Along with the rest of the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning has announced the team’s protection list for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. The following players have been protected:
- Ryan Callahan (F)
- Tyler Johnson (F)
- Alex Killorn (F)
- Nikita Kucherov (F)
- Vladislav Namestnikov (F)
- Ondrej Palat (F)
- Steven Stamkos (F)
- Braydon Coburn (D)
- Victor Hedman (D)
- Anton Stralman (D)
- Andrei Vasilevskiy (G)
After the trade of Jonathan Drouin, there wasn’t much debate about which forwards would be protected. There are no surprises there. The same goes for goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. The defense, though, had a big question mark. Hedman and Stralman were easy to pick. That left the third spot to be debated by fans and followers of the team between Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin.
The case for Koekkoek mostly revolved around his ceiling. He’s been thought of as being a potential #3 defenseman. His development has stalled a bit due to shoulder injuries that required surgery. His offense in the AHL also has not shown through. That is at least partly due to the coaching staff focusing on his defensive play.
Koekkoek hasn’t gotten much of a chance in the NHL to show what he can do. When he has though, he’s looked like Hedman Lite. He is one of the best skaters the Lightning have on the blue line. However, coach Jon Cooper has not shown much trust in him and not given him much of a chance to play any serious minutes.
Jake Dotchin on the other hand jumped in the last quarter of the season playing along side Victor Hedman. Dotchin benefited greatly from playing next to one of the best defensemen in the league. Dotchin is a former sixth round pick and has always been projected as a third line, physical, stay at home defensemen. He showed a bit more offense than expected. It’s hard to say how much of that was due to being paired with Hedman though.
The debate has been pretty fierce. Due to Dotchin playing so well with Hedman, many fans have fallen in love with him and thought of him as the second coming. I’m a bit less optimistic about Dotchin’s ceiling. I’ve revised my view of him to being a borderline top 4 defensemen if he can become more disciplined. I’ve also been a bit more pessimistic about Koekkoek than I was previously as he should have been able to show more offense in the AHL by now.
Surprise: neither one of these guys was protected.
Both defensemen will be waiver eligible in 2017-18 and if both are still on the roster come training camp, they’ll either need to make the team or be traded. Either one would most likely be claimed on waivers if the team attempted to send them to the AHL.
The dark horse in the debates that few had brought up has been Braydon Coburn. Coburn quietly had a very solid year for the Lightning. Since coming over from the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014-15 trade deadline, Coburn has seen consistently fewer minutes. He had averaged close to 22 minutes per game with the Flyers. Since coming to Tampa, he has averaged 16:45. Coburn stacked up very well in the advanced statistics categories related to not allowing shots on goal. But the team usually doesn’t do much on offense with him on the ice either.
I feel that the choice to protect Coburn was quite the shock.
There is still the possibility that general manager Steve Yzerman has made a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to not take Koekkoek or Dotchin. The NHL has asked GMs to keep any deals made quiet. They want to build up excitement for the announcement during the NHL Awards Show. This is liable to be the most watched NHL Awards Show in a long time due to the NHL combining the expansion draft with it.
If I was Vegas and there is no deal in place, I would take Slater Koekkoek. He’s still young and cheap. He still has a lot of upside and could develop into a solid top 4 defenseman for the Golden Knights. The other possible option is Cedric Paquette as a young, bottom-line center that has played well since entering the league.