By: Lucas Pearson | Follow Me On Twitter @LucasPearson_
The Bruins have enjoyed a really nice start to the season; what could be better than first place in the East with a couple of games in hand? But no matter how this season goes, there remains one looming question at the end. What’s going to happen at the Expansion Draft? The Bruins will have the option to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie or eight total skaters and a goalie. Seattle will have a lot of excellent options to pick from, no matter who the Bs protect, but Don Sweeney and the rest of the front office still have a big decision to make. Let’s try to project what that may be.
Instead of going through all the formalities, I’d like to direct you to the capfriendly expansion draft page. It shows what players are not required to be protected, what players have no-move-clauses, how many games players need to play in order to be protected, and everything else you need to know in regards to the draft.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Charlie Coyle all have no-move clauses, meaning they have to be protected by Boston. I don’t believe that will be a problem, but it’s still worth noting. David Krejci, Sean Kuraly, Kevan Miller, Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak (and a few more, not as attractive players) won’t need to be protected as they’re UFAs at the year’s end.
The shocker here, but the Bruins will be protecting David Pastrnak, and despite his slow start, I can’t see Sweeney not protecting Jake Debrusk. That would force the Bruins to go the seven forward, three defenseman route, leaving two final spots at forward.
Nick Ritchie has proven a whole lot of people wrong this year; he’s been an excellent fit on the powerplay and has potted seven goals and points so far this season. Does Bruins’ management expect him to replicate that next year? If so, you gotta think they look to protect Big Ritch. Craig Smith has been everything as advertised since coming to Boston. He’s a dog on the forecheck and is certainly not afraid to shoot the puck. The Wisconsin product has two game-winning goals in his short stint and has been a valuable asset in the B’s middle-six.
Ondrej Kase might be the biggest wildcard on the entire team. If he’s healthy, it’s going to be really hard for Sweeney not to protect him. He has far too much talent to be left up for grabs. He’s been disappointing; there’s no questioning that, but this is still the same player that scored 19 even-strength goals as a 22-year-old just a few years ago. How the rest of the season plays out will decide the future of Kase.
Then we get to a couple of youngsters in Anders Bjork and Trent Frederic. Bjork struggled to begin the season but has been the Bruins’ best forward multiple times in their last handful of games. Is he putting up crazy amounts of points? No, three points in 17 games are not what you’d like to see, neither are ten shots. But if he can get some consistency in where he’s slotted within the lineup, I think we are going to get a little more production out of him. I’ve been a big fan of Trent Frederic since the day he dropped Brandon Tanev in his first career game. The dude works his tail off every shift, and in a league where players like him are dying out, he really stands out. I don’t think he has quite the offense to maintain a third-line role just yet, but I think he should play on the fourth line.
Brace yourselves for another shocker, but Charlie McAvoy will be protected, as will Brandon Carlo. So realistically, the Bs will have to choose one of Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Connor Clifton to protect on the backend, and man, will that be a hard decision to make.
I’ve been a Gryz fan for a long time; he’s deserved every penny of his new contract, but if he can’t get healthy, that decision will only get harder. There were a lot of questions on who would take Zdeno Chara’s role on the top pairing after he signed in Washington. I think those questions have been answered in the form of Jeremy Lauzon. The former 2nd round pick in 2015 has been everything the B’s could want. He’s continued to match up against the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Artemi Panarin – and he’s doing an excellent job. In the five games matched up against those three top players, they have combined for one goal, one assist, and a -7 rating. That is what big Z was known for doing, and now Lauzon is beginning to do the exact same thing. Oh, and he’s not afraid to chuck some nucks.
The Jakub Zboril pick from that same 2015 draft has been scrutinized for years now, but it’s starting to pay its dividends. Zboril has been a pleasure to watch this year; he’s a smooth skater whose transitional play displays why he’s going to continue to grow and develop into a top-four defenseman. The Czech native likes to get pucks on the net, so I think we start to see more point production as his career grows.
Cliffy hockey really made a name for himself in the Bruins Stanley Cup run, where they ultimately lost to the Blues. The former 5th rounder by the Coyotes seemingly came out of nowhere when he signed with the Bruins in 2018, but he was soon to put his stamp in the organization. Despite his smaller frame, Clifton is certainly not afraid to throw his body around. The 25-year-old averages just as many hits per game as the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Matt Martin, and Tom Wilson. He’s not an offensive juggernaut, but his eight points in 26 career playoff games show he’s not afraid to contribute when put to the task. And finally, Daniel Vladar is the only goaltender worth protecting as Rask and Halak are both UFAs at the end of the year.
So after going through all of that, here’s what I’d ultimately choose. For the seven forwards, we have Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, David Pastrnak, Jake Debrusk, Craig Smith, and either Nick Ritchie or Ondrej Kase, whoever looks better throughout the rest of the year. The three defensemen would be Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk, and finally Daniel Vladar in the net.
After we find out who the Bs end up protecting, the pressure would be on Seattle to make the best choice, and that is not going to be an easy decision. Obviously, that pick also boils down to who ends up being protected by other teams. As we saw with Vegas, there were many defensemen available, but it would still be hard to pass up on a defenseman like Jeremy Lauzon. Maybe the Bruins make a trade to hang onto Lauzon but again, as we saw with Vegas, that backfired for a lot of teams (namely Florida, Anaheim, Minnesota, and Columbus). Bjork, Frederic, and either Kase or Ritchie will also be options that could catch Vegas’ eye; I really think when all is said and done, Jeremy Lauzon will be in a Kraken sweater next season.