Could Detroit Lose a Prospect in the 2021 Expansion Draft?

Taro Hirose Givani Smith Evgeny Svechnikov possible expansion draft selections
By Jeff Watters

March 10, 2021

There’s plenty of time for the Red Wings to change the makeup of their roster as they prepare for the 2021 expansion draft. But as we sit here today, there are a number of prospects who could be left unprotected.

At this time last season, the expansion draft was the last thing on Red Wings fans’ minds. Not only because it was well over a year away, but because the team didn’t have many players worth protecting. The Red Wings had their core of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Filip Hronek, and had plenty of spots open to protect few worthy candidates.

Fast forward to today, and the expansion draft is looking like a topic actually worth discussing. The Red Wings aren’t going to lose an impact player to Seattle, but the Kraken are going to have a few interesting options when perusing Detroit’s unprotected list.

Tomas Nosek taken in 2017 expansion draft by Golden Knights
Tomas Nosek has played over 200 NHL games since being selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. | Photo: Chase Stevens, Las Vegas Review-Journal

In the 2017 expansion draft, the Red Wings lost forward Tomas Nosek to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Czech winger played just 17 games for the Red Wings before departing for Vegas. Could another inexperienced Red Wing find themselves headed to Seattle this summer? 

Let’s start with a recap of the expansion rules.

2021 Expansion Draft Rules

  1. The Red Wings will have the option to protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender OR 8 skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and 1 goalie. I think it’s safe to say the Wings will be going with the first option.

  2. Any player with a No Movement Clause must be protected. The Red Wings have no such players.

  3. Players who’ve played two or fewer professional seasons are not eligible for the expansion draft and do not need to be protected. There’s a bit more to this rule, as it does not count draft-plus-1 and draft-plus-2 seasons spent in the AHL as pro seasons. As far as the Red Wings are concerned, it means they do not need to protect Filip Zadina (or Mathias Brome, for example).

  4. There are also rules concerning players that need to be exposed in the draft. The Red Wings will be required to expose 2 forwards and 1 defenseman who are under contract for the 2021-22 season and have either played 27 NHL games this season or 54 NHL games in the past two seasons.

    Additionally, they’ll have to expose a goaltender who’s either under contract in 2021-22 or an RFA after this season.

These rules will come into play here, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with them before projecting who the Red Wings will protect.

Unless the Red Wings acquire a forward with term or extend one of their current forwards without a contract in 2021-22, two of the following players will have to be left unprotected:

Dylan Larkin
Anthony Mantha
Frans Nielsen
Robby Fabbri
Vladislav Namestnikov 

If the expansion draft were to be held today, the Red Wings wouldn’t have a choice when it comes to which defenseman they have to expose. Troy Stecher would have to be left unprotected. Danny Dekeyser will also meet the exposure requirements if he plays 9 more games this season, but with his injury history, that’s far from a guarantee.

And that…would be a bummer.

Ok, with that out of the way let’s first take a look at who the Red Wings (barring any trades) are guaranteed to protect, followed by my own projections/preferences to fill out the protected list.

The Locks

Dylan Larkin
Anthony Mantha
Tyler Bertuzzi
Robby Fabbri

Filip Hronek

Again, barring a trade, there is no way any of these 5 are left unprotected. Robby Fabbri isn’t in the same tier as Larkin, Mantha, and Bertuzzi in terms of overall value, but looking at the rest of the options here it would be foolish not to protect him. He’s one of the team’s few offensive threats.

The Near Locks

Michael Rasmussen

Troy Stecher

There it is. The first Red Wings prospect makes an appearance. 

Michael Rasmussen Detroit Red Wings
Michael Rasmussen will surely be one of the Red Wings’ 7 protected forwards going into the 2021 expansion draft. | Photo: Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of how you feel about Michael Rasmussen’s game today, it would be extremely short-sighted to leave him unprotected this summer. He’ll be just 22 years old and there’s still hope he can become a capable 3rd liner and net-front presence on the power play. He’s also a centre — for the time being, at least. There’s still some upside here. 

Wait, Troy Stecher?

Yes, I’m going to go ahead and assume Steve Yzerman extends a current defenseman or acquires someone with term if Danny Dekeyser fails to meet the exposure requirements. The only other thing that would keep Stecher off my protected list is a long-term injury. 

I hope Troy Stecher sticks around beyond 2021-22 as well. He’s been a bright spot this season.

So, 2 more forwards, 1 more defenseman, and a goalie — with a handful of prospects to choose from.

