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On June 21, one player is going to be gone from the Nashville Predators thanks to the NHL Expansion Draft. The question is who?
Autumn Allison/USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee

Among the hundreds of NHL players left vulnerable to the Vegas Golden Knights in the ongoing expansion draft, few are more intriguing than Predators forward James Neal.

Nashville submitted a nine-player list Saturday that excluded the nine-year veteran, whose Predators career may end after three seasons Wednesday evening when Vegas reveals its roster. 

Vegas wants to field a competitive product in its inaugural season, which Neal surely would assist in accomplishing. But general manager George McPhee’s preference is to shape the team’s roster through the entry draft.

To satisfy that long-term view, the Golden Knights intend to stockpile picks and prospects through trades that assure protection of exposed players. 

“You can negotiate your way out of this, if you wish,” McPhee told reporters Sunday. “Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster.”

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The Predators have been unable to agree to a trade with the Golden Knights to steer them away from Neal or other unprotected players.

Predators general manager David Poile, who traveled to Las Vegas on Monday as one of three finalists for the league’s General Manager of the Year Award, still was attempting to arrange such a deal as of Monday afternoon. 

McPhee told reporters in Las Vegas that Monday was the final day that he would consider protection-based trades. The Golden Knights have until 9 a.m. CT on Wednesday to submit their roster, which will be unveiled that evening during the NHL Awards. 

“We’re going to pick our team (Tuesday),” McPhee said. 

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There’s plenty of incentive for the Golden Knights to nab Neal, one of six active NHL players to score at least 20 goals in each of his first nine seasons. 

More attractive to Vegas than Neal’s scoring ability next season might be his expiring contract, which can be dangled at the trade deadline for future assets from a contending team. Neal has $5 million remaining on his six-year contract.

The Golden Knights also could act as a middleman of sorts, with teams bidding for unprotected players from other rosters. If another team has interest in Neal, for example, it could make an offer to Vegas to select and immediately flip him to that team. Nashville would have to propose a more competitive offer to retain Neal if that scenario were to unfold. 

“People have identified people on other clubs that they’d like to have,” McPhee said Sunday. “We have to establish the value for that, and whatever you want to give us has to be better than what we can claim from that club.”

Although Neal is the highest-profile Predators player available to the Golden Knights, there are others who may be more appealing.

Center Colton Sissons, who had 12 points in 22 playoff games after totaling 10 in 58 regular-season games, is 23 and has two years remaining on a cost-friendly contract

Forward Pontus Aberg is a pending restricted free agent who scored a team-high 31 goals for the Milwaukee Admirals this season. If he were to sign with the Golden Knights, then that would count as Vegas’ selection from Nashville. 

Reach Adam Vingan at avingan@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamVingan.

IMPORTANT OFFSEASON DATES

Expansion draft: Vegas roster unveiled Wednesday at NHL Awards (7 p.m., NBC SN)

NHL draft: Friday (6 p.m., NBC SN) and Saturday (9 a.m., NHL Network) in Chicago

Predators rookie development camp: June 26-July 3

Opening of free agency: July 1