The Chicago Blackhawks are in the process of making a big decision, as they will soon submit their list of players to the NHL that they plan to protect in the upcoming expansion draft.
The Blackhawks will either be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender, or they will choose to protect eight skaters and a goaltender in the draft, which will take place Wednesday.
After trading defenseman Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks only have two players on their roster that they will be required to protect, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ no-movement clauses ensuring that they will remain with the Blackhawks through the expansion draft.
The Blackhawks will not have to protect several key youngsters, including Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Ian Mitchell, and Pius Suter.
Teams are not required to protect players who have two or fewer years of NHL experience.
The Blackhawks will also not have to use protection spots on forward Andrew Shaw or defenseman Brent Seabrook, as both were placed on the NHL’s exemption list earlier this summer. The NHL has also ruled that Alex Nylander will be exempt from the draft, as he did not play for the team last season and will be treated as a player with two or fewer years of experience.
Here are the players that the Blackhawks will have to choose from, and our predictions on which players they will protect.
Forwards: Henrik Borgstrom, Ryan Carpenter, Brett Connolly, Alex DeBrincat, Adam Gaudette, Brandon Hagel, Vinnie Hinostroza, David Kampf, Brandon Pirri, John Quenneville, Zack Smith, Dylan Strome
With Toews and Kane already protected, the Blackhawks will have five more spots to fill. Alex DeBrincat is a no-brainer to be protected, as is Brandon Hagel, but from there, the calculus gets fairly interesting for Chicago.
Henrik Borgstrom, acquired in the trade with the Florida Panthers that also brought Brett Connolly and Riley Stillman to Chicago, would seem to be a logical option to protect, as he recently signed a two-year contract with the team.
Dylan Strome will also likely be protected, as the team would likely see more value in potentially trading him rather than allowing him to be taken for free in the draft.
That leaves one more spot for the Blackhawks to fill, and compelling arguments can be made for several players, including Adam Gaudette, who was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks prior to the NHL trade deadline, and Ryan Carpenter, who has skill in multiple areas, including on the penalty kill.
Our Predictions: Henrik Borgstrom, Alex DeBrincat, Adam Gaudette, Brandon Hagel, Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, Jonathan Toews
Defensemen: Calvin de Haan, Caleb Jones, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, Nikita Zadorov
The Blackhawks had a spot cleared up to protect a defenseman when they traded Keith to the Edmonton Oilers, but they still have some interesting decisions to make in this area.
Many observers believe the Blackhawks acquired Jones specifically to make them a more attractive option for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, who will likely be dealt by the team after reportedly informing the club that he doesn’t plan to re-sign with them after his contract expires next season.
If that is the case, then the Blackhawks would likely have to protect Jones in the draft, leaving them with two other blue line spots. In all likelihood, the Blackhawks will keep either de Haan or Murphy as a veteran option on the blue line, and then would have to decide between Stillman, who they just re-signed to a three-year deal, or Zadorov, who requires a new contract as a restricted free agent.
Our Predictions: Caleb Jones, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman
Goaltenders: Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban
This one seems to be a pretty obvious answer. The Blackhawks liked what they saw from Lankinen this season, and while they could still bring in a veteran netminder to serve as competition or as a placeholder until a player like Drew Commesso is ready for the league, Lankinen is certainly the netminder with the highest upside for Chicago moving forward.
Our Prediction: Kevin Lankinen