their hands on Saros.

Eamon: Saros was the team’s best player this past year, the only true option they have going forward in goal, and is still quite young. He’s coming off of what was arguably a Vezina-caliber year and to do anything besides protecting him would be nothing short of insanity.

Nick: Remember there was once a debate over whether the Predators would protect Juuse Saros at this expansion draft? Fun times.

Rachel: Come fight me if you think Saros should have been exposed...

Jeff: Just like with Roman Josi, I don’t think we need to discuss this. Saros was a Vezina candidate this season, and put up some unreal performances in the postseason. That’s all you need to know.

Unprotected Players

Which players left exposed are unsurprising? Who didn’t make the list that should have?

Ann: I’m not surprised both Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene (and their hefty contracts) were floated out in the NHL void for the Kraken to consider. Of course, the potential salary dump makes them obvious choices to leave unprotected. I also wonder if there isn’t a message for both players from the front office with this. It is time for both Duchene and Joey to perform.

Although I think there will be a more enticing option in Nashville for Seattle to select, I would really hate to see Yakov Trenin head west, especially with the direction the team seems to be headed at this point. Trenin is a great example of the type of hockey Coach John Hynes seems to want to play, and he has become a fan favorite this past season.

Nick: I went into this a bit earlier in my Jeannot analysis, but I really don’t get why Järnkrok is exposed in favor of Jeannot. You can also make the argument that Yakov Trenin, who has had more consistent NHL minutes, should have maybe been higher in the pecking order than Jeannot. But Järnkrok in particular is someone who would have fit in well with what the Preds want to do moving forward.

Apart from that, there wasn’t much that jumps out as “wow, that was a dumb move.” I don’t think Johansen and Duchene being left off the protection list was a surprise, given that Poile seems dead-set on trying to lose one of those contracts this offseason in one way or another. The rest of the most prominent names, like Sissons, Cousins, and Benning, are all solid players, but not someone the Preds would be crushed to lose.

Eamon: The only exposed player I’m a bit surprised by is Calle Järnkrok, but it’s less because I think Järnkrok can’t be replaced (he’s clearly someone who can be) and more that the team might lose a useful, middle-six player with great analytical impact and defensive ability for no assets in exchange. While it’s far from woeful asset management by David Poile, it’s certainly less than ideal, and a product of his decision to hang onto the tradeable players that this team possessed for far too long. Järnkrok, like Ellis and Ekholm, should have been dealt at the deadline before the expansion draft depressed player value even further.

Jeff: As the others have said, not protecting Järnkrok was a bit surprising. I have been an advocate for trading him before, but I didn’t expect to see him go out like this. Johansen and Duchene not being protected was a surprise to no one unless you’re living under a rock. Their salaries are heavy; their production is underwhelming. Simple enough.

Rachel: I doubt the hefty contracts of Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene are picked up by the Kraken. I think they take Calle Järnkrok, and this is by far one of the more popular opinions. However, a sneaky-good pick would be Rocco Grimaldi. He’d be a quick fan-favorite for his speed, grit, and great personality.

Kate: I have a lot of gripes about the asset management on defense—like Eamon said, the timing was messy and wasteful, going all the way back to Dante Fabbro’s eight games played in 2019 that made him expansion-draft-eligible. Trading Ryan Ellis and still protecting five defenders feels...comedic.

Expansion Draft Prediction

Who do you think Seattle will select from the Predators and why?

Nick: Unless there’s an 11th-hour trade, it’s Calle Järnkrok. He’s a perfect player for a new expansion team. He can play center or wing, play on any of the top four lines without changing its identity, and has significant experience on both the power play and penalty kill. Plus, with one year left on a $2M AAV deal, his contract is perfect for a Kraken team trying to keep flexibility open. Side note: I do (despite what Preds Twitter says) think Seattle legitimately takes a long look at both Duchene and Johansen as a possibility, but I think they wind up deferring to other high-end forward options.

Ann K: I’d hate to see it, but I fear I may lose my Swedish brother Calle Järnkrok to the Kraken. Tons of talent for far less money than either Joey or Duchene.

Eamon: Given how analytically driven the Kraken are (in theory), I think Nashville made their pick a no-brainer the moment Calle Järnkrok was exposed. The Swedish winger is under 30, an effective player up and down the lineup, cost-controlled at just $2 million AAV and projected for a reasonable extension (three years at under $4 million AAV by Evolving-Hockey’s model). The public numbers love him, his scoring numbers are solid, and he’s far cheaper and less of a risk than the two big-ticket players Nashville is hoping Seattle will take. He makes the most sense for these reasons.

Jeff: It has to be Järnkrok. He’s a short-term, cost-effective option that can provide top-six scoring. Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen are viable 1C options, but there are a lot of risks associated with them. Colton Sissons could be a great option as well if Francis felt like taking on a super long-term contract, but I highly doubt that’s the case. It seems like an obvious choice to me. However, if they wanted to go off the board, Matt Benning could be an interesting choice. A veteran defender that is good analytically and can play a solid amount of minutes on both the third and first pair? It would be an interesting choice, although the likelihood they go down that route is minute.

Rachel: As mentioned above, I think Calle Järnkrok is a Kraken this evening. However, you could build a team around Ryan Johansen. Colton Sissons has ties to the area just like Johansen, but his contract is eternal. Yakov Trenin would be a great youth/grit/weird skating pickup. I highly doubt Seattle looks at Connor Ingram, even though his AHL track record is stellar.