Wednesday, 21 June 2017

We're All Vegas

Las Vegas was a flurry of activity tonight as the NHL Awards were handed out and there was a new team selected from the unprotected player lists from each of the thirty remaining NHL teams. Having seen a few NHL Awards nights in the past, those who won trophies wasn't my main focus tonight. Matthews, McDavid, Burns, Bobrovsky, and Tortorella won the important ones as it is, but I was entirely occupied with the Vegas Expansion Draft as they prepare for their first NHL season.

The NHL decided to announce the list in order from worst to first based on the NHL's standings last season. With Colorado having the first player taken from them, it's hard to determine where these selections were made based on importance to Vegas' overall strategy, but this is the NHL and rarely do administrative tasks make a lot of sense. In saying that, let's break down the roster assembled by George McPhee, Bill Foley, and the Vegas Golden Knights.

COLORADO: Chet Pickard - goaltender. I actually really like this pick. Pickard had himself an outstanding World Championship with Canada, and looked like he may be the goalie of the future for the Avalanche. Instead, the 25 year-old will tend nets for the Golden Knights for the foreseeable future after posting 15 wins, two shutouts, a 2.98 GAA, and .904 save percentage in 50 games with the Avalanche in 2016-17. After getting engaged earlier this summer, it appears that Pickard won't have to go far for his bachelor party.

VANCOUVER: Luca Sbisa - defenceman. This pick puzzles me in that Sbisa's usage in Vancouver seemed to be out of necessity as opposed to choice. He scored a mere 13 points in 82 games for the Canucks, and will play for his fourth NHL team at the age of 27. If McPhee plans on having Sbisa around, it seems he'll be a third-pairing defenceman.

ARIZONA: Teemu Pulkkinen - forward. Pulkkinen was an outstanding player in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, but has yet to find any footing in the NHL. He's recorded just 13 goals and 22 points in 83 NHL games with Detroit, Minnesota, and Arizona, so he'll have to make an impact with Vegas if he hopes to see his career extend past his 30th birthday. Skating still seems to be an issue with Pulkkinen.

NEW JERSEY: Jon Merrill - defenceman. He a big body whose offensive ability might have hit a ceiling, but I could see Merrill being a useful third-pairing or seventh defenceman for the Golden Knights. He has played 216 NHL games, so having him step into a defensive role shouldn't be a big leap for the defender.

BUFFALO: - William Carrier - forward. Huh? The rookie scored a mere eight points in 41 games this season, so this might be one of those picks that starts the building of Vegas' AHL affiliate in Chicago.

DETROIT: Tomas Nosek - forward. Nosek's one goal in 17 games doesn't scream "production", but he was the centerpiece for the Grand Rapids Griffins' run to the Calder Cup this season. I even chatted him up a week ago after they won. Nosek is 24, so he'll need to do something big in training camp or he could find himself in Chicago with Carrier.

DALLAS: Cody Eakin - forward. I love this pick. Eakin is the kind of two-way forward that will get you a handful of goals while playing responsible in his own zone. McPhee drafted Eakin in 2009 while with the Capitals, so he knows what Eakin can bring to the ice. Eakin will fill a nice second- or third-line center role for Golden Knights for the foreseeable future.

FLORIDA: Jonathan Marchessault - forward. Any time you can snag a 30-goal scorer in an expansion draft, you're doing well. Marchessault hit that mark for the first time last season, but it appeared the speedy forward may have found his stride on the panhandle. Vegas will need him to bring that scoring touch to the Nevada desert, but I like this pick for the potential it holds.

LOS ANGELES: Brayden McNabb - defenceman. More size on the back end for the Knights without much scoring. McNabb's foot speed should also worry fans of the Knights as he hasn't shown to be an effective shutdown defender yet either. McNabb might have been one of these "gotta pick sonmeone" picks without assuming the contracts of Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik.

CAROLINA: Connor Brickley - forward. He played all last season with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL, and I expect Brickley to get his start in Chicago with the Wolves as member of the Vegas AHL affiliate. He was a decent scorer for the Checkers last season, amassing 26 points, but he's not going to light the world on fire just yet. He's also a UFA, so Brickley may not be in Vegas long.

