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Zulgad: Who will the Wild protect in the expansion draft?

Mar 31, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (24)skates off the ice after the loss to the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center. the Ottawa Senators beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild will be required to submit their protected list one month from Wednesday in preparation for the Vegas Golden Knights to begin drafting players in the expansion draft on June 20. The announcement of those selections will come one day later.

The Star Tribune reported on Wednesday that, as of now, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher plans to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. His other option would be to protect eight skaters and a goalie.

First- and second-year pros and unsigned draft choices are exempt from this process. Vegas must draft at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies and pick at least 20 players already under contract for 2017-18. The Wild will lose one player in the draft.

So what will Minnesota’s protected list look like? Here’s one guess:

Forwards

Charlie Coyle, 25, winger: The Wild continues to wait for the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Coyle to turn into a dominant power forward. Coyle had 18 goals and a career-high 56 points in 82 games this season but went through some lengthy dry spells when his play dropped off. He did rebound in the Wild’s first-round playoff loss to St. Louis and tied Zach Parise for the team lead with two goals in the five games. He is signed through 2019-20, making $3.2 million per season.

Mikael Granlund, 25, winger: The restricted free agent had a career-high 26 goals, 43 assists and 69 points in 81 games this season to lead the Wild. He also finished with a plus-minus rating of plus-23. This came after he was moved from center to wing on a full-time basis and paired with center Mikko Koivu. Granlund, like many of his teammates, disappeared in the playoffs and had only two assists in five games. It was announced after the postseason that the 5-10, 185-pound Granlund suffered a broken right hand when he blocked a shot in Game 1 of the series. Fletcher likely will attempt to sign Granlund to a contract extension so the sides can avoid arbitration.

Mikko Koivu, 34, center: Koivu will make $6.75 million next season in the final year of his contract that contains a no-move clause. That clause means Koivu must be protected, putting him on a list with Jason Pominville, Parise and Ryan Suter. Koivu, the Wild’s captain, finished third on the team with 58 points this season and had 18 goals in 80 games. The presence of newcomer Eric Staal helped Koivu because it enabled him to anchor the second line and not have to worry about being the No. 1 center.

Nino Niederreiter, 24, winger: Also about to hit the restricted free-agent market, Niederreiter reportedly has been drawing interest from teams that are calling Fletcher to inquire about his availability. Like Granlund, he established career-highs in goals (25), assists (32) and points (57) this season. His eight power-play goals led the Wild and Niederreiter is a very good possession player. Fletcher likely could get a nice return for Niederreiter but his preference is probably to sign him to another multi-year deal. The one concern would be Niederreier’s disappearing act in the playoffs when he had only one assist and was a minus-2 in five games.

Zach Parise, 32, winger: Parise’s 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild still has eight years remaining on it and the no-move clause means he must be protected. Various injuries and ailments caused Parise to miss 13 games this season and his 19 goals and 42 points were his lowest totals in a season in which he played more than 50 games since his rookie year in 2005-06. He did tie for the team lead in goals (two) and points (three) in the playoffs but those were rather modest figures. Parise, whose season came to an early end a year ago because of a back injury, has made his living playing a physical style of hockey and that appears to be catching up to him.

Jason Pominville, 34, winger: The veteran has two years left on his contract and is only on this list because of his no-move clause. There is a good chance the Wild will attempt to get him to waive that based on the fact there is no way Vegas will take him. But Pominville has to agree to be exposed in the expansion draft. The Wild also could look at buying out Pominville, who is set to make $5.6 million each of the next two seasons. He has only 24 total goals over the past two seasons after scoring 30 in his first full season with the Wild in 2013-14.

Jason Zucker, 25, winger: There was a long-held assumption that Zucker would be exposed in this draft and that the Knights would grab him off the Wild roster because he’s the only NHL player to be raised in Nevada and had long-shown glimpses of potential. But that was before Zucker finished fourth on the Wild with 22 goals this season and tied Suter for the NHL lead in plus-minus at plus-34. Zucker has big-time speed and while he isn’t always as consistent as coach Bruce Boudreau would like, no team can afford to lose goal scorers.

Key absence from the protected list: Veteran center Eric Staal led the Wild with 28 goals in 82 games in his first season with the team after signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract as a free agent. It marked a bounce back season for Staal, who had only 13 goals in 2015-16 with Carolina and the New York Rangers. Why would the Wild risk losing him? Because it’s highly unlikely the Golden Knights are going to pluck a 32-year-old, 13-year veteran from Minnesota and pass on a defenseman. Staal, by the way, has a modified no-trade clause, meaning the Wild doesn’t have to protect him.

Also absent: Center Erik Haula and winger Jordan Schroeder, who will be restricted free agents, and winger Chris Stewart also likely will be available. Center Martin Hanzel and winger Ryan White, who were obtained at the trade deadline from Arizona, are set to become unrestricted free agents.

Defensemen

Jonas Brodin, 23: The Hockey News recently attempted to project the players the Wild would protect and came to the conclusion Brodin would not make the list. I find that hard to believe. The THN write up stated that Brodin has not matched the potential he showed as a rookie in 2012-13 and pointed out that he is signed at a $4.17 million salary-cap hit through 2020-21. Brodin’s ice time has gone from more than 23 minutes a game in each of his first three seasons to 19:34 this past season. Still, he’s only 23 years old and had a career-high 25 points in 68 games in 2016-17. If he’s exposed, Vegas will grab him.

Ryan Suter, 32: Coming off an impressive season, his contract situation is identical to Parise’s so Suter will be here for the long term. Unlike Parise, there are no injury concerns when it comes to the veteran defenseman.

Jared Spurgeon, 27: Listed at 5-9, 176 pounds, both of those figures are likely generous, Spurgeon earned praise from Boudreau this season as he finished with 10 goals and a career-high 38 points. He also had a plus-minus rating of plus-33 in becoming one of the Wild’s most reliable players.

Key absences from the protected list: This is where the Wild almost certainly will lose a player. Matt Dumba, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, led Minnesota defensemen with 11 goals this season, including six on the power play. He has a big-time shot and the ability to create offense, but Dumba also has proven to be prone to bad mistakes. Of course, he won’t even turn 23 until July 25 so those youthful errors could be cleaned up in the years to come. Still, the guess is Dumba doesn’t end up on the protected list. He is likely to be joined by 27-year-old Marco Scandella, who signed a five-year, $20 million contract in November 2014.

Also absent: Christian Folin, 26, will be a restricted free agent and Nate Prosser, 31, will be unrestricted. Folin played in 51 regular-season games in 2016-17. Prosser appeared in only 39 games and wouldn’t be eligible to be protected because of his contract status.

Goalie

Devan Dubnyk: The Wild’s No. 1 goalie is signed through 2020-21 at $4.3 million per season and won’t be going anywhere.

Absent from the protected list: Darcy Kuemper, who was Dubnyk’s backup this season, does not count because he’s an unrestricted free agent. That means Alex Stalock, who spent much of the 2016-17 season at Iowa of the American Hockey League, will be exposed.





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