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8 talented skaters left unprotected for the expansion draft

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The Vegas Golden Knights will have some intriguing options to choose from both up front and on the back end Wednesday night.

That’s when the NHL’s newest franchise will begin plucking players from the other 30 teams in the expansion draft, using the lists of the protected and available players revealed Sunday morning.

Related: The 7 best goalies made available to the Golden Knights

The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets have reportedly agreed to side deals to prevent the Golden Knights from taking certain players the clubs don’t want to lose, and there could certainly be more of these arrangements in the works.

Here are the best unprotected forwards and defensemen who are ripe for the picking barring more expansion-draft assurances:

Jonathan Marchessault

This one’s a bit of a head-scratcher. The Florida Panthers elected to protect restricted free-agent defensemen Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic instead of their leading scorer this past season.

Marchessault‘s 30-goal campaign came out of nowhere, but considering his breakout season and his incredibly affordable cap hit of $750,000 next season, it’s surprising that the Panthers would leave him prone to selection by the expansion franchise.

Even if he doesn’t match 2016-17’s offensive explosion, he’s shown he has the tools to score consistently over an 82-game schedule.

Sami Vatanen

The Anaheim Ducks had to protect Kevin Bieksa because of his no-movement clause and had to limit themselves to three protected blue-liners because of their forward depth, so that left Vatanen prime for the taking.

It would be a mild shock if Ducks general manager Bob Murray didn’t work out a side deal before Wednesday to keep his steady Finnish D-man, but Vatanen is out there for now.

James Neal


(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Neal hit the 20-goal mark for the ninth consecutive season, and he’s only one year removed from a 31-goal, 58-point campaign.

The Nashville Predators winger could be a nice addition for the Golden Knights, who can thank the Predators’ depth on defense and faith in younger forward Calle Jarnkrok for Neal being available.

Eric Staal

The veteran center erupted for 28 goals and 65 points with the Minnesota Wild after struggling to find his game in his final foray with the Carolina Hurricanes and a disappointing post-trade turn with the New York Rangers.

Who knows which Staal the Golden Knights would get if they picked him, but it might be worth finding out considering how well he played this past season.

Matt Dumba


(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Staal’s teammate is a solid defenseman at both ends of the ice, and the Wild would probably keep Dumba if they didn’t have to account for Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin, as well as a deep forward group.

He’s also only 22 years old, and is coming off his most productive season from a production standpoint.

Michael Grabner

Like Marchessault, there’s no guarantee Grabner will replicate his 2016-17 efforts, and the New York Rangers appear to be betting against the 29-year-old forward by leaving him available.

Still, Grabner scored 27 goals this past season – the most he’s notched since his first full campaign in 2010-11 – and Chris Kreider was the only member of the high-powered Rangers offense who lit the lamp more than Grabner in the regular season.

David Perron

The Golden Knights might be able to land Perron without having to give up a draft pick, and the St. Louis Blues winger could be a nice fit in Nevada.

Perron is coming off his best offensive season since 2013-14, and he’s repeatedly proven capable of scoring 15-20 goals per campaign.

Nate Schmidt

Schmidt worked his way into the Washington Capitals‘ lineup and proved he belongs, finishing the season as John Carlson‘s defense partner.

He’d be a solid pick for the Golden Knights given that he’s only 25 and promising left-shot blue-liners aren’t easy to find.

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