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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Expansion Draft and what it means for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ next contract

I don’t know whether or not we’ll see the 2019-20 season and playoff completed and I don’t even know if we’ll see the 2020-21 season started on time. What I do know, though, is that we’ll see an Expansion Draft next June as Seattle enters the league. So let’s talk about that.

The rules for Seattle’s NHL club in regards to the Expansion Draft are the same as the ones the Vegas Golden Knights had when they entered the league in 2017. Teams were allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defencemen, and a goalie or eight skaters and one goaltender. Players with no-movement clauses in their contracts are automatically protected unless they agree to waive and first- and second-year players and unsigned draft picks will be automatically exempt from selection.

Simple enough. We’ve been here before, so none of this is new. Last time, the Oilers had a very easy time at the Expansion Draft as key players like Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse were exempt, so they gave Vegas a fairly lacklustre list to choose from. Things won’t be quite as easy this time around.

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Forwards eligible for selection: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, Andreas Athanasiou, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, Alex Chiasson, Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, Josh Archibald, COOPER MARODY, and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Defencemen eligible for selection: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and William Lagesson.

Goaltenders eligible for selection: Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner, Dylan Wells, and Shane Starrett.

Notable players exempt from selection: Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Raphael Lavoie, Dmitri Samorukov, Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, Ryan McLeod, Kirill Maksimov, Olivier Rodrique, and all of the players drafted in 2020.

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The looming Seattle Expansion Draft will surely play a big part in Ken Holland’s summer plans. If Holland is to sign an unrestricted free agent to a multi-year deal, they’ll also join the above list of players who are eligible for selection. That, of course, goes for a potential new addition or a re-signing, like Mike Smith, Riley Sheahan, or Tyler Ennis.

As of right now, it seems the best course of action for the Oilers would be protecting eight skaters, as their strength is on the blueline. That would mean protecting McDavid, Draisaitl, Yamamoto, Benson, Klefbom, Nurse, Bear, and Jones. That leaves one very important name out in the open: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

I think we can all agree that Nugent-Hopkins is a key part of the Oilers’ future moving forward. The 2011 first-overall pick has found a home as a winger alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto, forming one of the best lines in hockey. He’s also only turning 27 years old in May, meaning he has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The play here isn’t to allow Seattle to select Nugent-Hopkins. It’s to capitalize on his contract in order to open up more flexibility with Edmonton’s protection slots.

The seven-year deal that Nugent-Hopkins signed after his second season in the league is set to expire on July 1, 2021. If Holland inks Nugent-Hopkins to an extension this summer, he’ll have to be protected from Seattle. If Holland decides to wait, Nugent-Hopkins would be open to Seattle as an impending unrestricted free-agent. They could select him, giving them a small window to get him signed before he’s eligible to hit the open market, but that’s doubtful.

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If Nugent-Hopkins does get an extension this summer, the Oilers would likely have to go the seven forwards, three defencemen route. That would involve protecting McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto, Benson, maybe Puljujarvi or Kassian or Athanasiou depending on his next deal and selecting three of Klefbom, Bear, Nurse, and Jones.

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If there’s interest from both sides to find ground on a new contract, the right move for the Oilers is to wait and sign that deal after the Expansion Draft. There’s obviously a small risk that Nugent-Hopkins could end up signing elsewhere on July 1, 2021, but, again, if there’s mutual interest in him sticking around in Edmonton long-term, that shouldn’t be an issue. Maneuvering Nugent-Hopkins’ contract extension in this way would allow the Oilers to ensure a good, young defenceman like Jones doesn’t get scooped up by Seattle.

Of course, a lot can change between now and then. But, as things stand right now, this should be Holland’s plan with Seattle’s Expansion Draft on the horizon. There’ll be plenty of talk about locking up Nugent-Hopkins long-term this summer, but it’s best to be patient.

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