ST. LOUIS, MO -- With the expansion draft coming next summer, the St. Louis Blues will have difficult decisions to make. There are two options for protecting players on your roster. The 7-3-1 option allows the team to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. The other option allows a team to protect eight skaters and one goalie.
Expect the Blues to opt to use the 7-3-1 protection method. The only question is who they will protect.
The obvious, Jake Allen will be the goalie protected. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Joel Edmundson should be the three defensemen protected.
Colton Parayko is exempt from the draft, Kevin Shattenkirk will either be traded or will walk during free agency. The chances of him being re-signed are slim to none.
This leaves Robert Bortuzzo, Carl Gunnarsson, and a slew of American Hockey League defenders, including Petteri Lindbohm, exposed.
The tough decision would be between protecting Edmundson or Gunnarsson. While Gunnarsson is currently the better of the two, the Blues need a guy like Edmundson a little more than Gunnarsson. Edmundson plays a big physical game, only Bortuzzo adds that currently to the lineup, but he, at best, is a sixth defensemen. Edmundson has the upside to play in a top-four role.
The difficult decisions really revolve around the seven forwards to protect. Robby Fabbri is exempt, as are most of the Blues forward prospects, mainly Ivan Barbashev, who is developing nicely in the AHL.
The obvious picks to protect include Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and the offensive resurgent David Perron.
This leaves two more forwards who can be protected.
Patrik Berglund is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and unless he is willing to take a pay cut, he could find himself in a different jersey next season.
Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie are all under team control next season, but I wouldn't expect all of them to be back.
Lehtera has a big contract, but unless his point totals start to raise, this may be the opportunity to get out from under that contract.
Jaskin has improved this season, but he doesn't look more like a third/fourth line player. Meanwhile, Yakupov and Rattie are both trying to cement themselves on the roster, but neither has really played well enough to be an everyday player.
Ultimately, I see Lehtera and Jaskin being protected, and the best of the rest being exposed.
In regards to who the Vegas Golden Knights would draft, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lindbohm or Gunnarsson selected. They'd obtain a sound defenseman who has shown he can play in the NHL and has pretty good upside. They can't pick 30 guys to play on the NHL roster, and Lindbohm could be a nice pick up. Meanwhile, Gunnarsson had a fairly cheap contract and is a proven top-four defender.
Regardless, it appears the Blues are in good shape going into this year's expansion draft.
Randall Ritchey is the St. Louis Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.