2017-18 Player Review: Grading the Golden Knights who will not return for Year 2

James Neal, David Perron and Luca Sbisa are no longer part of the organization, but here’s a look back at their 2017-18 performances.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

Thirty skaters played in at least one game for the Golden Knights last season. Of those 30, six are no longer with the organization. One is Vadim Shipachyov, who, well, you know...didn’t quite work out. Another is Jason Garrison, who spent most of the year in the AHL, playing just eight games for Vegas (Garrison recently earned a professional tryout with Edmonton). Brendan Leipsic was traded at the deadline to Vancouver after dressing in 44 games for the Knights last year.

That leaves James Neal, David Perron and Luca Sbisa, all of whom finished the 2017-18 season with the Knights after playing in at least 20 games. Even though they are no longer Golden Knights, each had a hand in Vegas’ remarkable inaugural campaign. Here’s an overview of their performances.

James Neal

James “The Real Deal” Neal was one of the most highly-anticipated expansion draft selections by the Golden Knights after the Predators elected to not protect him last summer. It was initially believed that Neal would serve as a nice trade chip at the deadline, though Vegas flipped the script with a record-shattering inaugural campaign. But did Neal live up to his billing?

Season in review

Neal scored 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games as a member of Vegas’ second line. He was the best offensive player on the team at the start of the season, scoring six goals in the first four games of the year and a team-high 10 points in October. He managed 17 goals through Dec. 19 but scored just eight goals for the rest of the regular season.

His Corsi For percentage was above 50 percent (50.51), but his shot share (49.6), goal share (46.39), scoring chance share (49.83), high-danger corsi share (46.75) and high-danger goal share (44.23) were less than stellar.

Neal added six goals and 11 points in 20 postseason games, good for fourth overall on the team. However, his play and effectiveness were both inconsistent throughout the playoffs, and he wasn’t reliable on a nightly basis. He had just two points in the Winnipeg series (both in Game 3) and four points in the final two rounds combined.

Standout moment

Neal was involved in many crucial plays for the Golden Knights last season, especially early on. After all, he scored the first Knights goal in franchise history. But it was his second goal on opening night that was truly memorable (and underrated) as he scored from his knees while falling, sending a beautiful wrister over Kari Lehtonen to give the Knights a 2-1 lead late in the third.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the one play that stands out most from last season was Neal’s critical go-ahead goal in Game 3 against Los Angeles. Vegas may have swept Los Angeles in the end, but the series was extremely tight, and Game 3 was a clear turning point. Neal’s play helped the Knights take a 3-0 series stranglehold, and it was a crafty play at a very clutch time. Neal picked up the puck at the blue line, side-stepped defenseman Oscar Fantenberg with a beautiful deke along the boards and brought the puck in on Jonathan Quick, beating him five-hole to give the Knights the lead.

KOI composite grade: B-

Knights On Ice awarded Neal a composite grade of B-, with individual grades ranging all the way from C- to A. However, most grades fell in the B- and B range.

It’s not surprising to see such variation in Neal’s assessment considering his up-and-down year. Yes, he scored 20-plus goals, as he has done in all 10 years of his NHL career. However, Neal was one of the streakier scorers in the lineup, and after an inspiring start didn’t do a whole lot in the second half of the season. To be fair, Neal may have been held to higher standards given his sniper status, but 44 points is not all that impressive at the end of the day, especially compared to what many of his teammates were able to do.

No one was expecting a repeat of his 40-goal, 81-point season with Pittsburgh in 2011-12, but Neal finished sixth on the Knights in scoring, trailing all five other top-six forwards by at least 10 points. Twenty-five goals is nothing to scoff at, but it still felt like a disappointing finish for someone who was considered one of Vegas’ top two stars (along with Marc-Andre Fleury) headed into the season. His contributions in the playoffs were inconsistent as well, which was a factor in his final grade.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Neal signed a five-year, $28.75 million contract with the Calgary Flames on July 2, thus ending his brief stint as a member of the Golden Knights. It’s likely Neal will skate on the Flames’ top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, which means he could have a monster season. Calgary and Vegas are scheduled to square off four times this year; the Knights first face the Flames Nov. 19 in Calgary, and Neal will return to T-Mobile Arena for the first time Nov. 23. Check out Matchsticks & Gasoline to follow Neal’s progress throughout the year.

How would you grade Neal’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below1

David Perron

Perron, like Neal, was considered one of the best offensive talents on the Knights headed into the season, and he did not disappoint. The tough, skilled winger got off to a great start, recording five points in the first six games of the season, and the production didn’t stop. Despite several injuries, Perron was a dependable contributor on the ice and a veteran leader in the locker room.

Season in review

Perron had an excellent regular season playing with Neal and Erik Haula on the second line. Like 10 other members of the Golden Knights, Perron had a career year, establishing career highs in assists (50) and points (66) in 70 games. He finished first on the Knights in assists and third in points while also managing the second-most power-play points with 18.

However, like the other members of Vegas’ second line, Perron’s possession numbers were not ideal. In fact, his 5-on-5 numbers fell below 50 percent in most categories, including Corsi For percentage (49.21), Goals For percentage (47.92), High-Danger Corsi For percentage (42.72) and High-Danger Goals For percentage (41.18).

