Florida Panthers – Predictions for the Upcoming Expansion Draft

Written by: WJWhite30

With the NHL Expansion Draft coming up on July 21st, the Panthers are hoping to avoid the mistakes made four years ago when Vegas was entering the league.

As many of you may recall, the Panthers left Jonathan Marchessault exposed in the draft with the understanding that Vegas would take both him and Reilly Smith in exchange for a 4th round draft pick in 2018. Yes, the Panthers let two top-6 caliber forwards go for one 4th round draft pick.

What makes the Vegas entry draft even worse is the fact while losing Marchessault and Smith, the Panthers chose to protect Bjugstad, Pysyk, Trocheck, Petrovic, and Reimer (they protected Reimer knowing that no one would touch Bobby Lu’s humongous contract – so it is understandable). None of which are still on the Panthers roster today. Not to be a “Monday Morning Coach”, but how do you protect Bjugstad, Petrovic, or Pysyk over either Smith or Machessault?

Hopefully, the Panthers have learned from their previous mistakes and will not fall in to the same trap this year with Seattle joining the league.

Rules for the 2021 Expansion Draft

Here are my thoughts and predictions for who the Panthers will protect:

  • Aleksander Barkov – besides being their captain and best player, he is a staple to this franchise and probably the team’s most popular player. His contract is up in 2022; however, it would be foolish to think the Cats do not re-sign him as he will be pivotal to any future success for the organization
  • Jonathan Huberdeau – Huby has a NMC and must be protected so there is not much more I need to say, but I cannot imagine the Panthers risk losing him even if he didn’t have the NMC. Huby is one of the best and most creative passers in the league and finished the season with 20 G, 41 A, for 61 PTS in 55 games. Is that good?
  • Sam Bennett – he came in to this team like a cat with its tail on fire. He scored 6 goals and had 9 assists in 10 regular season games with the Panthers and added toughness and physicality to go along with the goal scoring (not to mention a phenomenal moustache). I think the 25-year-old is a great fit and will be another key player for the Panthers to make a playoff push. He plays the rough and rowdy “playoff style” of game very well.
  • Patric Hornqvist – Horny was another “character” type guy and someone who taught the younger players to take the beating in front of the net to score a goal. Remember, no one asks how, they ask how many. Besides being a big bodied, wrecking ball in front of the net, Horny put up 14 goals and 18 assists in 44 games. The 34-year-old also provides Stanley Cup experience having won it twice with Pittsburgh. Sitting at a $4-million cap hit, he is the type of glue guy this team needs.
  • Carter Verhaeghe – he took the long way to the NHL and was not the instantaneous, 18-year-old superstar we often hear about. He did not get his first shot in the NHL until 2019 at the age of 24. Even then he was buried in a deep Tampa line up and was not given a chance to shine. Now that he has been given the opportunity, he has begun putting together a nice little resume for the Florida Panthers. He worked his way up from the Coast and has been effective for every team he has played on.
  • Anthony Duclair – I personally do not think the Panthers should protect him, yet many analysts seem to disagree. I feel as though Duclair takes dumb penalties at inopportune times. A perfect example would be in the playoffs against Tampa. I know Kucherov embellished the slash like crazy, but you cannot whack a star in the league without expecting the refs to protect them. Many people are saying he had an “unlucky” year and that his “underlying numbers are excellent”. I am sorry, but I do not believe in analytics. I believe in the “eyeball” test. What I saw out of Duclair this season failed to impress me. I can live with them protecting him; however, I would hold off on any contract talks until he proves something on the ice next season. Then again, it is tough to complain about a 30 point guy only making $1.7. Hopefully, he stays at a similar price tag.
  • Frank Vatrano – How often do you get a 20-goal guy under $4 million a year? Last season Franky V put up 18 goals and 8 assists in 56 games which at about $2.5-million AAV, is worth the money. So not quite 20 goals, but I would be very happy with that productivity at the price point.
  • Aaron Ekblad – Ekblad was off to his best career start prior to suffering the fractured leg. The former Calder Trophy winner had 11 goals and 11 assists in 35 games. Ekblad has been the Panthers best defensemen the past two seasons and is signed through the 2024-2025 season. Much like Barkov, I cannot imagine the Panthers losing one of their more popular players and a cornerstone on their backend.
  • Keith Yandle – unless the Panthers plan on buying him out or getting Yands to drop his NMC, they will be forced to protect him in this expansion draft. There is no way around it and he is hurting the Cats salary cap as he is signed at a $6.35 million cap hit through the 2023 season.
  • Mackenzie Weegar – Weegar took a giant step this season and took over the role of top defenseman while Ekblad was injured. The 27-year old defenseman had 6 goals, 30 assists, and finished the season at +29. He also only has a $3.25 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season. He is a hell of a player at that price point and worth protecting.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky – much like Yandle, Bob has a NMC and must be protected unless he is willing to waive that clause. Who knows what will come of the Bob situation as there is no way he is happy with being a healthy scratch in the last 2 playoff games against Tampa. It is clear the Panthers think Knight is the goalie of the future, but how long do they keep paying Bob to ride the pine? How much longer will Bob be happy riding sitting in the press box? Would he waive this NMC and hope that Seattle picks him up and gives him the fresh start like Fleury in Vegas?

Notable Exposed Players and UFAs:

  • Potential Selections:
    • Noel Acciari
    • Radko Gudas
    • Gustav Forsling
    • Ryan Lomberg
    • Mason Marchment
    • Markus Nutivaara
    • Anton Stralman
  • Unrestricted Free Agents
    • Chris Driedger
    • Brandon Montour
    • Alexander Wennberg

In summary, this is my two cents on the Florida Panthers and the upcoming expansion draft; however, who knows what Bill Zito and the Panthers management team have in store. As a fan, I just hope they do not blow this like Tallon did in the Vegas expansion draft. Who do you think the Panthers will protect?

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