The expansion draft was Wednesday night with the annual NHL Award Show last night, hosted by Sofia Vergara‘s husband Joe Manganiello. In honor of Ms. Vergara, we’ll start your expansion draft with our own award…
The “Water Cooler Sports WAG of the Night” – Melinda Currey (see: Erik Karlsson)
Karlsson may have been the runner-up to Brent Burns for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defensemen, but he took home the most prestigious award of the night in top WAG!! Congrats Erik!!
Now time for the main event… the Golden Knights Expansion Draft!!
Pick 1: Calvin Pickard (Avalanche).
The very first player on the Golden Knight’s was Calvin Pickard. He got to start 50 games this last season for the Av’s with Semyon Varlamov being out a majority of the year with injuries. As the Golden Knights’ third goaltender, what more could you ask for? He has experience as an everyday starter and one year as a rookie before being a rookie free agent. Nice, but anti-climactic start – the draft should have been a random order not worst to first.
Picks 2 – 5: Luca Sbisa (Canucks), Teemu Pulkkinen (Coyotes), Jon Merrill (Devils), William Carrier (Sabres).
Sbisa was the best pick out of this group. This man is not afraid to show some grit with over 100 shot blocks and 100 hits last year. Pulkinen and Carrier are most likely career minor leaguers. The Sabres had the first trade of the night, and gave the Golden Knights a sixth round pick to not select a player. This is gotta be one of the strangest moments in sports – a trade, in which one team gets picks and the other merely a handshake deal to pass on a player. They Sabres didn’t receive any draft pick, player, or cash, but just GM George McPhee’s word. And really the most notable fact on Merrill is that he has played the second most NHL games by any player from Oklahoma. What an achievement!
Picks 6 & 7: Cody Eakin (Stars) & Tomas Nosek (Red Wings).
The first major gaff of the night occurred as Owner Bill Foley got a little too excited and announced Eakin ahead of Nosek. Who can blame him? Eakin will be a starting center for the Knight’s for the next three years, while Nosek will probably never don a golden sweater. The Knight’s are hoping for a major bounce back after Eakin only had three goals last season after he had at least 16 goals the previous three season.
Picks 8 – 10: Jonathan Marchessault (Panthers), Brayden McNabb (Kings), Connor Brickley (Hurricanes).
When the Panthers released their unprotected list everyone was shocked to see Marchessault on it. Last year, he scored thirty goals for the Panthers. He was tied in goals scored with Ted Lindsey Award (Best Player as Voted by Players) Winner – Connor McDavid & one more goal than Norris Trophy Winner – Brent Burns. Yes, he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but Las Vegas will have plenty of cap space and the motivation to overpay for their first potential franchise skater. Not only did the Panthers lose Marchessault, but additionally traded away Reilly Smith for a fourth round pick. This move was definitely a salary cap dump as he is due to make $5 million a year for the next five years. Smith will definitely be the longest signed player for the Knights after tonight. Last year was not a great season for him as his goals scored fell from 25 to 15 and he posted a -13 for plus/minus. Brayden McNabb became the first Golden Knight player as he was their in person to show off the black sweater. A great way to start that natural rivalry with the LA Kings by inviting their former player to the expansion draft and assuring McNabb’s photo will be plastered all over the internet. Cheers to you Foley and McPhee for a great sneak diss on the Kings.
Pick 11: Chris Thornburn (Jets).
The news here is not the pick, but the trade. In order to steer McPhee and the Golden Knights away from Toby Enstrom, they parted with their first round pick and a future second round pick in exchange for the Blue Jackets first round pick. I give props to the Jets on this deal, Thornburn will probably never play for Vegas and they will still have a first round pick this season.
Pick 12 – 14: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Flyers), Jason Garrison (Lighting), J.F. Berube (Islanders).
Not much news here as far as the players go, they got a French hockey player from the Flyers, nine year veteran from the Lightning with only one goal last season, and another back-up goalie from the Islanders. But the Golden Knights did get a wealth of draft picks with future second and fourth round draft picks from the Lightning and a 2017 first round pick and a 2019 second round pick from the Islanders.
Pick 15 & 16: James Neal (Predators) & Deryk Engelland (Flames).
The first playoff teams did not fail to deliver as Las Vegas takes hometown hero Engelland from the Flames and perpetual twenty plus goal scorer, James Neal. Hopefully the Knights got some assurance for signing a contract, as he is a unrestricted free agent this offseason. Deryk, learn from LeBron don’t screw over the hometown, Las Vegas cannot afford any jersey burnings with so few jerseys in the public. In regards to Neal, best of luck resigning him. It will be extremely difficult keeping both Neal and Marchessault.
