The Nashville Predators are just a few days removed from their deepest playoff run in franchise history. After falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, it is now time to switch gears and start thinking about the offseason. There is no rest for the weary, as the Expansion Draft is only a few days away. So, let’s take a look at what the Predators might do.
David Poile has two options he can choose for the Expansion Draft. First, he can choose to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender. The second option is 8 skaters (forward/defense) and 1 goaltender. Let’s explore these choices.
Option 1. 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender.
The Preds have to protect Pekka Rinne due to his no-move clause. No worry, Jusse Saros is not eligible for the draft. At first glance, this looks like an appealing option for the Predators given the emergence of players like Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Pontus Aberg, all who are eligible to be drafted by Vegas. The biggest problem with this option is they would have to leave one of their coveted top 4 defensemen unprotected.
We can assume that they are protecting Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. The other four forwards would come from a group with Jarnkrok, Sissons, Watson, Aberg, James Neal, Mikka Salomaki, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith. Most likely to be protected in this group would be Jarnkrok, Sissons, Aberg, and Neal. They cannot afford to lose a center with the uncertainty of Mike Fisher’s status.
This would mean that Watson, Salomaki, Wilson, Smith and most likely Mattias Ekholm would be left unprotected. Yes, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber would also be unprotected, but with Ekholm out there, Vegas would not consider these two guys.
For this option to work Nashville would have to make a deal with Vegas that moves them away from Ekholm and on onto one of those 4 forwards. The best case scenario is that Wilson is who they can get the Knights to take. However, a deal to not take Ekholm could be an expensive proposition for Poile.
Option 2. 8 skaters and 1 goaltender.
In this scenario, the Predators will most likely protect their top 4 D. As mentioned before we know the Preds top line from last season will be protected, which leaves 1 more spot available, with 8 possible forwards to take it. There are really only 4 forwards, I think, that deserves to be considered here. Neal, Jarnkrok, Sissons, and Aberg.
Neal is a perennial 20 goal scorer. Even with the off year for him, he still scored 23 goals. Jarnkrok is a do it all guy. He can play up and down the lineup, can play wing and can play on both the PK and PP. Sissons showed his worth in the playoffs when given more responsibility. Aberg is the wild card here. I believe he showed that he has top 6 potential. Even though Nashville cannot really afford to lose a center on their NHL team, they have way more depth at center than wing.
With young players like Victor Ejdsell, Vladislav Kamenev, Tyler Moy, Emil Pettersson and Yakov Trenin waiting, their future at center is bright. However, they are thin in Nashville right now and only Kamenev might be ready to step in next season. Conversely, while the team is deep in wingers at the NHL level, they don’t have a lot in the system ready to come up.
So the question becomes do you protect a proven vet, like Neal and try to make a trade to protect Sissons, Jarnkrok, and Aberg, or do you protect Jarnkrok and try to make a trade to protect Neal. The advantage to not protecting Neal is that it won’t cost you as much in a trade to move Vegas away from him. It will definitely not cost as much as it would do the same for Ekholm and you would expect to pay more to protect Jarnkrok.
So, now I will put on my GM cap. I would go with option 2 so that you can keep that top 4 intact. Then I believe you protect Jarnkrok and try to make a deal to protect Neal, Sissons, and Aberg if you can and try to steer Vegas toward Wilson or Smith. Anything you try to do here is going to cost you some picks. However, it may be worth it to shed yourself of the inconsistent play and contract of either Smith or Wilson.
David Poile has been resigned to the fact that he is going to lose a forward and a good one at that. The trick is leading Vegas to the forward you would prefer being taken. My hope is that he can somehow work his magic to protect Jarnkrok, Sissons, and Aberg as the future looks bright for these 3 young players.
Now we wait for Sunday morning and start checking Twitter for any deals the Predators have made.
Follow me on Twitter at danieljones@dj_puckplanet