Here’s my complete list:

The Red Wings’ Complete Protected List

Dylan Larkin
Anthony Mantha
Tyler Bertuzzi
Robby Fabbri
Michael Rasmussen
Evgeny Svechnikov
Givani Smith

Filip Hronek
Troy Stecher
Dennis Cholowski

Thomas Greiss

If you’ve followed Red Wings Pipeline with any regularity (or have just binge read some of my pieces), you shouldn’t be surprised to see Evgeny Svechnikov included here. I’m still a big fan, I love what he brings to the table, and I want him as a toolsy bottom-6 forward when the Red Wings turn this thing around.

Yes, every team passed on him when he passed through waivers earlier this season, but I think it was a very calculated move by Steve Yzerman. Svechnikov was hurt and the likelihood of a team placing a claim on him was slim to nil. He still has some value — he just needs to be given the opportunity to play regular minutes.

Givani Smith brings another dimension to the Red Wings. He’s big, he’s mean, he’s got some decent hands, and the Red Wings are going to need someone of his ilk when their smaller, skilled prospects reach the NHL.

The decision to protect Dennis Cholowski is just a matter of retaining as much upside as possible. Sure I could’ve gone with Christian Djoos, a more established offensive defenseman. But Cholowski is 3.5 years younger, a better skater, and there’s hope he can become better defensively. I’m banking on upside here, but I could certainly hear the argument for Djoos. I just don’t like the idea of letting Cholowski go for nothing.

Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek Detroit Red Wings
Dennis Cholowski should join Filip Hronek on the Red Wings’ protected list. | Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

As things stand, Thomas Greiss would be the only goaltender worth protecting. If Jonathan Bernier isn’t traded at the deadline, I would be looking to extend and protect him. Otherwise, Greiss will be protected and Kaden Fulcher will be the goaltender left unprotected. 

Overall, I think the Red Wings retain the most value with this protected list. A lot of it wasn’t rocket science, but I’ll explain my reasoning for choosing some over others below.

Who’s Left Unprotected?

Frans Nielsen
Vladislav Namestnikov
Adam Erne
Taro Hirose

Danny Dekeyser (assuming he meets the exposure requirements)
Christian Djoos
Gustav Lindstrom

Note: Others in the organization would be unprotected as well, but one of the players listed here will be joining the Kraken if the protected list shakes out like this.

There are a few notables here, so let’s get into why I left these players exposed.

If you recall the exposure rules, Frans Nielsen and Vlad Namestnikov would need to be exposed in this scenario. There’s no way around it. If you want to protect Namestnikov, you’ll have to expose Robby Fabbri. I don’t see that happening. 

I don’t have any strong feelings about Adam Erne either way. I can’t think of a reality in which he’s protected. I like his energy and he can tire out defenders on the cycle, but he’s a very replaceable player. 

Taro Hirose is an omission that may get some pushback, but let me explain why I left him exposed.

The final two forward spots really came down to Svechnikov, Smith, and Hirose. Undoubtedly, Hirose is the best playmaker of the bunch and probably thinks the game at the highest level. 

However, it’s all about projection for me, and I just don’t see where Taro Hirose fits into the Red Wings’ future plans. Seemingly, neither do they, or the 24-year-old would be with the team now.

With Larkin, Mantha, Bertuzzi, Fabbri, Zadina, Rasmussen, Lucas Raymond, Jonatan Berggren, Joe Veleno, any other yet-to-be drafted forwards, and inevitable trade acquisitions and free-agent signings, there’s simply no room for Hirose.

Gustav Lindstrom Taro Hirose 2021 expansion draft candidates
Gustav Lindstrom and Taro Hirose are both likely to find themselves unprotected for the 2021 expansion draft. | Photo:

Svechnikov and Smith are much more capable of playing down in the lineup and bring a physical element that Hirose doesn’t have.

I’ve noticed improvements to his game this season, but I still don’t see a long-term fit for Hirose in Detroit. Furthermore, I don’t see him having any trade value. However you spin it, Svechnikov and Smith would be better picks in my mind.

On defense, I already covered the Cholowski vs. Djoos argument, and I don’t think there’s a chance Lindstrom is even considered here. 

Who does Seattle take in the 2021 Expansion Draft?

If I’m Ron Francis, I’m obviously looking to acquire the most value that I can. That means choosing a) a player who I could flip to another team for more assets, b) a player who could help my NHL team immediately, or c) a player with untapped upside who could grow in the Seattle organization.

That immediately rules out Frans Nielsen, Danny Dekeyser, Adam Erne, and Gustav Lindstrom. 

That means Francis will be left with Hirose, Namestnikov, or Djoos. Looking at current value, the pick has to be Vlad Namestnikov. If you’re banking on upside, there’s not much to be found here. All three players are pretty much as good as they’re going to get. 

But he could very well take a swing on Hirose.

While it’s doubtful Hirose ever reaches Namestnikov’s level of production…he could.

I mean, it’s possible. I don’t think it’s particularly likely, but Hirose has looked better this season. If I’m Ron Francis, I may be willing to take a flyer on him over the more established forward in Namestnikov. Hirose will be 25 next season, while Namestnikov will be 29. I may be curious to see what Hirose can do if given top-9 minutes.

As for Namestnikov, he’s a guy who can play middle-6 minutes for an expansion franchise and potentially net you a mid-round pick if you decide to flip him at next year’s deadline. He could also be extended if he proves to be a good fit. He’s a surer bet.

Djoos could be a very real possibility here as well. If he continues to activate in the offensive zone and contribute on the power play, he’d be an intriguing addition. 

Ultimately, it’ll depend on how Francis navigates the expansion draft and what he prioritizes when choosing players from other teams. There’s not going to be a slam-dunk, no-brainer from the Red Wings.

Final Thoughts

With the expansion draft less than 5 months away, a lot can change when you look at the composition of the Red Wings roster. 

Steve Yzerman could acquire a player that needs to be protected or he could add a player with the sole purpose of fulfilling exposure requirements. He could also swing a trade involving a player the Red Wings would have otherwise had to protect. Would he consider moving Namestnikov at the deadline if a team came calling? He’d then need to extend a current forward or acquire a forward with term to avoid having to expose Robby Fabbri.

There are a lot of moving parts here.

So, is there a chance the Red Wings could lose a prospect in the expansion draft? 

Absolutely. Some of these prospects are on the verge of losing that prospect status, but Ron Francis could certainly pluck one of the younger, more unproven players from the Red Wings unprotected list.

At least one of Svechnikov, Smith, and Hirose will be left unprotected. Cholowski and/or Lindstrom will be as well. Depending on Seattle’s needs, one of these players could be off to the Kraken.

It’s never fun to lose an asset for nothing. When you now have more players worth protecting than you have spots to fill, you’re forced to make tough decisions. But if you’re the Red Wings, this is a good problem to have. It means they have more talent than they did at this time last season.

It’s a sign of better days ahead.

3 Responses

  1. I don’t know how else to say this but…you’re wrong. Fabbri is being exposed. He’s on a two year deal and is a grinder who’s hit his peak. Put yourself in Seattle’s shoes. Do you want to take a chance on Cholowski or Lindstrom not working out or do want an energy guy like Fabbri who’s plug and play ready for your new fans? If Yzerman wants to lose a D then he can expose Lindstrom or Cholowski and protect Svech and Fabbri. That will ensure Seattle takes the D. If he wants to protect the D the best chance is to expose Fabbri to tempt Seattle to leave the unprotected D alone.

    1. Thanks for reading, Kenneth.

      I can say with 100% certainty that unless Rabby Fabbri gets seriously injured, there is no way he will be exposed. He’s certainly not a grinder. In fact, he’s been one of the Red Wings’ biggest offensive threats over the past two seasons and has had more goals/60 minutes than any other Red Wing this season. I’d agree Seattle would prefer Fabbri over Cholowski/Lindstrom — but they’re not going to have that option.

      It looks like the second part of your comment is echoing what I’ve written above (protecting Fabbri and Svechnikov).

  2. I could see this working out two ways, actually three if they’re dumb enough to protect Smith. No offense to Smith, but Svech is anticipating the play on a whole other level the past few weeks. Watch game film. He’s almost reminding me of Datsyuk in the defensive zone, not that there’s a skill comparison, but it’s almost like Svech knows where the puck is going and he’s waiting for it when it gets there.

    That being said, I think the Kraken will take Svech or Fabbri if they are unprotected. Svech is a pending RFA who can be signed long term for cheap. Fabbri will be a UFA and demand a few million in 2022. Yzerman could lose him.

    Now for the defense, Stecher will be a RFA in a year. That makes him worth protecting. If he were a UFA I think you might expose him. Now if you protect Fabbri and Svech and the forwards available are Nielson, Smith, and 28 year old Namestikov, then you’re essentially GUARANTEEING the Kraken will take either Cholowski or Lindstrom as they have the most potential upside.

    Bottom line, exposing Fabbri with the good season he’s having is the best way to protect that last defensive prospect who Yzerman will own for some time. If Yzerman sees either of them as expendable then he protects Fabbri and Svech. If he wants to keep the D, Fabbri would be the best BAIT given his performance and UFA status.

    Yzerman can force the Kraken to take Cholowski or Lindstrom. If your choices are Lindstrom, Cholowski, Fabbri (UFA) of Svech (RFA), who would you let go?

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