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Who will Blue Jackets expose in the expansion draft?
Now that the Blue Jackets season is over, Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has lots of work to do. First, he’ll need to find a new head coach to replace the departed John Tortorella. Then he’ll need to work out a new contract with restricted free agent Patrik Laine as well as come up with extensions for defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, each of whom has one season left on their current deals.
There’s also the expansion draft, where Columbus is set to see a player be selected by the Seattle Kraken. However, figuring out who to protect from the expansion draft might be the easiest task of the offseason for Kekalainen, assuming, of course, the player they let go of doesn’t turn into another William Karlsson.
Here is a look at who Columbus is likely to protect and who are the likeliest choices to be selected by Seattle.
Before the protected list, the Blue Jackets will have a number of first and second-year players who will be exempt from selection. That includes players like Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, and Liam Foudy, as well as players who didn’t meet the games, played requirements like Gabriel Carlsson and Scott Harrington. On that exempt list as well is Elvis Merzlikins, who, by being exempt, doesn’t force Columbus to have to choose between him and Joonas Korpisalo for who to keep.
However, a good chunk of the current active roster will still be eligible to be kept or drafted. The Jackets will likely go with the 7-3-1 format, meaning they will protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie. While it’s almost a guarantee they go this route, the alternative is the 8-1 plan, which would have them hold on to eight skaters regardless of position as well as a goalie.
As far as who the Blue Jackets will protect in the 7-3 format, there are a few obvious candidates. Laine, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Max Domi, Boone Jenner, and Jack Roslovic are going to be protected, with Laine the one wild card if they are not able to work out an extension by then. On defense, the protection of Werenski, Jones, and Vladislav Gavrikov are all but guaranteed, while Korpisalo will be saved as well.
If there is one question, it’s the seventh and final forward spot. The choice comes down to veteran Gustav Nyquist, who missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery, 25-year old Eric Robinson, or 24-year old Kevin Stenlund. Thanks to a late run and one more year of firm team control, I think Robinson gets the nod as the final forward protected.
The first place to start then is in the forward spot, where with Robinson protected, that leaves a pair of intriguing forwards exposed. The 31-year old Nyquist was a consistent 40-points per year scorer before the injury, but the Blue Jackets may want to go all-in toward youth, leaving him off the list. He also has another two years at $5.5 million AAV, which could help Seattle reach their cap floor.
The other forward is Stenlund, a former second-round pick by Columbus in 2015. The Swede managed just 10 points in 32 games this season, matching last year’s exact point total in as many games while averaging about 12:30 of ice time per game. Stenlund was trusted with second-line center duties at times this season, but with Robinson showing more offensive punch, he could be exposed and looked at heavily by the Kraken.
Along the blueline, three starting defensemen will be kept, and a couple of others will be exempt. That leaves Dean Kukan as the odd man out. The 27-year old Kukan has spent five seasons with the Jackets, never registering more than five points but playing solid defense as a bottom-pairing defenseman.
Who’s getting drafted?
After looking at how this will play out for the Blue Jackets, it seems more than likely that they will lose either Robinson or Stenlund, whoever of the two they decide to expose. Both forwards are young, affordable, and could offer some potential to their new team, much like Karlsson did for Vegas. In this scenario, that would be Stenlund exiting and Robison sticking around.
However, that seems to be the toughest choice Kekalainen will face in regards to this expansion draft. While some teams are struggling to keep certain guys and may need to execute trades in order to do so, Columbus’ expansion draft experience should be easier than almost everything else facing them this offseason.
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