On Sunday, the Minnesota Wild released their protected list for Seattle’s Expansion Draft. After months of speculation and two protection-slot-clearing buyouts, the only players under contract that Minnesota exposed were Nick Bjugstad, Kaapo Kähkönen, Victor Rask, and Carson Soucy.
Since Minnesota doesn’t have many notable unsigned players, most figure the Seattle Kraken will take one of those four. Those predictions zero in on the choice between Kähkönen and Soucy. Kähkönen turns 25 next month and is coming off his rookie season as a goaltender. Soucy turns 27 next week and has two seasons of strong play on the Wild’s third defensive pairing.
So if they call Brennan Menell’s name on Wednesday night, it’ll be a surprise. For one, nobody outside of Minnesota has ever heard of the Woodbury-native defenseman. He’s got little pedigree, signing in Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and has never landed on a top-100 prospect list.
He might well be the right choice for Seattle, though, and perhaps even the worst-case scenario for the Wild. Why? Let’s find out.
Success at Every Level
As an undersized defenseman who scored just 21 points in 57 WHL games in his draft year, it’s easy to see why he passed through the 2015 draft. He had a better Draft+1 season, scoring 53 points in 69 games, but it wasn’t nice enough to get picked in 2016.
Menell claimed his late-bloomer status in 2016-17, scoring 71 points in 70 games in his final year in juniors. After taking a year to learn the ropes in the AHL, Menell started dominating in Iowa. He claimed top-pairing status in his sophomore season in Des Moines, scoring 44 points in 70 games. He earned first-team AHL honors the year after, finishing second among AHL defensemen with 47 points in 57 games.
That breakout came during the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season, and the uncertainty surrounding the following season led Menell to jump ship to the KHL. The move angered the Wild front office and is likely the root of the difficult negotiations between Menell and the team, but it was absolutely the right call for him.
Menell logged big minutes for Dinamo Minsk instead of toiling on the Wild’s Taxi Squad. Not only was he a workhorse, but he was productive in the second-best league in the world. He scored 38 points in 43 games, an unheard-of point total for an under-24 defenseman in that league. The only under-24 KHL defenseman to register more points per game was Victor Hedman, who notched 22 points in 26 games in 2012 at age 22.
Seattle won’t have any hard feelings about where he played last season. They’ll happily scoop him up and add a 24-year-old puck-mover who is primed for an NHL shot.
Room to Grow
Regardless of whom the Kraken select from Minnesota, they figure to have a good team next year. Evolving Hockey’s predictions, for example, see them taking a strong group of forwards and defensemen that could reach the playoffs. Teams went all-out to protect their rosters last Expansion, and it looks like they’re taking the opposite approach now.
If that happens, Seattle could run into a problem here: having little upside to their roster. Unless the Kraken can leverage teams into surrendering draft and prospect capital, their team won’t have much to dream on. Most of the players they figure to take are in the 25-29 range, meaning they’re largely finished products.
So, where does the upside come from? It’ll have to come from finding under-25 diamonds in the rough. The Vegas Golden Knights did that with William Karlsson, who blossomed into a top-six center once given the opportunity. Not all of the Golden Knights’ bets on youth paid off, but one hit made the misses worth it.
The Kraken can do the same, identifying younger players with skills but few opportunities to shine. Menell fits that bill, having dominated in two different leagues but been squeezed out by a numbers game. Could Menell become Jared Spurgeon-lite if given a real opportunity? Maybe!
Best of all, there’s zero risk to taking Menell. If he pans out, the Kraken have a young, top-four-caliber right-shot defenseman on their hands. And if not, who cares? They still figure to draft a strong blue line in expansion, and cutting ties with Menell would be painless.
Best Player Available
A lot of the things that make Menell attractive can’t necessarily be said about Soucy. At 27, is there much upside to him?
On the surface, there’s a lot to like. Of the 174 defensemen to log 1,000-plus minutes over the past two seasons, Soucy ranks first in Goals For% (64.6) and 15th in points per hour (1.17) at five-on-five play — both eye-popping numbers!
Look deeper, though, and it appears that his success isn’t quite sustainable. Soucy shot 3.6% in his 136-game AHL career, which has doubled to 7.4% in the past two seasons. Considering five of his eight career goals came during a 20-game hot streak, that might be a fluke. He has just three goals in 69 games since then.
That good fortune extends to his teammates as well. Minnesota has shot 11.5%, with Soucy on the ice at five-on-five over these past two years. Not only is that way above the league average of 8.3%, but it’s also the best in the league by a mile. Cale Makar is second at 10.6%. Either Soucy is better at influencing offense than Makar and his star-studded teammates, or he’s been supernaturally lucky.
Yet despite getting that incredible luck, he hasn’t produced all that much — just 24 points per 82 games. Sure, you figure he’ll increase his points with more ice time, but regression in percentages could cancel out those gains. If so, Seattle will have a solid bottom-pairing guy who isn’t much help in transition. Why commit to two years at a $2.75 million cap hit when a younger, cheaper, higher-upside option exists in Menell?
As for Kähkönen, Seattle’s other consensus target, it’s hard to see the appeal for the Kraken. Sure, he’s young, a rarity among exposed goalies, but his performance quietly rated him as one of the NHL’s worst.
Among the 60 goalies to face 500-plus shot attempts last season, Kähkönen’s .902 save percentage ranked 44th in the NHL. That might not strike you as all that terrible, but it’s worse when considering the defense he played behind. No team is better than Minnesota at keeping shots away from the net, and still, Kähkönen struggled. He allowed 15.6 more goals than expected based on the shot quality he faced, the fourth-worst in the NHL.
Combined with the always-tepid projections scouts gave him, and Kähkönen isn’t the desirable target most observers believe. Sure, Seattle’s required to draft three goalies, but why leave real value on the table to grab a warm body?
Menell provides the Kraken with the most reward for the least risk. That makes him the obvious choice for Seattle to swipe from the Wild.