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Analyzing the Coyotes’ Expansion Draft Protected List

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A predictable list keeps the Coyotes in position of power heading into a busy offseason.

Las Vegas NHL Franchise Reveals Team Name And Logo Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With the release of their expansion draft protected list on Sunday, the Arizona Coyotes gave a glimpse of what their future might hold and which players will be a part of it.

SURPRISES

The biggest surprise of the Coyotes’ protected list was the inclusion of right-handed defenseman Luke Schenn.

In order to protect Schenn, the Coyotes had to elect the 8-man protection plan instead of the 7-forward and 3-defenseman option, as he was the fourth defenseman the team wanted to ensure would return to the Valley next year (along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, and Connor Murphy).

As a consequence, Arizona was forced to protect only four forwards, leaving Jamie McGinn and Brad Richardson exposed. With a bevy of goaltending options for Vegas to pick from, it’s a safe bet that Vegas will pass on Louis Domingue and take a chance on one of the veteran Arizona forwards instead.

Thanks to all of the young exempt Coyotes (any player who made their NHL debut in the last two seasons is ineligible to be taken in the expansion draft), there weren’t many tough decisions to make and the core of the team will be pretty much unaffected.

WHO WILL VEGAS TAKE

Middle six forwards Richardson and McGinn are the two likely candidates from the Coyotes to be taken by the NHL’s 31st franchise on Wednesday.

Chances are, thanks to the lack of top end talent available from the Coyotes organization, Vegas will focus on their player selections from other, more enticing teams before deciding who to pluck from Arizona.

On the one hand, an NHL team can never have too much center depth, and Brad Richardson could foreseeably fill a third line role for Vegas next year, providing a reliable veteran presence down the middle of the ice. Of course, Richardson is also coming off a broken leg and has only one year remaining on his deal.

Conversely, Jamie McGinn would give the Golden Knights a more dangerous scorer; three times in his career, McGinn has eclipsed the 19 goal mark, and three times has recorded over 37 points. The winger can also play on both sides of the ice, giving an unpredictable expansion team a flexible, experienced player to plug into their lineup.

Another notable player the Coyotes didn’t protect is defenseman Kevin Connauton. The 27-year-old has bounced in and out of the lineup for Arizona in recent years, never playing more than 38 games in one season since coming to the desert. While unlikely, if Vegas is looking to fill out their defensive ranks with one of their final expansion picks, then Connauton could be a candidate.

BEST CASE SCENARIO FOR THE COYOTES

When Coyotes general manager John Chayka signed McGinn last year, he was hoping to get a legitimate top-six forward who could score 20 or more goals. But, the signing of McGinn also gave the team an easy player to leave unprotected for the next summer’s expansion draft.

Fast-forward to Sunday’s reveal of the team’s protected list, and McGinn is still the player Chayka will be hoping is taken by Vegas.

With the likes of Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, Max Domi, and Tobias Reider, the team has a surplus of goods at the winger position; the same can’t be said of the team’s situation at center.

Even as a potential fourth line center, Richardson’s value to the Coyotes outweighs McGinn’s. With all of the young centers slated to play for Arizona next year, having a veteran like Richardson in the mix will be a must.

Especially after McGinn’s flop of a debut season with the Coyotes, cutting ties with him and the nearly $7 million remaining on his contract would clear a roster spot for another young wing, and give Chayka even more money to work with heading into free agency.

NOW WHAT

Unlike other, deeper, teams in the NHL, the fate of the Coyotes’ offseason doesn’t rest with the results of the expansion draft. Instead, the team will be needing to fill a couple of big holes to try and return to competitiveness next season.

With Mike Smith out the door, the top priority for the front office will be to find a starting goalie. Given the talent left unprotected in the expansion draft, as well as a deep group of free agent net minders that will be on the open market, there are more than a few options for the team to consider.

The Coyotes could try to hash out a deal with Vegas, if the Golden Knights draft a surplus of young goalies in the draft (Peter Mrazek, Antti Raanta, and Philipp Grubauer were all left unprotected by their clubs). Chayka could also try to do what Don Maloney accomplished a half-decade ago when acquiring Smith, and look for a diamond-in-the-rough goalie who could be signed as a free agent.

The team will also need to try and add a top line center, with a player like Rangers center Derek Stepan already being rumored as a potential target.

But, the real takeaway from today’s developments is that, thanks to a stockpile of young players and some expansion-conscious transactions over the last year, the Coyotes will be largely unaffected by Vegas’ selection of players next week. Instead, Arizona is one of the few teams who aren’t trying to frantically avoid losing key players, but instead are able to sit back, evaluate the market, and take advantage of an unpredictable and highly active offseason in the NHL.