The Toronto Maple Leafs will lose one player to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, via the expansion draft. There are two set options to protect players from the roster. They have the option to protect:
Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender
Eight skaters (forwards or defensemen), and one goaltender.
However, a rule that works greatly in Toronto’s favour is that all first and second year professionals will not be available (exempt) to be chosen by Vegas, and will also not be counted towards their protection spots. So do not worry Leafs fans, they are safe.
Let’s take a look at who Vegas might pick, and a potential protection list for the Maple Leafs. Firstly, let’s just get this out of the way. Toronto will most likely do the 7-3-1 option in order to keep their key forwards and two key defensemen.
Frederik Andersen, enough said. This may be the first time in a long time that the leafs have a true number one goaltender after all of the number twos that were treated like starters (Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, Andrew Raycroft, James Reimer). Curtis McElhinney, Antoine Bibeau, and Garret Sparks will all be exposed to Vegas, but none of the three come even close to Andersen’s value.
Pick: Frederik Andersen.
This also is not difficult for the Leafs. They get to protect three defensemen, but only two are a must-protect. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner will be protected. Some may say Rielly, being the 5th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, still has not reached his full potential. As for Gardiner, he has played significantly better under Mike Babcock. This makes him worth the protection spot, as well as a contract extension soon.
So with Rielly and Gardiner out of the way, one more protection spot is available. Connor Carrick should be the pick here over UFA Roman Polak, UFA Matt Hunwick, and Martin Marincin. Carrick is a young right-handed defender (a coveted asset in the NHL), and is still only 23 years old. A key defender in Nikita Zaitsev is exempt as well.
Picks: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Connor Carrick.
Things were going to have to get difficult eventually, and Las Vegas is extremely likely to build their forwards, using a Toronto Maple Leaf. The Leafs had a top 5 offence in the league this past season, scoring 250 goals (5th), with a 23.8% power-play (2nd), and 31.9 shots per game (4th). They joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as the only teams to finish in the top 5 in those three categories, not bad company at all. The Maple Leafs also had only one of three 40 goal scorers this year in Auston Matthews. Three of the top five leafs leading scorers are exempt from the draft (Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner).
Another key player in Zach Hyman is also exempt. The Leafs must protect five forwards for sure. Those being Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Connor Brown. This leaves two available spots for forwards with a few main guys to decide from. With two spots left, they must decide between Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, Kerby Rychel, and Seth Griffith. Kerby Rychel, nor Seth Griffith should be protected, just because they do not play as important role as the others.
Now for the main two spots, Brendan Leipsic and Josh Leivo should be protected. It is hard to pick between Leipsic and Martin. With Leivo, you cannot ignore his 10 points in 13 games last year, which would help the Leafs bottom six forwards. Leipsic has had a fantastic AHL career at the young age of 23. He has totaled 51 points in 49 games in the AHL. If it were sure that Vegas would take Martin, the Leafs should give Leipsic’s spot to Martin.
Here is the twist; Vegas will not pick Martin, which would be a huge win for the Leafs. Vegas needs young players with a good salary, and goal-scoring ability. The 28-year old fighter, who had nine points in 82 games last year, with a $2.5 million/year salary for the next three years, does not exactly fit the bill. Vegas will take Kerby Rychel, the 22 year old, 19th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Picks: Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Connor Brown, Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic.
Las Vegas Golden Knight Pick: Kerby Rychel.