Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers protect defensemen, leave scorers exposed for Vegas in expansion draft

Florida forward Jonathan Marchessault celebrates a goal on October 20, 2016.
Florida forward Jonathan Marchessault celebrates a goal on October 20, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Florida Panthers protected their defensive core from the upcoming NHL expansion draft — but they left some scorers available to the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the list of protected players made public Sunday morning, the Panthers opted to protect eight skaters and a goalie instead of 10 players (seven forwards and three defensemen) to save one of their defensemen.

Florida kept Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad as expected but also held onto both Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic.

The Panthers also protected four of their core forwards in Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck.

Goalie James Reimer was also protected.

So, the Knights — who will be coached by fired Panthers coach Gerard Gallant — have a few options in the one Florida player it can select.

The NHL expansion draft and Vegas’ initial roster will be unveiled during Wednesday’s televised NHL Awards Show.

The Panthers left Jonathan Marchessault out there after he broke through last season by leading Florida with 30 goals. Marchessault is a free agent after this coming season.

Florida also left Reilly Smith exposed to Vegas after an uneven season in which he ended with 15 goals. Smith signed a new contract with the Panthers last summer and is signed through 2022.

Defensively, Jason Demers was also left available to the Knights less than a year after he joined the Panthers as a free agent from Dallas.

Florida also left captain Derek MacKenzie and veteran forwards Jussi Jokinen and Colton Sceviour available.

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