WINNIPEG: Chris Thorburn - forward. Another unrestricted free agent that the Knights took, the selection of Thorburn was both shocking and surprising in that no one had him heading to the desert. He holds the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise record for games played, but his three goals last season make this pick rather strange for a team needing something other than a four-minute player.

PHILADELPHIA: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - forward. The French forward was a trusted member of Dave Hakstol's checking unit, and he was recently named as an assistant captain due to his leadership in the room. If intangibles were what McPhee and Foley were looking for, they found it with Bellemare who could be a captain with the Golden Knights this season.

TAMPA BAY: Jason Garrison - defenceman. I was a little surprised by this pick, but if Vegas needs scoring from the blue line they could find it with Garrison's booming shot. He won't be a top-line defender, but he'd fit nicely as a middling blueliner. He had a rather poor season last year, but a change of scenery could get Garrison back to old self with the cannon of a shot.

NY ISLANDERS: J-F Berube - goaltender. The 25 year-old has 13 wins in the 25 NHL games he has played, but his stat line isn't all that impressive with a 3.11 GAA and a .900 save percentage. He will get a shot to compete for the backup role, but I expect Berube to anchor the goaltending position for the Chicago Wolves.

NASHVILLE: James Neal - forward. Outstanding pick for the Golden Knights, but it seems most of the media believes he'll be traded once he has recovered from his impending surgery. If Vegas decides to hold onto Neal, though, they are getting a guy who loves to fill the net. The sniper has seven-straight 20-goal seasons, and he would be the bonafide scoring threat in Vegas.

CALGARY: Deryk Engelland - defenceman. Look, I get that he lives in Vegas and has played in Vegas, but if the Golden Knights needed someone for the marketing department they didn't need to waste this pick. Engelland may not even crack the Knights' roster with the defencemen they have assembled, but he is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 so this could be a pick for pick's sake.

TORONTO: Brendan Leipsic - forward. I've always been a Leipsic fan, and I loved watching him with the Toronto Marlies. He scores in bundles in the AHL, but he's only been in six NHL games. I expect him to start in Chicago next season, but possibly end the season as a member of the Golden Knights.

BOSTON: Colin Miller - defenceman. I get the youth idea that Vegas is fostering, but Colin Miller's 13 points in 61 games last season won't scare anyone at this point. He'll enter his third year of pro hockey looking for a spot on the blue line, but he may end up in Chicago simply due to numbers.

OTTAWA: Marc Methot - defenceman. Again, another pick that I love. Methot is the kind of gritty, defensive defenceman that all teams can use, and the Golden Knights picked him up for nothing. While there have been inquiries from what the media have said on his availability, I'd really like to see Vegas hold on to him, give him a letter, and let him anchor this blue line.

SAN JOSE: David Schlemko - defenceman. Vegas grabs another serviceable defenceman who will make them better. His 18 points in 62 games with the Sharks last season isn't overwhelming, but Schlemko is another solid, physical player who can stand up to the rigors of the Western Conference. There's a chance he could be moved being 30 years-old, but if he stays the Golden Knights are better for it.

ST. LOUIS: David Perron - forward. A fantastic addition for the club, Perron is going to fit nicely alongside a player like Cody Eakin. Perron can score, he hits, he checks, and he isn't afraid to go to the net. He could be a big piece of the offence for the Golden Knights at even-strength and on the power-play.

NY RANGERS: Oscar Lindberg - forward. He started the season on fire, but slowed as Alain Vignault moved him into the fourth-line centerman role. He has great hands, good speed, and he should have a shot at the third-line centerman role on this Vegas team. Lindberg won't wow you with flashy moves, but he's a solid piece down the middle.

EDMONTON: Griffin Reinhart - defenceman. The fourth-overall pick in 2012 has yet to find room on a roster, seeing action in just 37 games since being drafted. Reinhart's progress will need to really take a step forward if he expects to make the opening night roster, but I expect the defender to start the season with the Chicago Wolves.

