If fans thought 2020 was a crazy year for hockey, then we had better buckle up for 2021. Not only is the season set to start Jan. 1, but with the addition of the Seattle Kraken as the 32nd team in the NHL in the 2021-22 season, there will be an expansion draft in June 2021 that will really shake things up, especially for the Washington Capitals roster.
The upcoming expansion draft is only the 13th in NHL history, the last one being just four years ago with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights. The rules of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will be the same as they were in 2017, meaning Seattle will select one player from each team, excluding the Golden Knights because of their unwillingness to pay an expansion fee, for a total of 30 players. Within these 30 players, Seattle will select 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. The good news is that current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or a combination of forwards and defensemen to equal eight skaters and one goalie.
In 2017, the Capitals protected forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson, defensemen Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson, and Braden Holtby in goal as well, opting to follow the seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie protection option. The Capitals will most likely choose the same option in the upcoming expansion draft while protecting those of the aforementioned players who are still a part of the team. If this idea holds true, the Capitals will need to select an additional two forwards, one defenseman and a goalie to protect.
The best decision the Capitals could make would be to protect goalie Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov will start for the Capitals this season, and it would be ill-advised to not protect their starting goalie. The only other viable option for protection would be goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. As great as this acquisition is for the Capitals, protecting Lundqvist is unlikely because he is only signed for one year, showing the team does not intend to keep him around long.
The Capitals should also be sure to protect right winger T.J. Oshie as a forward. Although he is on the older side, the 33-year-old is the heart and soul of this Capitals team. From pumping up his teammates in the locker room to extravagant pregame rituals with teammate Wilson, Oshie’s energy and passion for the game are unmatched. Oshie is also an asset in terms of points, scoring 26 goals this season and 25 the season prior, despite a shoulder injury sidelining him for the playoffs. Oshie shows no signs of slowing down, so there is no reason the Capitals should expose him to the Kraken. While it may seem advantageous to expose Oshie because he still has four years left of his $5.75 million contract, I think the team would be losing more than a goal scorer in T.J. Oshie.
The second additional forward the Capitals must protect is left winger Jakub Vrana. At only 24 years old and after just five years in the NHL, Vrana has already made a large impact on the Capitals. Vrana’s play has only been getting better as time goes on, as he scored a career-high 25 goals this past season. Vrana is known for his speed on the ice, which makes him an important component of the second unit of the Capitals’ power play. Vrana’s speed and youth make him vital to protect from the draft.
The defensemen are definitely the hardest to project because there are so many great options; the Capitals will have a difficult time choosing just one. Currently, Jonas Siegenthaler has the best shot at getting protected. Siegenthaler will only be 24 at the time of the draft, meaning he has a lot of time left in his career. He is also currently the team leader in shorthand ice time for the Capitals’ penalty kill, something that has historically been one of the strongest components of the Capitals’ play.
Defensemen Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen may also potentially take this last spot, though this change is up in the air because of their injuries and play history. Kempny suffered a hamstring injury in April 2019 for which he had to undergo surgery, and he missed six and a half months of this past season. He has not been able to get his statistics back to pre-injury numbers, which is why I think he could be exposed. Jensen, on the other hand, is young, but his play has not been amazing. If Jensen does not acquire more assists and improve his rating from a -7, he will most likely be exposed to the expansion draft.
A big challenge in projecting the draft is that the 2020-21 season has not even started yet. Right now, the Capitals have a solid roster going into the 2020-21 season, which makes it pretty hard to decide which players to protect. That means that what it really comes down to is player performance in the upcoming season. Certain players’ performance in the upcoming season could be the difference in what makes them a Capital or a Kraken.
Hayley Salvatore is a junior in the College. All Caps appears online every other week.