We’re continuing to break down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, coming up next week: which players are eligible, and which will likely warrant protection or may be on the block. Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4pm CDT on June 17th. The full rules on eligibility can be found here, and CapFriendly has provided a handy expansion tool to make your own lists.
The St. Louis Blues did pretty well for themselves at the 2016 Trade Deadline when they swapped Kevin Shattenkirk for a package including prospect Zach Sanford and a first-round pick only to make just as far in the postseason as the Washington Capitals, the conference semifinals. Not only did they get value for an impending free agent, but they also acquired pieces that didn’t effect the expansions process, while additionally simplifying their decision on defense. Armed with a large core of forwards in their prime and the likes of Sanford and other ready to replace any potential losses up front to lower-tier players, the Blues are in pretty good shape heading into the Expansion Draft.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Vladimir Sobotka, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Kyle Brodziak, Magnus Paajarvi, Nail Yakupov, Jacob Doty, Landon Ferraro, Jordan Caron, Ty Rattie
Not many decisions to be made for St. Louis. In net, Jake Allen is the present and future and is a lock for protection. On defense, captain Alex Pietrangelo and veteran Jay Bouwmeester make up one of the top pairs in the league and are signed long-term. They’re not going anywhere. With young stalwart Colton Parayko exempt, his equally youthful pair Joel Edmundson, who is fresh off a strong sophomore campaign, is an easy choice for the third and final defensive spot.
Where things get a little less clear is at forward. Superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, line mate Jaden Schwartz, and long-time Blues Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund, both of whom signed extensions this past season, are all as good as protected. After returning to St. Louis and having an outstanding season, David Perron is also likely safe, as is veteran leader Paul Stastny. Barring an unexpected decision regarding any of those six players, that leaves just one forward spot left. Heading into the 2016-17 season, that core also included center Jori Lehtera. However, the 29-year-old played in just 64 games this season scoring only 22 points, a major drop-off from the year before and a second straight season with steep decline. The salary cap-strapped Blues might not mind losing Lehtera and his two remaining seasons with a $4.7MM cap hit. After all, St. Louis did push to bring Vladimir Sobotka back from the KHL, a task they finally accomplished toward the end of the season, and Sobotka rewarded them with six points in 11 playoff games. It would certainly be strange to work so hard to bring the two-way ace back from Russia just to lose him to the Golden Knights for nothing. However, there are a handful of young players that St. Louis will have to consider as well, namely Magnus Paajarvi, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nail Yakupov. Paajarvi has been in the NHL for seven years, but is still just 25. He’s never been able to carve out a full-time role with the Blue and Gold, but perhaps the team sees something in him. The homegrown Jaskin has also struggled to be a regular player for the Blues, but has certainly shown upside from time to time and only recently turned 24. Lastly, Yakupov, a former #1 overall pick, was acquired just last off-season from the Edmonton Oilers, but was never given a real role in St. Louis this year. Yakupov has a ton of potential, but the Blues are chasing a championship and may not be concerned with waiting around to see if he pans out at the cost of a true contributor.
Projected Protection List
It would simply be too strange to let a valuable, versatile player like Sobotka go after just re-gaining his talents. Vegas GM George McPhee would surely jump at the opportunity to add a player with Sobotka’s skills to his new team. There is less certainty surrounding a player on the decline in Lehtera or unproven commodities like Paajarvi, Jaskin, or Yakupov. For the Knights though, certainty is a luxury they can’t afford, as they will surely pick up several project players. Lehtera could provide some veteran leadership and solid player down the middle, but it seems more likely that talented player in need of more opportunity, like Jaskin or Yakupov, would be the choice. St. Louis will also expose two dependable veteran defenseman in Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo, both signed to reasonable contracts through 2018-19, but the Knights will see a lot of good defenseman in the draft and neither player really jumps out. Expect the pick to be a project forward, whose loss may not impact the Blues much, but could pay off well for Vegas.