A total of nine players with ties to California were left unprotected by the NHL teams holding their rights in advance of Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft to stock the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster and system.
What follows is a closer look at them and their chances of staying put or making travel arrangements for the desert.
Forwards Emerson Etem and Nic Kerdiles, Anaheim Ducks: Etem returned to the franchise after stops in New York and Vancouver and played three games in Anaheim and one in San Diego before an injury ended his season. … After recovering from a concussion, Kerdiles made his NHL debut and then played four playoff games for the Ducks after the Gulls’ season ended. In between, he was one of San Diego’s better scorers, getting 15 points in 27 regular-season games and eight more in eight playoff games.
What’s next? Etem offers lineup versatility, speed and a scoring touch. Once healthy, the restricted free agent probably is going to camp on a two-way contract – with Anaheim or someone else. … Kerdiles signed a one-year contract on Saturday and might figure into the Ducks’ plans next season. He also can play on any line. … With all of the defensemen the Ducks exposed it’s highly unlikely either is taken by Vegas.
Defenseman Matt Tennyson, Carolina Hurricanes: Just 27, the big blue liner played in a career-high 45 NHL games this season and nine more in the AHL.
What’s next: He’s proven he can handle the rigors of the NHL game and has a good shot to play somewhere full-time. If Vegas passes on goalie Cam Ward, I see Tennyson as a very strong candidate to get picked. The unrestricted free agent wouldn’t cost much and he can either step into the Golden Knights’ lineup or be a leader for their AHL team and with NHL plug-and-play capability.
Forward Mitch Callahan, Detroit Red Wings: Tough and skilled, Callahan heads into unrestricted free agency for the first time this offseason. And his timing could not have been better. In addition to playing four more games with Detroit, he nearly set a career-high in points (43) and added 16 goals for Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids. He was one of the Griffins’ best players in the postseason, added 16 more points in 19 games.
What’s next: He’s done about all you can in the AHL, and at just 25, it’s time for him to get a shot at a regular NHL job, whether in Detroit, Vegas or elsewhere. His UFA status might work against him the way the expansion rules are set up (Vegas can sign up to five UFAs). But he would make some sense for a cash- or prospect-strapped team to sign.
Defenseman Taylor Aronson, Nashville Predators: The Predators still own his rights despite him spending this past season playing in Russia with Tolyatti Lada, where he had 15 points in 51 games.
What’s next: He won’t be taken, not with the bevy of young, skilled forwards the Predators had to expose.
Forwards Beau Bennett and Shane Harper, New Jersey Devils: Bennett, the highest drafted Californian ever (20th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010), played in a career-high 65 games and posted career bests in goals (eight) and points (19). Still, given how starved for offense New Jersey was and talented Bennett is, it’s a head scratcher he didn’t play on a scoring line or on the power play. … Harper made his NHL debut in his seventh season of pro hockey with Florida and played 14 games for the Panthers before he was traded to New Jersey’s organization. He has elite speed and, like Bennett, excellent hockey sense.
What’s next: Expansion teams typically need offense, and Bennett could be a good, low-cost option to provide some. Just 25, his upside remains considerable. Still, the Devils also exposed defensemen Jon Merrill and Ben Lovejoy as well as a couple of backup goalie options, so it’s less likely – though not impossible – the restricted free agent is picked. … Harper is unrestricted and could help a team looking for speed and lineup versatility with a bit of scoring touch.
Forward Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators: The former LA Jr. King is one of the biggest names out there for the taking, but there is a case against taking him if you’re Vegas. For one, Ryan had his worst season (25 points). For another, he’s 30 and he ‘s under contract for five more seasons at $7.25 million per. Still, he is an elite talent and capable of scoring 30-plus goals per season, and there aren’t many of those anywhere in the NHL, much less on the expansion list. He also seemed revitalized by Ottawa’s deep playoff run, scoring 15 points (several big goals among them) in 19 games.
What’s next: I don’t see Vegas picking him, though it wouldn’t be the worst idea if it did. The belief here is the Senators exposed too many good defenseman for the Golden Knights to pass on one of them.
Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Ruhwedel is another player who could not have timed his best season any better. Not only did the unrestricted free agent to be become the second native Californian (after Bennett) on a Stanley Cup-winning team, but he played 34 regular-season games (getting 10 points) for that champion and six more in the postseason. He added 16 points in 28 AHL games.
What’s next: With Marc-Andre Fleury, Ian Cole, Brandon Rust and Nick Bonino on the Penguins’ expansion list, Ruhwedel won’t get picked by Vegas, but he will be an attractive option for teams looking for a fast, skilled and responsible defenseman in the $1-2 million person range. He could very well make the leap to full-time NHLer next season.
Click here for a look at the five players with California ties who were placed on the protected expansion draft lists.