The Pittsburgh Penguins have already lost Jared McCann as part of the expansion draft process (at least that is the assumption) and are going to lose one more player on Wednesday night when the Seattle Kraken officially make their picks.
There are four players that stand out as favorites to be picked: Marcus Pettersson, Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese, and Jason Zucker.
Most people that cover the Penguins (or watch them and observe them) are dreading the possibility of Tanev being the player, or assuming that it will be Aston-Reese.
Those are fair bets. But If I am running the team in Seattle I would follow a different script and make Pettersson as my pick from the Penguins.
- The defense options in this expansion draft are not great
It is mostly a collection of big-money players that are at the end of their careers and set to be free agents after this season (Mark Giordano, P.K. Subban), or a bunch of potential third-pairing and depth defenders that are not going to make much of an impact in a meaningful way. Vince Dunn in St. Louis is intriguing, but Vladimir Tarasenko is sitting right there. I would rather have Tarasenko and Pettersson than Dunn and Pettersson.
While Pettersson may not be a superstar or a true impact player, he is at least a very capable second-pairing defender that is signed to a fair rate and still only in his mid-20s. He is an established player at an important position, but not a player that is over the hill. I would not want to load my expansion team with a lot of players with term on their contracts, but Pettersson is one of the exceptions I would make.
2. The other Penguins options just are not that intriguing
Tanev is a great energy player and penalty killer that brings a ton of speed to the lineup, but we need to be honest about what he is: A 30-year-old forward that plays mostly in a fourth-line role and still has four years remaining on his contract. That is not the pick an expansion team wants to make. Salary cap space is the one big advantage that the Kraken have, and eating it up on fourth-liners with term on their deals is not the way to build a successful team from scratch. Yes, Pettersson’s contract counts more against the salary cap, but I think you are going to get more value out of a second-pairing (and maybe in Seattle in year one a first-pairing defender) than you will a bottom-six forward that is good but not anything special.
Aston-Reese is a popular pick because of his defensive play and cheap contract, but there are a lot of good forwards available in this draft that Seattle can use to fill their roster. Defense options are more limited.
Zucker being the pick for Seattle honestly would not surprise me. He is captain material, could be great in the community for a new team trying to build a fan base, and he is a pretty good player still even if his offensive performance struggled a bit at times this season.
3. The Penguins might actually welcome that pick
It would not only shed $4 million off of their salary cap number over the next few seasons, and when combined with the McCann trade would create over $7 million in additional salary cap space this offseason. They have Pierre-Olivier Joseph ready to take a more significant role, and Hextall favorite Mark Friedman on the roster. It would also open the door for a significant addition this offseason, either on defense, at forward, or in goal. So it is not only the best possible pick for Seattle (in my opinion) it is also a fine pick for the Penguins.