That being said, Perron was clutch, reliable and consistent. His 3.13 points per 60 minutes and 2.36 primary points per 60 minutes ranked second on the team among players who played in at least three games, and his 3.13 P/60 ranked 19th in the NHL among players with at least 100 minutes of ice time.

But it was a tale of two seasons for Perron, who struggled considerably in the playoffs. He was a healthy scratch, got demoted to bottom-six duties and scored just one goal throughout four rounds of the postseason, finally getting through on a wild play in Game 5 against Washington, the final game of the year. He managed just two points in seven games in the final two rounds of the playoffs, and he contributed just two points on the man advantage throughout the entire postseason.

Standout moment

Perhaps the prettiest play Perron made last year was a toe-drag goal against Vancouver in November. It may not have been overly significant, but it was certainly a beauty and a clear display of Perron’s skill.

Another memorable one was his game-winning goal against Buffalo early in the season. Ironically, Perron, Neal and Sbisa were all on the ice for this one as Perron sent a laser top shelf to give the Knights the 5-4 win in extra time.

KOI composite grade: B+

Knights On Ice awarded Perron a composite grade of B+, with individual grades ranging from B to A-.

Perron had a remarkable regular season but fell off the map in the playoffs, which is why his grade fell out of the A range. Even though he set a career high in postseason points (9), Perron looked like a shell of the player he had been in the regular season. This is not necessarily new for Perron, who has often delivered underwhelming postseason performances. In fact, he has yet to score more than one playoff goal in a single season as a member of four different teams.

At the same time, a B+ is still a solid grade, and Perron is beyond worthy of praise for his 2017-18 performance as a whole. Along with Neal and Haula, Perron gave Vegas the ability to play two top lines every night, and Perron set career highs in assists (50), points (66), power-play points (18) and overtime goals (3); also, he tied his career high in game-winning goals with 4. However, it was nevertheless a disappointing finish for someone who had such a fantastic year.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Despite both Vegas and Perron showing interest in reaching an extension, Perron ultimately signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the St. Louis Blues July 1. This will be Perron’s third stint in St. Louis, which is likely why he was willing to take less money than he was seeking from the Knights; after all, he loved his time with the Blues.

St. Louis has had a busy offseason, acquiring Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres as well as signing Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and Perron via free agency. As with Neal and Calgary, the Knights are set to take on Perron and the Blues twice in November; the first meeting will be in St. Louis on Nov. 1, and Perron will return to Vegas Nov. 16. Vegas also will play in St. Louis March 25. You can keep up with Perron by following the coverage of St. Louis Game Time.

How would you grade Perron’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0

Luca Sbisa

It wasn’t all that surprising when the Golden Knights chose to take Sbisa in the expansion draft. The Vancouver Canucks were bare of talent and the Knights were in desperate need of veteran defensemen to begin the season. While their decision to claim Sbisa wasn’t necessarily a bad one, though, the end result certainly wasn’t what the Knights were hoping for.

Season in review

Sbisa has never been known for his play-driving ability, even despite being drafted 19th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008, and he kept that narrative alive and well last season.

Out of every skater to appear in a Golden Knights regular season game last year, Sbisa was far and away the team’s least effective player from a possession standpoint. As a matter of fact, not only was he the least effective play-driver on the Knights’ roster, but he was one of the very worst defensemen in the entire NHL in this regard. His 43.17 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 ranked seventh-worst out of 238 NHL blueliners to play at least 300 minutes on the season. That, folks, is not good!

Of course, Corsi For percentage isn’t always a surefire estimate of a player’s true worth. Niklas Hjalmarsson, for example, typically falls below the 50-percent threshold in CF%, but is widely regarded as one of the league’s better defensive defensemen.

Sbisa, however, is not Niklas Hjalmarsson and does not possess a sturdy defensive game to fall back on. Incredibly, Sbisa may be just as much of a liability defensively as he is offensively.

Yikes! That’s a whole lot of red and not nearly enough blue.

Standout moment

I have a really hard time thinking of a positive standout moment for Sbisa, so I’ll just go ahead and look toward his reaction to Reilly Smith’s game-winning goal in Game 4 against the Winnipeg Jets as his most memorable moment.

Utter joy in its purest form.

KOI composite grade: C-

Sbisa was one of the lowest-graded Golden Knights players from last season. Along with Sbisa, only William Carrier and Oscar Lindberg were given C- grades for their 2017-18 performance. One KOI member gave Sbisa a C for the year, but another was far more critical, giving the 28-year-old a D grade.

In all honesty, it’s a little surprising Sbisa managed a grade even that high. Sbisa was likely the Knights’ least-effective player and failed miserably in the postseason, directly aiding in the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Capitals in Game 5 of the Final. Granted, Sbisa did play a significant role in the locker room. He wore an ‘A’ on his sweater for a reason, which may have positively influenced his final grade to a degree.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Sbisa still hasn’t been signed to an NHL contract and the preseason begins in just a couple weeks. Not a great sign for the veteran blueliner.

How would you grade Sbisa’s 2017-18 performance?