MONTREAL: Alexei Emelin - defenceman. Emelin is known more for his physical game than anything else, so the Knights will still be searching for some offence from their blue line. The physical presence that Emelin brings will be needed, but his foot speed has shown to leave him vulnerable against speedy forwards. He may be traded before the season starts.

ANAHEIM: Clayton Stoner - defenceman. Stoner has never scored more than two goals in a season, and has never played more than 69 games in a season, so it was a little odd to see Vegas select him after appearing in just 14 games last season for the Ducks. Stoner will most likely end up on a bottom pairing or watching from the press box this season.

MINNESOTA: Erik Haula - forward. I really like this pick. Haula has gotten better every season since joining the Wild in 2013. He's most likely going to play a third- or fourth-line role, but the Golden Knights get a very responsible forward who can add goals when called upon in an offensive role. Gallant will love this kid moving forward.

COLUMBUS: William Karlsson - forward. The Golden Knights grabbed the one kid who could make the biggest leap next year in a new role. Karlsson was a tireless penalty killer for the Blue Jackets, and he's shown good speed, good hands, and smart defensive play in his short time in the NHL. Having Karlsson on the roster will make the Knights better next season.

CHICAGO: Trevor Van Riemsdyk - defenceman. The Golden Knights grab another middling defenceman, and they appear they may have a glut of these types of defencemen if they start the season with this roster intact. TVR has a shot at sticking around if he continues to improve as he did this season, but there's a good shot he's playing second or third pairing to start the season.

PITTSBURGH: Marc-Andre Fleury - goaltender. In a pre-arranged deal with the Golden Knights, it was nice to see Fleury get the standing ovation from the Vegas crowd. Fleury is, of course, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Penguins where he was a key piece in their advancing through the first two rounds, and his experience in the NHL should make him the favorite to the opening starter for the Golden Knights.

WASHINGTON: Nate Schmidt - defenceman. I wouldn't be surprised if Nate Schmidt is paired with Jason Garrison on the second pairing this season for the Golden Knights. He's a smart defenceman who never quits, and he has great foot speed and footwork. Schmidt might have the highest ceiling of any of the defencemen selected on the night, and the 25 year-old should be a fixture for the Golden Knights for years to come.

Thanks to the NHL allowing pre-arranged deals to be made, the Golden Knights were also involved in a number of trades where they selected lesser players off unprotected lists to help teams keep their assets. In doing so, the Golden Knights received a few extra players who will help them immensely next season along with picks that will make them stronger in the future. In these deals, they acquired:
  • Shea Theodore, defenceman, from Anaheim.
  • Reilly Smith, forward, from Florida.
  • Alex Tuch, forward, from Minnesota.
  • Mikhail Grabovski, forward, and Jake Bischoff, defenceman, from the New York Islanders.
  • Nikita Gusev, forward, from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • David Clarkson, forward, from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Clarkson, as you're probably aware, is already retired from a chronic injury, so this was a case of Vegas eating a contract to acquire Columbus' first-round pick this year and a 2019 second-round pick.

The Chris Thorburn pick saw the Jets swap their 13th-overall pick and a third-round pick in 2019 for Columbus' first-round pick at 24th-overall plus the selection of Chris Thorburn while protecting Tobias Enstrom and Marko Dano.

There were a number of other picks exchanged in the deals, but Vegas ended up only giving up a fourth-round pick in 2018 in the Reilly Smith deal and a third-round pick in either 2017 or 2018 in the Alex Tuch deal.

The playoffs may still be a pipe dream for the Vegas nights, but I really like the initial team assembled by McPhee and Foley. Admittedly, there will be some weak spots on the team, but they have a bonafide starting goaltender in Fleury, a solid backup in Pickard, a good top pairing of Theodore and Methot, a solid second pairing of Schmidt and Garrison, and they have some decent scoring options with Marchessault, Neal, Smith, and Perron occupying the top four winger positions.

Don't bet on Vegas just yet, but it may not be far off where Vegas odds-makers are putting the Golden Knights in the top-half of the NHL odds to win a Stanley Cup.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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