Nashville Predators: How the Team Handled the 2017 Expansion Draft

James Neal #18 of the Vegas Golden Knights prepares to toss a stick to a fan after being named the second star of the game following the team's 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
James Neal #18 of the Vegas Golden Knights prepares to toss a stick to a fan after being named the second star of the game following the team's 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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Does it still sting for Nashville Predators fans when thinking back to the 2017 Expansion Draft and losing James Neal? You darn right it does, and now we might be getting ready to go through a similar pain on Wednesday night.

There have only been three expansion teams for the NHL since the Nashville Predators joined the league in 1998. The Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Vegas Golden Knights have all joined the league since the Predators, with the Thrashers now being the Winnipeg Jets.

The Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft picks will be revealed on Wednesday night, and who the Predators will lose is still all over the board in people’s mock draft predictions.

Looking back at 2017, the Predators were coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final and widely considered as one of the top contenders once again during that 2017 offseason. It’s time to go back that expansion draft and wonder if they made the right choice by leaving Neal exposed, and eventually chosen by the Golden Knights.

Bold move for the Predators to expose Neal

Neal had just put together a very strong season for the Predators in their run to two wins shy of a Stanley Cup. He had put up 41 points in the regular season, while also chipping in another nine points (six goals) in their historic playoff run.

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As respectable as those numbers were, he had taken somewhat of a dip in production from the pervious season when he put up 58 points and was the team’s second-leading goal scorer, only trailing Filip Forsberg.

Neal was definitely one of the fan-favorites of the team. He played with an intensity that hockey fans love, had come from the Pittsburgh Penguins a few seasons before, and was known for scoring the big-time goals in clutch moments.

It should’ve been a no-brainer for the Golden Knights General Manager at the time, George McPhee, to make the selection of Neal. At least that’s what I would assume.

McPhee shared his thoughts on preparing for the expansion draft selection process in an article on The Hockey News written by Matt Larkin:

"“We were just trying to get the best asset, whether it be a player or a draft pick or something from each team from what was available. “"

The article also talks about wanting to find high-quality goaltending and chose Marc-Andre Fleury as the “face of the franchise” type of player.

As for selecting Neal, it ended up being a pretty solid pick. Neal put up similar point production as he did the previous season with Nashville (44 points) while also getting to play again for a Stanley Cup. He came up short for a second year in a row, and was missing from a Nashville team that lost in the second round to the Jets.

We wonder now if the Predators should’ve protected Neal and left someone else exposed. Looking at that roster during the 2017 offseason, Calle Jarnkrok is a player that has been brought up before. He had four years left on his contract that’s going into its final year in 2021-22.

Losing Jarnkrok still would’ve stung just like Neal did, and it’s a tough call to say who the Predators should’ve protected over the other one.

At the time, I probably would’ve said protect Neal, but since then Jarnkrok has really proven himself as a versatile player who can play up and down the lineup and contribute quality power play minutes.

Fast forwarding to the current time, Jarnkrok could once again be lost in the expansion draft as he’s been left unprotected, unlike 2017. Seattle would be getting a veteran power play contributor and player that has steadily improved his all-around game over his career if they choose Jarnkrok.

The Predators made the right move exposing Neal

In 2017, the Predators protected one goaltender, four forwards and four defensemen:

Quite honestly when you look at that protection list, you can’t realistically say you would’ve done anything different, other than protecting Neal over Jarnkrok. Everyone else on that list you kind of had to protect.

No chance in hell you’re leaving Forsberg, Arvidsson or Johansen exposed as they had just been the dominant top line that took you to a Stanley Cup Final.

Same goes for the defensemen. Josi was an emerging superstar, Ellis was already on the cusp of being an elite superstar, Ekholm was arguably one of the best second pairing defenseman you can ask for, and then Subban who was instrumental in the Stanley Cup run and a player you just traded Shea Weber for.

Could they have been really bold and exposed Subban to protect Neal? Sure, but again, that move would’ve also been blasted at the time as extremely dumb.

As difficult as it was to lose a player like Neal, they really didn’t have much choice. That roster was pretty deep in the sense that they were going to lose someone very valuable. It ended up being Neal.

The Predators aren’t nearly in the same powerful position now as they were perceived to be in then. They’re going much younger with their roster now and going into what GM David Poile is calling a “competitive rebuild”.

Must Read. The State of Predators Goaltending Post Pekka Rinne. light

This expansion draft and protection list has a completely different feeling to it. Arvidsson and Ellis have just been traded, Johansen and Jarnkrok have been left unprotected, Rinne is retired and Subban is long gone.

Buckle up for some drama, but I don’t see it nearly as dramatic as 2017. The Predators are already shaking up this roster before the expansion draft. Getting past this will give us a clearer picture as to what this team is going to look like exactly in 2021-22, so let’s get this over with.