The 2021 NHL Expansion draft is here, so let’s preview what the New York Rangers might lose Wednesday night. The Seattle Kraken are officially a team and will be selecting their first 30 players from the rest of the NHL. Yes, it is only 30, the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt from the draft. Each NHL team (excluding Vegas) submitted their player exempt list to Seattle Sunday night. Each team could either protect 7 forwards, 3 defenseman, and a goalie or 8 skaters and a goalie. The Rangers chose the 7F,3D,1G option.

Frank Seravalli broke it down pretty well with this tweet with who is protected and exposed:

The Protected List

There are probably just two names that would surprise Rangers fans looking at that list. The 3rd defenseman protected being Libor Hajek and the 7th forward Kevin Rooney.

Libor Hajek

Hajek once again struggled this year and he was jumped by Zac Jones on the Rangers depth chart when he came over from UMass at the end of the year. The only other player on the roster that you might think to protect over him is Anthony Bitetto. I think the Rangers see more trade value in Hajek, which is why he was the selection. I think most Rangers fans expected new GM/President Chris Drury to acquire a defenseman before the roster freeze to take that 3rd protected spot. That did not happen so Hajek was the best option.

Kevin Rooney

Some Rangers fans were surprised when Rooney’s name was listed on the protected list. Most fans, including myself, thought Colin Blackwell was going to be the 7th forward protected. I think the ultimate decision came down to the fact that Rooney played well this past season as the 4th line Center a position where the Rangers are lacking depth. Rooney was one of the better Rangers penalty killers this past season and was relied on to win defensive zone faceoff’s during key moments in games. He brings grit to the lineup. He had 4 fighting majors last season, second on the team, and his 110 hits were third on the team.

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 27: Kevin Rooney #17 of the New York Rangers fights against Dylan Cozens #24 of the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on April 27, 2021, in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

While Blackwell had a breakout year the depth the Rangers have at wing might have pushed Drury to protect the center. Drury also traded away Brett Howden before the roster freeze which became an option once the decision was made to protect Rooney as the 4th line center. There were also rumors that Seattle was leaning toward selecting Rooney so that might have also factored into the decision.

Players Exposed

There are 18 players on the Rangers exposure list that Seattle can select. Here are the five most likely options Seattle will draft.

Colin Blackwell

If I am Seattle this is the guy I take. Blackwell had a breakout season for the Rangers. After being a healthy scratch to start the season he turned into one of their most consistent performers by the end of the year. In 47 games he scored 12 goals and was second on the team with an 18.8% shooting percentage. He played up and down the lineup and his play caught the eye of star Artemi Panarin who apparently asked for him to play on his line over Kaapo Kakko. Blackwell played on the second power-play unit and saw some time on the penalty kill. He is under contract for one more season at just $725K, so he is a low-risk high reward type add for Seattle.

Julien Gauthier

This is the guy I think Seattle will take. Current Seattle Kraken General Manager Ron Francis who is running the expansion draft for the team selected Gauthier in the 2016 NHL Draft 21st overall. The Rangers acquired Gauthier during the 2019-20 season but he was used sparingly the past two years. This past season he found himself in the now-former Rangers Head Coach David Quinn’s dog house. He saw players such as Brett Howden and Phillip Di Giuseppe get opportunities while he watched from the press box. The 6’4 23-year-old might be looking for a new opportunity and maybe reuniting with the GM that drafted him will jump-start his career. He will be a Restricted Free Agent after the next season so Seattle can retain him easier than Blackwell who will be a UFA.

Julien Gauthier and new Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis on stage at the 2016 NHL Draft
Tim Gettinger

Gettinger is an interesting prospect. He has played a couple of games for the Rangers in each of the past 3 seasons he has been with the organization. The 6’6 23-year-old left-wing put up 19 points in 23 games for Hartford in the AHL this season. Gettinger can kill penalties and projects to be a bottom 6 NHL forward. We had a very successful junior career in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds. He had consecutive 30 goal seasons in his final two seasons there. He was also the team Captain his last season there and put up 69 points in 66 games that year. While this is a long shot I do think Gettinger is a guy that should get an extended look soon as his professional game continues to develop.

Anthony Bitetto

If Seattle wanted to pick a defenseman Bitetto would most likely be the choice. I do not think they want to get involved with Tony DeAngelo, although I think Chris Drury would do a cartwheel if Seattle did take him. Bitetto only played in 14 games this year but had one of the most memorable goals of the season.

The 7 year NHL veteran would bring some experience on the backend if Seattle decided to go younger with their other defensive selections. He also brings grit and toughness to a lineup. Bitetto is known as an unbelievable locker room guy and one of the funniest guys in hockey.

Keith Kinkaid

If Seattle takes Kinkaid I think that might slow down the trade talk surrounding Alexandar Georgiev. Kinkaid surprised a lot of people with his play this year. He appeared in 9 games this season and went 3-2-1 with a shutout and a 2.59 GAA. Kinkaid struggled during the 2019-20 season with the Canadiens and spent most of the season in the AHL. Kinkaid is just 2 years removed from consecutive 40 start seasons with the Devils. Seattle might see him as a veteran backup or taxi squad option with a cheap $825K cap hit.

Draft Week Continues

Following the Expansion Draft, the NHL will turn its attention to the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which starts Friday night. This week on my podcast, The Broadway Hat Podcast, I had on draft experts Adam Kimelman (NHL.com) and Steve Kournianos (TheDraft Analyst.com). They broke down over 40 prospects and also talked about the current prospects in the Rangers system.

Be sure to bookmark our hockey page for hockey coverage and follow Belly Up Hockey on Twitter: @BellyUpHockey. Follow me on Twitter for more takes on the New York Rangers and USA Hockey: @KHallNYYou can also listen to my NY Rangers podcast The Broadway Hat Podcast on Apple Podcast and Spotify for Rangers news and interviews with past and current players.

About Author

Kyle Hall

Kyle is a lifelong diehard New York Rangers fan and in 2020 took over as the teams beat writer for Belly Up Sports. Kyle hosts a NY Rangers podcast on the Belly Up Podcast Network called The Broadway Hat Podcast. Kyle also covers USA Hockey and is a credentialed media member of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

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