What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
After literally years of buildup, the expansion draft is almost here! The Seattle Kraken are getting ready to enter the NHL, with the league is set to hold the draft on Wednesday. Teams have been prepping their rosters in anticipation of who to protect, and officially submitted their protected lists on Saturday — let the speculation begin!
Today, our writing team is going to do its best Ron Francis impression and predict which player the Kraken are going to pluck away from the Detroit Red Wings. Let’s dive in!
My answer was going to be Vladislav Namestnikov, but since the Red Wings exposed Troy Stecher, I’m going with the latter.
Seattle has an analytics-driven hockey operations department and Stecher was an analytics darling last season – at least among Red Wings skaters. His 2.1 expected goals-against per 60 (xGA/60) at five-on-five ranked 67th in the NHL among defensemen playing 500-plus minutes. In addition, his 4.5 goals-above replacement (GAR) topped all Red Wings defenders.
On the ice, Stecher has been excellent in his own end, whether that was with the Red Wings or Team Canada at the World Championship. He consistently makes smart plays when retrieving the puck and exiting the zone. His offensive instincts are underrated, too. Remember this assist?
Stecher also appeals to the Kraken for a handful of financial reasons. For one, he’s under contract next season – and only next season. Twenty of Seattle’s 30 selections must be under contract – not pending RFAs or UFAs. Plus, the Kraken can easily flip a cheap, one-year deal like Stecher’s to a contending team looking to add depth – something I believe they’ll do in the coming weeks.
Honestly, I’m at about a 55/45 split on whether the pick is going to be Namestnikov or Stecher. Neither players are going to move the needle much for the Kraken, and both players are replaceable from the Red Wings’ perspective. All in all, I don’t think Hockeytown should be too worried about which player Francis is going to choose.
As for why I’m leaning towards Namestnikov, the Kraken have a wide variety of young players and veterans available to them at all positions. Personally, I see Seattle going pretty young on defense (with a couple key veterans mixed in), and countering that by picking a lot of proven commodities up front. I think Stecher tops out as a fringe middle-pairing defenseman, but he’s more of a quality bottom-pairing guy. The Kraken will have plenty of Stecher’s to choose from. As for Namestnikov, he is able to play anywhere in the middle six (though he’s best suited for the third line) and grabbing a player like that gives you options in terms of how you shape your roster.
Neither player is overly expensive, which is certainly an attractive thing for Francis and the Kraken. I think Namestnikov’s versatility makes him a strong add as a roster player or as a trading piece, and that’s why I ultimately think it’ll be his name that is called at the expansion draft. That being said, I would not be surprised one bit if the pick is Stecher instead.
Pat Brown: Stecher, Part Deux
It pains me to say it, but let’s face it: Marc Staal’s surprisingly mediocre season (that’s meant as a compliment) was a direct result of him being paired with Stecher. For the very same reasons that Tony listed above, I think it’s a no-brainer for Francis to select the 27-year-old defenseman.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Dennis Cholowski, who was exposed over Gustav Lindstrom, because the Kraken could certainly benefit from his potential, but there’s a lot of work to be done there considering the former 20th-overall selection has yet to live up to expectations in the Motor City. The recent acquisition of Nick Leddy would cushion the blow if Seattle picks the left-handed Cholowski, and offer a new beginning for the oft-criticized blue liner.
Still, I just can’t comprehend a world in which Stecher, with just one year and $1.7 million left on his contract, isn’t scooped up by the Kraken. With such a reasonably priced Top-4 defenseman available they have the ability to spend elsewhere while picking up a battle-tested veteran defenseman who, as Tony mentioned, could easily be flipped if Seattle isn’t having the same inaugural dream season that Vegas experienced.
Kyle Knopp: Stecher – But Maybe Svechnikov
I believe that Tony and Pat are right on the money with their explanation into the Kraken’s selection — they will likely take Stecher. As I discussed during our recent episode of The Grind Line (check it out below!), Stecher played his way into a potential protection spot. His advanced statistics were well ahead of any other Wings defenseman, and his work in developing Owen Power at the World Championships is a skillset that can’t be overlooked.
However, with plenty of big name defensemen left exposed, the Kraken may attempt to save cap space on a team like the Wings. One player that would come fairly cheap, and could use the fresh start that comes with a change of scenery, is Evgeny Svechnikov.
Think about it — the 24-year-old left winger, who has not quite lived up to his 19th overall selection while in Detroit, would have the opportunity to thrive in Seattle. Svechnikov would instantly be slotted in as an everyday bottom-six forward next season, allowing him to get the game experience he has often lacked as a healthy scratch. As a restricted free agent, the Kraken would also have the opportunity to sign Svechnikov to a long-term deal at a relatively low cap hit.
While the safe bet is on Stecher heading to the Pacific Northwest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kraken made some waves and selected a forward like Svechnikov.
What do you think of the results of this year’s mock draft? What would you have done differently? Share your thoughts in the comments section down below!
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Covers the Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers.