This October, the NHL will add its 31st team to the league when the Vegas Golden Knights begin play in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division.
On Wednesday, the first step toward that goal begins when Vegas will have its opportunity to select one player from each of the other 30 teams in the first NHL Expansion Draft in 17 years.
Players such as Marc-Andre Fleury of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, playoff phenom Colton Sissons of the Nashville Predators and Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks, among others, were exposed after teams released their protected lists Sunday night.
After going through each team’s list, I have gone through and selected who I think Vegas will take. But before we go into my picks, let me explain how the Expansion Draft will work: Each of the 30 existing NHL teams may protect seven forwards, three defenseman and one goalie (or a combination of eight skaters and one goalie giving teams a little leeway depending on its current make-up), opening the window to Vegas to select one player from each team. All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, are exempt. The Golden Knights must pick a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies — leaving four spots open at any position.
Why would a team choose to keep eight skaters rather than seven forwards and three defensemen? Look no further than the Predators, who are loaded on the blueline with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Exposing two extra forwards to Vegas in the expansion draft allows Nashville to hold on to its defensive corps.
It doesn’t happen often, as teams ultimately protect two fewer players, but every team is unique. This option makes sense for a team with the defensive make-up like Nashville.
Teams may also make offers to Vegas in exchange for NOT picking an exposed player. Draft picks and future considerations gives Golden Knights’ General Manager George McPhee options. The long-time GM of the Washington Capitals, McPhee is a master tactician. Look for McPhee to select the most valuable players on the market, including several goalies, to wheel and deal now and through the off-season as the Golden Knights take shape.
Regardless, it must pick at least 20 players already under contract for 2017-18 and amass a roster with a minimum payroll of at least 60 percent of the league-wide cap.
It is entirely possible, the team the Golden Knights select in the NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday, June 21 will look completely different come October. This is just Phase One for Vegas, but here is an idea of what Golden Knights’ draft could look like:
Centers: Cody Eakin, Dallas Stars; Freddie Hamilton, Calgary Flames; Trevor Lewis, Los Angeles Kings; Kyle Brodziak, St. Louis Blues; Colton Sissons, Nashville Predators; Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers.
Comments: Centers are a valuable commodity in the NHL and I think Vegas will try to get some depth. I have therefore selected six centers compared to five LW and four RW. Marchessault is a star and scored 30 goals for Florida last year. He may not be available, and a trade may be in the works, but he is certainly the best centerman available. Eakin had a down year last year, but has shown a grittiness and scoring ability in Dallas. The Golden Knights could also add some good young players in Sissons and Hamiltion.
Left Wing: Matt Calvert, Columbus Blue Jackets; Nikolay Kulemin, New York Islanders; Mikkel Boedker, San Jose Sharks; Benoit Pouliot, Edmonton Oilers; Jamie McGinn, Arizona Coyotes.
Comments: There is potential to build some good depth on the left side with options like McGinn, Kulemin and Boedker, as well as Calvert and Pouliot. While there may not be a superstar on that list, taken as a core they provide a group with experience. Boedker and Pouliot recent playoff runs are something to build on. Not flashy, but a good core to start with.
Right Wing: Devante Smith-Pelly, New Jersey Devils; Lee Stempniak, Carolina Hurricanes; Michael Grabner, New York Rangers; Jay Beagle, Washington Capitals.
Comments: Here on the right-side, the Knights could get another 30-goal scorer in Grabner. A top line featuring Marchessault and Grabner would be potent. You also add a potential 40 points from Stempniak and 30 from Beagle to add to the depth scoring. Veterans Grabner and Beagle also have plenty of post-season experience.
Defense: Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks; Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres; Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks; Xavier Oullet, Detroit Red Wings; Nikita Nesterov, Montreal Canadiens; Marc Methot, Ottawa Senators; Adrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning; Martin Marincin, Toronto Maple Leafs; Luca Sbisa, Vancouver Canucks; Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild; Mark Barberio, Colorado Avalanche.
Comments: Defense is another extremely important position and there is a lot of talent exposed for Wednesday’s Draft. I expect Vegas to use a decent portion of their salary cap on adding skill and depth to the blueline. van Riemsdyk was +17 last year while Dumba put up 34 points and was a +15. Ottawa asked Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-trade clause but the veteran declined, exposing Methot and his +13 to the Knights. Dumba may not be made available, expect McPhee to work out a deal with Minnesota, but on paper this is a great top-three right from the jump.
Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins; Michal Neuvrith, Philadelphia Flyers; Malcom Subban, Boston Bruins; Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets.
Comments: As important as defense and center are, it can all come apart without a solid netminder and there are several solid options available. Fleury had a great run in the playoffs for Pittsburgh and showed he still has what it takes with a shutout in Game 7 vs Washington. He would be my starter. Neuvrith or Hutchinson would be a suitable backup and Subban has a ton of potential. With this defense and goalie core, Vegas will have the ability to shut down their opponents.
Again, the team the Vegas Golden Knights fields on Wednesday won’t necessarily be the team that steps on the ice in October. Expect a multitude of trades and free-agent signings after things open up again after the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago.
Think you’ve got what it takes to play Vegas GM? Try your hand at piecing together the Golden Knights here.
Written by Cameron D. Turner / @OSUcam
Special to The HockeyClan
Main Image: Pyrotechnics explode as the Vegas Golden Knights name and logo is revealed during the Las Vegas NHL team name unveiling ceremony on November 22, 2016 at The Park at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Josh Holmberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)