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3 key players Seattle Kraken could take in expansion draft to build around

Center Yanni Gourde helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the 2020-21 Stanley Cup. (Getty)

On Wednesday night, the first roster of the Seattle Kraken will take shape when the NHL’s newest franchise takes part in its own expansion draft.

Seattle Kraken expansion draft: Who are the top unprotected players

Seattle gets to pick one player each from 30 of the NHL’s 31 other teams (the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who were an expansion team in 2017-18, are exempt), and the lists of which players have been protected and not protected were released after a deadline on Saturday. That’s fueled plenty of speculation about who Kraken general manager Ron Francis will take to build his team around, but a few names are coming up more often than others.

On Monday’s edition of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy, ESPN hockey reporter Emily Kaplan joined the show to help go through what to expect with Wednesday’s 5 p.m. expansion draft. On the top of the list of things to talk about were the top candidates for the Kraken to select, and Kaplan had a few that have jumped out to her.

When it comes to speculation ahead of an NHL expansion draft, you have to start at goalie. That’s where the Golden Knights started, and to great success as their selection of Marc-André Fleury helped them make a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of play. While the Kraken have their shot at a big name to put in goal – former MVP Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens – it may not be the right fit.

“I think the entire hockey world was surprised when Carey Price waived his no-movement clause and became available,” Kaplan said. “He’s the guy that I think everyone is looking at saying, OK, could that be the Marc-André Fleury of this team? The one that you market your entire team around, the face of the franchise in Year 1? He does have such a high (salary) cap hit, though, (and) he’s under contract for five more years, and those are two things that Seattle is really weary of. And then there’s the question of will he be available or how healthy is he next season because he does have some reported hip and knee issues, and he’s not seeing a specialist very conveniently until Seattle has to submit their roster. That is the name that everyone is buzzing about in the hockey world and I was just surprised to see him available.”

Kaplan thinks Price being left unprotected was a shrewd move on the Canadiens’ part, and there’s another goalie Seattle could turn to instead.

“My gut feeling is that Carey Price (waived his no-movement clause) this because he’s a really good team player, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to start next season, (and) he didn’t want (fellow Canadiens goalie) Jake Allen gone to Seattle because he’s really important to the Canadiens. My gut is (the Kraken) have Chris Driedger, who I believe will sign a contract extension around three years once he’s selected from Florida.”

Driedger, 27, has spent the past two seasons with the Florida Panthers, going 21-9 with an average of 2.09 goals allowed per game and .929 save percentage.

“Great player, great story. I expect for him to sign a deal with Seattle and will be there beyond just this season,” Kaplan said.

The Kraken reportedly are very much closing in on Driedger, by the way, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. And it seems like it would help Seattle’s overall roster a lot more than if they picked him up instead of Price, who is only three years into an eight-year, $84 million contract.

“There’s also some really good forwards available at medium to high cap hits. It’s just not worth it for them to take the risk or the gamble on Carey Price,” Kaplan said.

One of those forwards could come from the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who had to leave several notable players available as they find themselves in a salary cap crunch, Kaplan said.

“Yanni Gourde is one that I’m like, that is a player that I want to build a line around,” she said. “You really don’t see a two-way center like that who just plays such a high energetic game, plays in all situations, a penalty kill, available just for the plucking. He’s a player I would expect to be a Seattle Kraken, but again we can never really predict these things.”

Another option at center is the 26-year-old Max Domi from Columbus, who has quite the pedigree as the son of legendary NHL wing Tie Domi.

“Max Domi was another one that a lot of people pointed out saying that guy should be on the team. … He won’t be available to begin the season (due to shoulder surgery), but he’s a guy who’s kind of been bouncing around, has a ton of potential, a former first-round pick, hasn’t really been able to realize it yet. He’s the most attractive player available in Columbus.”

You can listen to the full interview with Kaplan in the podcast from Monday’s edition of Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.

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