The Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: (l-r) Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: (l-r) Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been through an expansion draft recently.

Back when Vegas came into the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs scraped through relatively unscathed, losing just Brendan Leipsic in the draft.

In 2021, the NHL will be adding a 32nd franchise to the fold.

The Seattle Totems, Emeralds, Rainiers, Sockeyes – or whoever they maybe – will be looking to replicate the success of the 2017-18 expansion team, Vegas Golden Knights.

What a success story the Golden Knights have been. Making the finals in their inaugural season, it is fair to suggest they are the best expansion team ever. Many would have thought they might have flamed out after their magical cup run.

Toronto Maple Leafs and the Expansion Draft

However, they have continued building and building and established a model of consistency in their first three seasons, finishing 1st twice and 3rd once.

The Seattle expansion team will be looking for the same level of success and Vegas GM George McPhee will mention the draft was the first steppingstone that launched the Nevada-based franchise into stardom.

The rest of the leagues’ front offices are going to be hard at work, debating back and forth which players need to be protected and which could potentially be left available.

It is guaranteed Kyle Dubas will have a tough time sorting through his NHL players as the Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the best rosters in the league.

Either way, difficult decisions are ahead and with less than a year from draft night, it is time to predict who Dubas and Co. will choose to keep around for the long haul and who might be exposed.

For the purpose of this exercise, I will only be using the current Toronto Maple Leafs who are under contract for next season, excluding players like Tyson Barrie or Cody Ceci. While there is most likely going be some roster turnover, it is unclear who Kyle Dubas might be bringing in and likewise might be leaving.


To refresh everyone’s memory, the 2021 expansion draft will follow the same rules as the 2017 draft. Each club will be allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie (the format I will be following) or one goaltender and eight skaters regardless of position.

Only players with more than two years of professional experience before the draft are eligible to be selected and all players with no-move clauses are forced to be protected as well.

Players Ineligible to Be Drafted

Five notable Leafs who could be big components of their 2020-21 roster are all ineligible to be drafted: Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Nick Robertson, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall. All five players will be either in their first or second year of NHL experience, thus rendering them ineligible to be taken in the expansion draft.

Conversely, Leaf captain John Tavares has a no-move clause in his contract, therefore forcing Toronto to protect him the draft.


With one of the best, if not the best, forward groups in the entire NHL, Leaf management is going to struggle with regards to deciding which forwards are okay to be left available and who must be protected.

While some are absolute locks to be protected, many candidates could fill out the bottom of Toronto’s protected list.


John Tavares

Auston Matthews

Mitch Marner

William Nylander

Zach Hyman I believe he will re-sign with Toronto.

Based on this list, Toronto will be left with only two more spots to be filled out by Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Alex Kerfoot, Kyle Clifford (I am assuming he and the Leafs will work out a short-term deal), and Frederik Gauthier.

It is unlikely Seattle will decide to select Gauthier or Clifford so it would be wise for Toronto to leave them unprotected and save a player who could be taken. This leaves Kapanen, Johnsson, and Kerfoot.

Out of all three, Kapanen is my favorite player, who I think has the highest ceiling as well. His lightning-quick feet, goal-scoring prowess, and willingness to play with a bite make him the most valuable to Toronto, leaving Johnsson and Kerfoot to battle for the last spot.

Kerfoot similarly provides significant value to Toronto. His positional versatility, playmaking abilities, and above-average defensive instincts are all things Johnsson just cannot provide.

It is a shame that Johnsson was unable to replicate his 2018-19 success this year, however, his sustained injuries showed Toronto the importance of having Kapanen and Kerfoot on the roster over him.


Unlike the forward group, the decision to protect which defensemen should be fairly easy for Toronto.

The first spot easily goes to Morgan Rielly. Simply, he is Toronto’s best defensemen. On top of that, he is an exceptional presence in the locker room and will only be 27 by the time of the draft.

Next up is Travis Dermott. A native of the Greater Toronto Area, Dermott is oozing with potential. He has put up some of the best third-pairing numbers for someone his age and is going to be a fixture in the Leafs top four in the near future.

The last spot should go to Jake Muzzin. He is Toronto’s best defensive defensemen, is from Toronto, and has Stanley Cup experience winning one with the Los Angeles Kings. One thing of note – Muzzin will be 32 by the time the draft comes around, but I do not believe this will deter Toronto’s decision.


The goaltending spot on the protected list is the hardest to predict almost a year out from draft night.

Firstly, Frederik Andersen’s contract is up after the end of next year and the rules stipulate each team must protect a goalie and leave one available to be drafted. Jack Campbell is the only goaltender on Toronto’s current roster that could be taken by Seattle.

There are four possible situations I see playing out over the course of the next year or so:

  1. Frederik Andersen plays out his final year in Toronto, leaves the team in free agency, and the Leafs sign another goaltender to be their starter. Under this scenario, they would protect that goaltender and expose Campbell.
  2. Frederik Andersen plays out his final year in Toronto, leaves the team in free agency, Jack Campbell becomes the full-time starter, and the Leafs sign/trade for a backup goaltender. Under this scenario, the Leafs would protect Campbell and expose the backup goaltender.
  3. Frederik Andersen re-signs in Toronto and the Leafs expose Campbell in the draft.
  4. The unlikeliest scenario, but still relevant, is if a team’s UFA following the 2020-21 signs with Seattle before the draft, then Seattle is no longer able to select a player from that team through the draft. This could mean Andersen signs with Seattle before the draft, the rest of the Leafs roster is exempt from the expansion draft, and the Leafs subsequently sign a backup goaltender for Campbell or sign a full-time starter and Campbell remains the backup.

I believe next season will be Andersen’s last a Leaf as he will most likely price himself out of Toronto’s budget. Kyle Dubas would then move forward with a goaltending tandem, consisting of Campbell and another goaltender acquired via trade or free agency, and one of those players will be exposed.

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Either way, it seems Kyle Dubas and the rest of the league’s GMs are going to have some tough decisions ahead.

Look for a chaotic 2020 off-season and an even more chaotic 2020-21 season.