The Tampa Bay Lightning will have to expose some very key players when Seattle drafts their team in the summer of 2021.
Let us take a look at the most likely candidates to be protected. Following the rules of the last expansion, which has been confirmed for the Seattle Expansion Draft, I project that the Lightning will choose to protect 7 Forwards, 3 Defenseman, and 1 Goaltender.
Steven Stamkos, Center
With the protection of a No-Movement Clause and the production of the captain, this is an obvious choice. Once projected to be the most sought after free-agent in NHL history, Stamkos chose to stay in Bay Area. He has rewarded them by being one of the most productive center iceman in the league. From a pure shooting standpoint, I think Stamkos may be the best goal-scoring Center in the league.
Nikita Kucherov, Right Wing
Another easy choice here. Kuch signed a long term, team friendly contract last season to avoid Restricted Free Agency (RFA). The team gave him the protection of a No-Movement Clause. He has been among the leading point getters in the NHL over the last three seasons.
Brayden Point, Center
Approaching RFA status in the coming offseason, Point has put himself in a position to get a very handsome raise. He is leading the team in scoring at this juncture of the season. Point is on pace to shatter his career highs for Goals, Assists, and Points.
Yanni Gourde, Center/ Left Wing/ Right Wing
Gourde was a bit of a late bloomer. He emerged on the scene last year as a 26 year old rookie after bouncing around the AHL for a while. Scoring 25 Goals and 39 Assists for 64 Points, Yanni was rewarded with a 5-Year contract extension earlier this season. With the expectation of Seattle joining the league, the length of the extension tells me that Tampa intends on protecting the versatile forward.
Matthieu Joseph, Right Wing
Joseph is a talented, goal scoring, depth forward that provides physicality to a very skilled Lightning lineup. When you get 9 goals in 32 games from a bottom 6 forward, it is hard to let that depth go.
Anthony Cirelli, Center
Cirelli is a 3-facet player that plays very well in all three zones. His combination of speed and physicality is hard for opposing teams to match up against. His 58.1 Corsi For (CF%) and 55.6 defensive zone start (dZS%) makes him an immovable commodity.
Alex Kilorn, Left Wing
Another valuable piece of Tampa Bay’s bottom 6 is Alex Kilorn. He is one of the best penalty killing forwards in the league and is often a threat to score on the PK. Kilorn has spent most of the season flanking the aforementioned Cirelli, and his advanced statistics are very similar. Head Coach Jon Cooper is not afraid to send this unit out against some of the league’s most elite lines.
Victor Hedman, Left Handed Defenseman
Hedman is a staple in the Lightning core. He won the Norris Trophy winner last season and will certainly be in the conversation again this year. The offensively talented defenseman anchors their power play which is always among the league’s best.
Mikhail Sergachev, Left Handed Defenseman
Sergachev is a shot generating machine that never saw a shot he couldn’t take. His defensive game has been coming into form and has quietly become a strong part of his repertoire. It has become abundantly evident why Brendan Shanahan forced this kid into the Jonathan Drouin trade. He has proven to be an integral part of an aging defensive core, injecting youth and skill.
Erik Cernak, Right Handed Defenseman
While the Bolts went through a stretch of injuries to their defense core, Cernak gave them the confidence to allow the wounded to fully heal. Playing with limited ice time in 16 games, he accrued five assists and was a critical penalty killer. Also, there is a limited number of talented right handed defenseman available throughout the league. If you have a potential top 4 guy on your roster, you are going to do what you can to protect him.
Andre Vasilevskiy, Goaltender
Vasy, as he is known amongst the locals, is a franchise goaltender in the making. He finished last season as Vezina Finalist, and will almost certainly end up there again at some point in his career. After recently returning from a broken foot, he managed to stop 48 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was after missing over a month of playing time. The kid seems to have a natural gift for tracking pucks that is going to make him an elite net minder for a long time.
Tyler Johnson, Center/ Right Wing
A versatile forward, who plays much bigger than his 5 foot 8 inch frame, would be an amazing draft pick for the Seattle franchise. Johnson burst onto the scene with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, forming “The Triplets Line.” He netted 13 Goals and 10 Assists, while helping the Lightning win the Eastern Conference.
Ondrej Palat, Left Wing
With the expected pay jump for guys like Brayden Point and Andre Vasilevskiy, Palat may be a casualty of the tough salary cap situation the Lightning find themselves in. His skill level is undeniable and he plays all three facets of the game. There is just not much room for Palat’s contract given the recent trend of RFA contracts.
Ryan McDonagh, Left Handed Defenseman
There is no denying that the acquisition of the former Rangers’ captain was one of the biggest moves at the trade deadline in February. The Lightning were so enamored with McDonagh that they gave him a 7-Year extension. However, with the young defenseman on the Lightning’s roster, there is no room to protect McDonagh.
As you can see, the Tampa Bay Lightning are loaded with talent on all four lines and throughout their defense core. Hopefully, they can get a Stanley Cup before the Seattle franchise removes a key piece from this power house roster. If I were the General Manager of this start up organization, I would spend this pick on Tyler Johnson. He would give them a sure fire top 6 forward that can score and plays well in his own end.
Contract information provided by capfriendly.com
Stats provided by hockey-reference.com