Compared to 2017, the Senators have it pretty easy this time around for the upcoming expansion draft. We’re literally wondering whether we should protect Nikita Zaitsev or Josh Brown because so much of defence corps is made up of impending free agents and ineligible prospects like Jake Sanderson and Erik Brannstrom. Even Artem Zub is ineligible to be selected. The Senators already made their decision on Christian Wolanin. Fans don’t need to worry about Tim Stützle, Josh Norris or Alex Formenton being selected either.
But, what is blogging about sports on the internet really about than just a bunch of thought exercises with no basis in reality? Most connected fans have a pretty good idea of who the Senators should protect for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, with most of the debate falling towards which goalie to protect or if the Senators should bother protecting an older prospect that hasn’t cracked the league like Logan Brown. With that idea in mind and spirit, let's throw all of that away. A much more interesting thought experiment is wondering who from the current crop of players you feel will truly represent the core of this team moving forward.
Everyone is available to be selected here, from our oldest veteran to our most recent draft picks. In that scenario, who do you protect?
Myself? Well, I’m glad you asked! First off, I’ve decided to protect seven forwards and 3 defensemen instead of 8 skaters. The decision of who to protect, especially on defence gets a whole lot tougher when you’ve got to decide between exposing Erik Brannstrom or Jacob Bernard Docker, both players who don’t need protection. So without further ado, here is my list of protected players from the terrifying prospect of a fantasy Seattle expansion draft, where every player is available.
Brady Tkachuk – One of four total slam dunks in the forward ranks. You don’t need me to tell you what the future captain of the Ottawa Senators brings to the table. I will point out that his help in getting Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto signed shows that his leadership off the ice is just as potent as his hits, attitude, and goal mouth scrambles on it.
Tim Stützle – Only the most electric and exciting prospect the Senators have produced since Marian Hossa. He has top 10 player in the league potential and this is another no brainer. Josh Norris – Maybe not a true 1C, but a sure thing 200 foot player that’s already one of the better 2C’s in the league and would not look out of place one line higher. Plays a steady, responsible game that allows his flashier wingers to get open for great scoring opportunities. He’s not going anywhere.
Drake Batherson – Not being as electric as Jimmy Stu doesn’t mean that The Drake isn’t a great compliment to his skill. That’s like comparing a souped up Mustang to a Ferrari. Both get the job done with style, just in different ways. No player on the team has a shot quite as lethal as Batherson’s in this writer’s opinion.
Alex Formenton – The slick speedster has a little bit of Martin Havlat to his game. You need speed to succeed in the modern NHL, and Formenton approaches McDavid in that department. I’m not sure his hands or head (which are definitely NHL calibre) will ever truly catch up to his elite feet, but you could do far worse than having a guy like Formenton baffling defenses in your middle six. Please disregard the rhyming, I get poetic when thinking of Formenton’s potential moving forward.
Nick Paul – You need guys who have struggled on their way to The Show like Paul has. A guy who can show the young guys the way while still being a young guy himself. Guys who have put in the work, don’t play with ego, and put the team first. After clearing waivers multiple times in his career, you can bet your bottom dollar that there would 30 claims league wide if he saw waivers now. The guy is a leader, is a rock at both ends of the ice and in the faceoff dot, and plays the game honestly. If it were up to me, he’d have a permanent A on his jersey.
Shane Pinto – It was tough deciding between Pinto, Connor Brown and Colin White for the last spot, but I decided to go with the Hobey Baker finalist who just signed with the team. All he’s done since the Sens reached up to draft him ahead of “sexier” prospects still on the board is reward their faith in him. He looks like the real deal and I’m more than happy with a 1/2C combo between him and Norris moving forward.
Notable forwards left available: Chris Tierney, Evgenii Dadonov, Colin White, Connor Brown, Ridly Greig, Logan Brown, Austin Watson.
Thomas Chabot – Believe it or not, I was tempted to leave Chabot off the list here and hope that his 8 year, $64 million contract would be enough of a deterrent. But we know it wouldn’t be, and it would a slam dunk selection for Seattle. Offensively gifted, minute munching smooth skaters don’t grow on trees. Chabot has some defensive deficiencies and plays too many minutes, both issues can be remedied with a little depth behind him on the chart. The guy is a workhorse, comparable to Wade Redden in all the best ways.
Jake Sanderson – Did you see this guy play in the NCAA? He looked like he had just chugged three Monster energy drinks in the middle of a fifth overtime! He’s a beast in every sense of the word. Smooth skating? Check. Rough and intimidating defence? Check. Obvious leadership and quality NHL bloodlines? Check and check. It won’t be too long until him and Chabot are terrorizing NHL teams as a 1-2 punch on the left side.
Jacob Bernard-Docker – This guy has the Methot to Chabot’s Karlsson written all over him. I was very tempted to protect Brannstrom instead as he has a little more offensive upside, or perhaps Zub’s steadiness, but this team needs a rock with good mobility on the right side. Whether long term he ends up backing up Sanderson or Chabot, he has top 4 RHD written all over him.
Notable defenseman left available: Erik Brannstrom, Artem Zub, Lassi Thomson, Mike Reilly
Filip Gustavsson – This was the toughest one of all. Simply put, Gus hasn’t been great in the AHL so far, but you can’t ignore the massive steps forward he’s made this year, especially when forced into the big league Sens’ net. He’s also just 21 and goalies take way longer to develop. Joey Daccord has also been somewhere between very good and excellent, but it’s easy to forget he’s 24 years old, so it’s a little more likely that what he is now is closer to what he’s going to be moving forward.
Gustavsson still has an entire African savannah’s worth of potential to explore. From where I stand on this crisp early April 2021 day, Gustavsson looks most like the Senators’ goalie of the future, hopefully in tandem with Daccord for the next several seasons. Don’t get me started on the idea of protecting Matt Murray. That contract is protection enough, but I do expect him to bounce back into at least league average form.
Notable goaltenders left available: Matt Murray, Joey Daccord, Marcus Hogberg, Kevin Mandolese.
What’s your “no holds barred” protected list? Do you go with 8 skaters and protect 4 D? Who’s your goalie of the future?
By Andrew Sztein | Sens Nation Hockey