Photo: Tampa Bay Times
With the possibility that Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov will be traded this summer “high” according to some reports, the team would need to bring a center in to play on the second line. While highly-touted prospect Connor McMichael is expected to get some time in the NHL this season, it is a lot to ask of a 21-year-old to play top-six minutes every night. The Capitals would be better off finding a center outside of the organization.
According to The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta, the Seattle Kraken are among the teams interested in Kuznetsov, but the 29-year-old is protected so the Capitals could get something for him. Even though not a lot of teams exposed top-six centers, there are plenty of high-profile names on the board for the Kraken to take and trade for Kuznetsov. NoVa Caps examines the eight best centers exposed in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
The Nashville Predators exposed both of their top-six centers, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, in the draft but they are both more expensive than Kuznetsov and had fewer regular-season points than Kuznetsov despite playing in several more games. Trading for either would arguably make the Capitals worse off and the team might as well just keep Kuznetsov than trade him for one of these two. Therefore, this list will not include Johansen and/or Duchene.
Since the Kraken could be in on Kuznetsov, here is a look at a few of the best available to them:
Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks — The 31-year-old had a down season in 2020-21 with 12 goals and 21 points in 45 games but he was on a team that ranked last in the NHL offensively with an average of 2.21 goals-per-game. Before this season, Henrique posted at least 40 points in his first eight non-lockout seasons and has hit the 20-goal plateau five times in his career. Trading for an older player would not be ideal but Henrique’s $5.825 million cap hit for the next three seasons is almost $2 million cheaper than Kuznetsov’s. He averaged 16:02 per game this past season, including 1:47 on the power play and 54 seconds on the penalty kill. Given his track record, the fact that the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league this season, and he is cheaper than Kuznetsov, perhaps Henrique, who recorded a 49.66% Corsi-for percentage, a 46.34% expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.2% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five, makes some sense for the Capitals. He had a 55.4% face-off percentage. However, it is doubtful that Henrique will be taken by the Kraken.
Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs — The 26-year-old posted eight goals and 23 points in 56 games this past season but his production has not been where it was with the Colorado Avalanche since getting traded to Toronto. Kerfoot scored at least 15 goals, including 19 in his rookie season, and 42 points, including a 43 in his freshman campaign, in both of his seasons in Colorado. He averaged 14:27 per game this season, including 1:31 with a man down, fifth among Maple Leafs forwards. Kerfoot, whose contract carries a $3.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons, posted a 48.82% Corsi-for percentage, a 49.66% expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.21% scoring chances-for percentage this past season. His 40.8% face-off percentage is an area of weakness. He could make sense for the Capitals if the Kraken throw in a second-round draft pick along with him. It is likely that Seattle will take either Kerfoot or center Jared McCann from the Maple Leafs.
Max Domi, Columbus Blue Jackets — The 26-year-old did not fit in with the Blue Jackets as he posted nine goals, 24 points, a -18 rating, a 46.55% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.74% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 43.69% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 48.5% face-off percentage in 54 games. But, he recorded an average of at least .55 points per game in each of his first five NHL seasons. He scored 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19. Domi, who makes $5.3 million this upcoming season before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency, averaged just 15:13 per game this season (fourth among Blue Jackets centers), including 1:35 on the man advantage. Perhaps, Domi would make sense for the Capitals as they would provide him with the best offensive supporting cast he has had in his NHL career.
Colin Blackwell, New York Rangers — The 28-year-old had a breakout campaign in his first season on Broadway where he finished with 12 goals, 22 points, a +2 rating, a 44.89% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.65% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 42.77% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 48.4% face-off percentage in 47 games. Blackwell, who makes $725,000 for this season, has never played more than 27 NHL games in a season previously. He averaged 14:00 per game, including 1:06 on the power play and 42 seconds on the penalty kill, in 2020-21. Seattle, who will likely take Blackwell as their expansion pick from the Rangers, would have to offer up more to match the salary and value, but perhaps Blackwell would be a fit for the Capitals.
Mason Appleton, Winnipeg Jets — The 25-year-old established himself as an NHL-regular this season with 12 goals, 25 points, a +11 rating, a 48.36% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.73% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 47.5% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 53.9% face-off percentage in 56 games last season. Appleton averaged just 14:25 of ice-time per game, including 31 seconds on the power play and 56 on the penalty kill, in 2020-21. Appleton carries a $900,000 cap hit for one more season before becoming eligible for restricted free agency. The Kraken could opt to choose defenseman Dylan DeMelo over Appleton. Even if they take him, the Capitals could demand more for Kuznetsov than just Appleton.
Colton Sissons, Predators — The 27-year-old’s offensive production has taken a hit in the past couple of seasons after setting career-highs in goals (15), points (30), and plus-minus (+20) in 75 games during the 2018-19 season as he has posted back-to-back 15-point seasons. This season, Sissons recorded eight goals, a 46.53% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.6% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.51% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a team-high 54% face-off percentage. He averaged 2:21 on the penalty kill this past season, just two seconds behind the lead among Predators forwards (center Brad Richardson). Sissons has five seasons left on a contract that pays him $2,857,143 annually. However, it is more likely that the Kraken will go with a different forward as their pick from Nashville. The Capitals could demand a high pick and/or more players from the Kraken along with Sissons for Kuznetsov.
Jared McCann, Maple Leafs — The 24-year-old posted 14 goals, 32 points, a +17 rating, a 54.66% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.54% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 56.17% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage, and a 43.4% face-off percentage in 43 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who traded McCann to Toronto on Saturday. McCann, who makes $2.94 million for one more season before he can become a restricted free agent, averaged 14:07 per game, including 1:59 on the power play, in 2020-21. There is a good chance that the Kraken take McCann as he is in his prime and has put up solid numbers at both ends of the rink, though Kerfoot and defenseman Travis Dermott may also get taken. McCann tallied 35 points in each of the previous two seasons. It is likely that it would cost the Capitals more than just Kuznetsov to get McCann.
Yanni Gourde, Tampa Bay Lightning — In 56 games regular-season in 2020-21, the 29-year-old posted 17 goals, 36 points, a +10 rating, a 56.08% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 57.3% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, a 56.51% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.7% face-off percentage. He averaged 17:04 per game last season, including 1:51 on the power play and 1:29 while shorthanded. Gourde carries a $5,166,666 cap hit for four more seasons. There is a good chance that the Kraken will take him, although there are arguments to be made for taking right-wing Ondrej Palat or left wing Alex Killorn from the Lightning, though Gourde is younger than both of them. The Capitals would likely have to give up a mid-to-high pick and a mid-level prospect on top of Kuznetsov to acquire Gourde.
By Harrison Brown