Pick 17 & 18: Brendan Leipsic (Maple Leafs) & Colin Miller (Bruins).
The Knights got a decent prospect in Leipsic from the Maple Leafs, but the big news here is Colin Miller. It took four picks, but I finally projected one correctly. I feel good to get off the schnied. I was going to be pretty embarrassed if I went 0-16, tonight. Oh, and Miller has a RIFLE for a slap shot being clocked at over 105 mph!
Pick 19 – 22: Marc Methot (Senators), David Schlemko (Sharks), David Perron (Blues) & Oscar Lindberg (Rangers).
Methot will be one of their top blue-liners and a potential captain or assistant captain for the Golden Knights. Methot is a player that all top forwards hate to play against and will bring some real nastiness to the expansion team. Schlemko could be Methot’s future linemate and will give the team a good defensive unit. David Perron will most likely play opposite of James Neal on the Knights top line or Marchessault on the second line. Like those two right wingers, he is only signed for one season. Lastly, Las Vegas passed on my number one choice of Antti Raanta and saved the top goalie slot for Fleury. Lindberg is a plug-and-play fourth line center who has talent on both ends of the ice. The only issue here is that he is a restricted free agent meaning that potentially a team could either jack-up his price or lure him away.
Pick 23 & 24: Griffin Reinhart (Oilers) & Alexei Emelin (Canadiens).
The Golden Knights went with back-to-back defensemen, which was a little puzzling especially with neither player signed past this year. The big bonus here is Alexei is not only a top or second line blue-line, but has an added versatility from being left-handed. The Oilers did not have to much talent for Vegas to choose from and will definitely be looking to make more trades with 13 defensemen on the roster.
Picks 25 & 26: Clayton Stoner (Ducks) & Erik Haula (Wild).
The Ducks not only gave up Stoner, but also had to trade away Shea Theodore. Likewise the Wild lost Haula and traded away 2014 first round pick, Alex Tuch. This was the real fun of the draft both the Ducks and Wild did not want to lose Josh Manson & Matt Dumba, respectively. To achieve these goals they both paid a kings ransom. This is were McPhee really raked some teams over the coals. Yes, Matt Dumba and Eric Staal are better than Erik Haula, but Haula is a 26-year old center that just notched his career-high with 15 goals and is signed for three years. Stability was tough to come by in this draft for the Knights and they got at least one player signed long term here.
Picks 27 & 28: William Karlsson (Blue Jackets) & Trevor van Riemsdyk (Blackhawks).
The trades keep rolling in as the Blue Jackets traded away David Clarkson, their 2017 first round pick, and 2019 second round pick. That first round pick was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for their 2017 first round pick and their 2019 third round pick. The Blue Jackets had announced this trade a few days ago in order to dump Clarkson’s salary after back injuries may have ended his career. McPhee turned around and turned this late first round pick into a high first round pick by swapping it with the Jets for protection of Toby Enstrom. This leaves Vegas with three picks in the top 15 of this year’s NHL draft – talk about setting yourself up to build a team for the future. The van Riemsdyk pick was an easy one for the Knights – an established third-line defenseman with a high ceiling and excellent experience coming from the Blackhawks.
Picks 29 & 30: Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins) & Nate Schmidt (Capitals).
Not only did the Las Vegas get their goalie in Fleury, but somehow they also received Pittsburgh’s 2020 third round pick. What could that have possibly been to protect? Did McPhee need a little extra push to choose Fleury? All-in-all it was a great moment as Fleury took center stage and the fans got to cheer on their netminder as he will be the most worn jersey in town following tonight’s draft. Lastly, the draft ended with a whimper as the Knights select their 13th and one of the least recognizable defenseman in Mr. Schmidt. I doubt he will ever be on the Vegas roster as a restricted free agent.
This whole draft was awesome to watch and hear all the cheers of the hometown crowd as their team was built in front of their eyes. This is only the first step in the formation of Vegas’s inaugural team. There is still free agency where they can look to add more/different players including the contract negotiations for six of last night’s draft picks. There will be many trades as the Knights currently consist of thirteen defensemen and seven centers. Some centers may move to wing positions, but the blue-liners need to be trimmed down to nine. And finally, there is the draft where the Knights hold three first round draft choices and two early second round choices. You would currently struggle to put together a full roster with the lack of winger depth. With only three potential top three-line wingers in Neal, Perron, and Smith. The could opt to move some centermen out of position, such as Machessault (who at 5’9″ does not have prototypical size to be a top-line center). So there will be numerous trades and signing in the near future as only nine of the thirty picks taken last night have contracts beyond this season.
So good luck to the Golden Knights!! I am sure you will be making many more headlines this offseason.