Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee knew he wanted to build his blue line. He also publicly stated his desire to load up on draft picks for the future. Mission accomplished on both accounts.
Wednesday’s expansion draft was the culmination of a nearly a year’s worth of research, scouting, preparation, and backroom deals. McPhee made it no secret that he was going to select a surplus of defenseman even though he only had to pick nine. The extra blue line picks would then be used to acquire more assets from other teams looking to build up their defensive depth.
George McPhee: “We’re going to have to move some defencemen because we’re going to claim a bunch.”
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 20, 2017
Before the draft, McPhee knew he held all the cards, cutting several side deals with teams for extra draft picks in exchange for not taking certain players. But most of all, he also made sure to grab his franchise goalie. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury instantly became the face of the Golden Knights. The 32-year-old netminder, owner of three Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins, was the least surprising pick at the expansion draft. He received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd at T-Mobile Arena for both the expansion draft and NHL Awards Show.
Fleury will have his hands full some nights being the starting goaltender for an expansion team, but it was so crucial that Vegas found a quality netminder to lead the league’s newest team in their inaugural season.
In addition to Fleury, the Golden Knights also made it a priority to acquire that surplus of defensemen. However, it didn’t take long for McPhee to move a couple of those extra blue-liners. Less than 24 hours after choosing him in the expansion draft, Vegas traded Trevor Van Riemsdyk and a 2017 7th round pick to Carolina. In return, Vegas receives a 2017 2nd round pick. Carolina picked up that choice from Pittsburgh in the Ron Hainsey trade at the trade deadline.
The Golden Knights also sent defenseman David Schlemko, who they took from San Jose in the expansion draft, to Montreal. In exchange, they received a 2019 5th round pick. Vegas probably isn’t done making deals, but they acquired plenty of depth on their blue line. They also chose Marc Methot and Alexei Emelin, a pair of blue-liners from Ottawa and Montreal, respectively. Methot has already reportedly generated plenty of interest across the league. Meaning it wouldn’t be surprising to see him moved some time this summer. Vegas also chose an up-and-coming puck-moving defenseman in Washington’s Nate Schmidt. In addition, they selected Brayden McNabb from Los Angeles, Jason Garrison from Tampa Bay, and Clayton Stoner and Shea Theodore from Anaheim. The Ducks gave up Theodore as a favor to Vegas for not choosing rearguards like Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson.
The Golden Knights rounded out their defensive depth with Colin Miller, Deryk Engelland, Griffin Reinhart, Jon Merrill, and Luca Sbisa.
When it comes to forwards, Vegas didn’t have as much top-end talent to choose from. However, their choices weren’t completely devoid of offensive ability.
Their most notable choice up front was Nashville winger James Neal, who has hit the 20-goal mark in each of his nine NHL seasons split between Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Nashville. Neal’s contract ends next summer, and as a result, he’s a strong candidate for a trade at next season’s trade deadline. Vegas also selected Jonathan Marchessault from Florida after he broke out with a career high 30 goals. Marchessault’s availability was a surprise. What was even more shocking was Florida acquiring a 2018 4th round pick from Vegas in exchange for forward Reilly Smith, who had signed an extension worth $5 million a year last summer. Smith notched 25 and 15 goals in each of the last two seasons. Cody Eakin (Dallas), William Karlsson (Columbus), Erik Haula (Minnesota), and David Perron (St. Louis) are among the notable forwards chosen by the Golden Knights.
However, one of Vegas’s primary goals heading into the expansion draft was accumulating draft assets. After all of the wheeling and and dealing heading into Wednesday night, Vegas walked away with an extra 10 draft picks over the next four drafts, including this year. That doesn’t include the two picks they acquired in the deals for Van Riemsdyk and Schlemko. Heading into this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft, the Golden Knights own a staggering 13 picks, including three first rounders among the first 15 picks.
While Vegas doesn’t figure to be anywhere near the playoff race in their inaugural season, give credit for McPhee and his staff for having a vision for their team and a plan in building up assets for the future.
They took advantage of the expansion draft rules and asked for picks and prospects in exchange for not taking more highly-regarded players. Rather than trying to win a few extra games next season, Vegas is looking to build a franchise based on home-grown talent. Only time will tell whether or not that approach works, but it should be a fascinating process to watch play out. In the meantime, their goaltending should keep them competitive as far as expansion teams go, but don’t expect this team to be a serious playoff contender right away.
Here’s the list of Vegas’s entire roster and the teams they acquired those players from. Players acquired in side deals struck with certain teams to stay away from certain players are denoted by asterisks. Any draft picks picked up by Vegas can also be seen in the list below.
Clayton Stoner (D) and Shea Theodore (D)*
Theodore given up by Anaheim in exchange for not selecting defensemen Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson
Teemu Pulkkinen (F)
Colin Miller (D)
William Carrier (F)
Buffalo surrendered a 2017 6th round pick to the Golden Knights in exchange for Vegas agreeing to take Carrier
Deryk Engelland (D)
Connor Brickley (F)
Vegas acquired a 2017 5th round pick in exchange for not taking Lee Stempniak, Joakim Nordstrom, Eddie Lack, or Cam Ward
Trevor Van Riemsdyk (D)
Van Riemsdyk would be traded to Carolina along with a 2017 7th round pick in exchange for a 2017 2nd round pick
Calvin Pickard (G)
Columbus Blue Jackets
Willaim Karlsson (F) and David Clarkson (F)*
Columbus traded their 2017 1st round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick to Vegas in exchange for acquiring Clarkson and reportedly for not choosing Josh Anderson or Joonas Korpisalo.
Cody Eakin (F)
Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Nosek (F)
Griffin Reinhart (D)
Jonathan Marchessault (F) and Reilly Smith (F)*
Vegas traded a 2018 4th round pick to Florida in exchange for Smith
Los Angeles Kings
Brayden McNabb (D)
Erik Haula (F) and Alex Tuch (F)*
Vegas gets Tuch in exchange for a 3rd round pick in 2017 or 2018 while agreeing not to take Matt Dumba, Eric Staal, or Marco Scandella.
Alexei Emelin (D)
James Neal (F)
New Jersey Devils
Jon Merrill (D)
New York Islanders
J.F. Berube (G), Mikhail Grabovski (F)*, and Jake Bischoff (D)*
Vegas also received a 2017 1st round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick in exchange for choosing Berube
New York Rangers
Oscar Lindberg (F)
Marc Methot (D)
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (F)
Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
Vegas also receives Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick in 2020
San Jose Sharks
David Schlemko (D)
Schlemko was traded to Montreal for a 2019 5th round pick
St. Louis Blues
David Perron (F)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Jason Garrison (D) and Nikita Gusev (F)*
Vegas also acquired a 2017 2nd round pick, a 2018 4th round pick, and the rights to Gusev in exchange for reportedly not choosing Jake Dotchin or Slater Koekkoek
Toronto Maple Leafs
Brendan Leipsic (F)
Luca Sbisa (D)
Nate Schmidt (D)
Chris Thorburn (F)
Vegas receives a 2019 3rd round pick from the Jets in exchange for selecting Thorburn. Vegas then flipped the 2017 1st round pick they got from Columbus in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2017 1st round selection.