Nashville Predators protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal

Nashville Predators’ GM David Poile decided to protect Calle Jarnkrok from the upcoming expansion draft rather than veteran winger James Neal. Jarnkrok has a great contract for the Preds to work with and Neal has begun to age.

While Neal is still producing more than him, Jarnkrok is just now entering into the prime of his career and has a six year contract. The contract is paying him just two million dollars per year. This is great for Nashville but not very good for the young center. His production has increased each year over the previous three seasons. He more than likely could have earned more money down the road.

This made Jarnkrok a very attractive option for Vegas as the team could have been built around him. Vegas also showed interest in Neal, but possibly just to throw Poile off. It is quite possible that Vegas really wanted to take Jarnkrok, but made it seem they liked Neal just as much in hopes Poile would protect him instead.

Neal is turning 30 in September and currently has a one year deal that is scheduled to pay him five million dollars this year. This would be a huge risk for an expansion team to take, especially since Neal may go hunting for a cup when he becomes a free agent. Vegas will not compete for a championship for several years and Neal will not enjoy playing out his career without an opportunity to win.

The most likely player the Golden Knights will select from the Preds will be either Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, or Colton Sissons.

Colin Wilson has had a couple of good seasons with Nashville, but he is really known for the way he plays in the playoffs. He has earned the nickname “playoff Colin Wilson” and he stepped up again this year in the postseason. Wilson can be a solid second line wing player for Vegas as he continues to grow in the NHL.

Craig Smith is the hockey equivalent of a speeding bullet. Smith is either the fastest or second-fastest player on the current Nashville roster and he showed it in the playoffs this year. Despite regular season injuries, Smith created roughly three breakaways in the postseason as he got behind the defense and scored on one of them.

Colton Sissons is kind of the sleeper in the expansion draft. He hasn’t been talked about too much as his first true NHL season just concluded. Sissons has shown he has the capability to be a number one center in the league by recording two hat tricks this season, including one in the playoffs. Losing Sissons would be a huge blow to the Nashville organization.

The ideal situation for Nashville would be for Vegas to select Colin Wilson. Wilson is undoubtedly a great asset to the team, but the speed of Smith and young talent of Sissons would be better for the Preds in the long run. The team is being built on speed so hopefully Smith sticks around.

What Vegas should do and what it will do are two completely different things. The Golden Knights should select Sissons from the Nashville roster so they can build around a future star in the league. This would also be great for Sissons as he could go ahead and get experience under his belt rather than continuing to play behing Johansen and Jarnkrok. Losing him would hurt quite a bit, but he would get a great opportunity.

When it is all said and done, the Vegas Golden Knights will probably end up taking Craig Smith from the Preds. Although Neal would be a veteran 30 goal scorer for the team, he would only be around for one year before hitting free agency. Smith is a young speedy player who will be productive for Vegas. Although it will sting to Preds roster, there are several free agents on the market who could replace him.

Vegas must have their selections in by Wednesday, June 21 at 10:00 a.m. EST. Those picks will be announced at the NHL Awards show on June 21 at 8:00 a.m.

Yardbarker: NHL

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