Expansion draft: Panthers protect Bjugstad, leave Marchessault, Smith, Luongo up for grabs

NHL reveals expansion draft protection lists; Panthers list raises some question


SUNRISE, Fla. – The NHL released the list of expansion draft protected players Sunday and now hockey fans will have to wait until Wednesday to see what players will be snatched up by the newest franchise.

With the creation of the Las Vegas Knights, each of the current 30 NHL teams were required to submit a list of players (either seven forwards, three defense men and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie) to protect from being drafted in the expansion draft.

The Florida Panthers chose to protect eight skaters: forwards Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck; defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk and Keith Yandle; and goalie James Reimer.

Several players listed - namely Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Ekblad, Petrovic, Yandle and Reimer - come as no surprise; but some fans were shocked to see forwards Jonathan Marchessault, who led team with 30 goals in 2016-17 season, and Reilly Smith, 37 points in this past season, left unprotected. 

Though the biggest surprise to many fans may have been seeing Nick Bjugstad, who had just 14 points in '16-'17 season, on the list. Bjugstad led the team in points back in the 2013-14 season, but has suffered several injuries since then, and fans have seen his production drop off significantly since signing a six-year, $24.6 million contract in December 2014.

As for how the franchise reached its decision, the front office is remaining quiet.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon released a statement that said, in part: "Out of respect for the process and our players, we will not be commenting on the makeup of our protected list until after the expansion process ends on Wednesday. We're focused on our goal of winning the Stanley Cup and are looking forward to this week as we continue to prepare for the 2017 NHL Draft and free agency."

The Knights now have until Wednesday at 10 a.m. to submit their expansion draft selections and any standard player contracts that were signed. Their coach, Gerard Gallant, was fired by the Panthers just 22 games into the 2016-2017 season after leading the team to a club record 47 wins and 103 points in 2015-16.

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