Editor’s note: We are running four mock drafts leading up to Wednesday’s expansion draft. The second is Tommy Chalk’s projections.
With the NHL’s collective protected lists made public, it’s now crunch time for general manager George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.
This is a prediction of what the expansion draft may yield for the Golden Knights. But what makes this such a difficult process is the unknown when it comes to agreed upon deals McPhee has made for outside teams.
So while defenseman Matt Dumba is available for the Golden Knights to draft, the Wild’s general manager, Chuck Fletcher, may have a deal to make sure McPhee doesn’t draft the promising young blue liners.
Some deals are already believed to have been processed. The Columbus Blue Jackets reportedly will send Vegas their 24th-overall pick if they don’t select Jack Johnson, Josh Anderson or Joonas Korpisalo. A deal may be in place with the New York Islanders, who would also send their first-round pick if the Golden Knights lay off Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome. The Anaheim Ducks may have an agreed upon deal to not select Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson. And a deal may be in place with the Chicago Blackhawks, where Vegas selects Marcus Kruger and they also acquire Trevor Van Riemsdyk in a separate trade.
In making these selections, I will keep the reported deals in hopes of making this edition of the team as close as I can to reality. So, without further ado, here are my expansion draft selections.
Anaheim Ducks - Chris Wagner, F
With an assumed deal in place to protect Vatanen and Manson, the Ducks have slim pickings for Vegas. Chris Wagner with six goals in 43 games this season in Anaheim, but, at 26, Wagner hasn’t been able to secure a full-time position, jumping between the NHL and the AHL.
Vegas may be better off trying to sign one of Anahiem’s upcoming UFAs. Patrick Eaves is an intriguing option, while bought out defenseman Simon Despres holds value and may come at a cheaper than advertised price. Despres will earn $662,500 from the Ducks without even playing for them.
Arizona Coyotes - Forward Alexander Burmistrov
Much of the Coyotes’ value is simply too inexperienced to be eligible for the expansion draft, but Alexander Burmistrov does hold some promise and potential. After the Coyotes acquired Burmistrov through waivers from the Winnipeg Jets, he recorded five goals and nine assists in 26 games. Since he was selected No. 8 overall in the 2010 draft, much has been expected from Burmistrov. Could his career kickstart in Vegas?
Boston Bruins - Defenseman Colin Miller
At 24, Colin Miller has the makings of a true top pairing defenseman. It was a bit surprising to see him exposed over teammate Kevan Miller. While Miller doesn't put the points on the board, he is extremely responsible defensively and he doesn’t slow the offensive flow of play.
Buffalo Sabres - Goaltender Linus Ullmark
Even though he is only 23, Linus Ullmark has 21 NHL games under his belt, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average behind a struggling Sabres team. Ullmark could serve as Vegas’ AHL option. At 6-foot-4, Ullmark has the size of a modern NHL goaltender. He may not be the option right away, but he could potentially be the franchise option of the future.
Calgary Flames - Forward Emile Poirier
Emile Poirier initially tore up the AHL in his first season with the Adirondack Flames, scoring 19 goals and recording 23 assists in 55 games, but he was never given an opportunity to play with Calgary. His progress has begin to slow, as this past season he recorded just six goals and 11 assists in 43 games. The 2013 No. 22 pick still holds potential, and may serve well in a bottom six role within Vegas.
Carolina Hurricanes - Forward Lee Stempniak
Lee Stempniak is the perfect veteran presence that the Golden Knights will need. The NHL journeyman (he’s played for ten different teams since 2009 and five in the last three seasons) scored 16 goals and 24 assists this season. Stempniak only has one year remaining on his contract at $2.5 million, so if Vegas isn’t in playoff contention next season, many teams would love him as a rental.
Chicago Blackhawks - Forward Marcus Kruger
It is widely believed the Blackhawks will trade Vegas Van Riemsdyk if they draft Kruger.
Colorado Avalanche - Goaltender Calvin Pickard
When Calvin Pickard was given the reigns after Semyon Varlamov went down with injury, he struggled, but that’s likely in part due to the porous defense in front of him. As a member of Team Canada in the World Championship, Pickard stood out, recording a .938 save percentage and a 1.49 goals against average in seven games. Pickard has the makings of a NHL franchise goaltender.
Columbus Blue Jackets - Forward William Karlsson
With the understanding that Columbus will send the No. 24 pick in this upcoming draft if Vegas doesn’t select Johnson, Korpisalo or Anderson, William Karlsson becomes the obvious choice.
Dallas Stars - Defenseman Dan Hamhuis
Dan Hamhuis was an early product of the Nashville Predators defensive juggernaut school. He has a relatively team-friendly contract at just $3.75 million through this season, and Hamhuis has proven he can adequately serve as a solid second-pairing defenseman and can shift to the top pairing if needed.
Detroit Red Wings - Defenseman Xavier Ouellet
Selecting goaltender Petr Mrazek is very tempting (and would be entirely understandable if that is the case), but Xavier Ouellet’s upside is just too much to ignore. At 23, Ouellet has not even reached his prime, yet he has proven that he is capable of producing offense from the blue line. While he had just 12 points in 66 games this season, Ouellet primarily played as a bottom-pairing player. In a full season in the AHL last season, Ouellet recorded 25 assists in 61 games. He can distribute the puck, and that is extremely valuable in today’s modern version of a defenseman.
Edmonton Oilers - Forward Benoit Pouliot
Benoit Pouliot, a lanky power forward-type player, is coming off of a relatively weak season by his standards with just 14 points on the year. But Pouliot, 30, didn’t have quite the same role this year as he did last year, when he managed to score 36 points in just 55 games. With so many young players commanding more time, and the insertion of Milan Lucic and the emergence of Patrick Maroon, Pouliot saw his average ice time per game trimmed from 16:03 minutes last season to 14:03 minutes this season. A larger role in Vegas may benefit Pouliot offensively.
Florida Panthers - Forward Jonathan Marchessault
One of the more surprising exposures across the NHL, Jonathan Marchessault scored 30 goals this season. At just $750,000 next season with one year remaining on his deal, this is an easy selection.
Los Angeles Kings - Forward Nick Shore
While players like Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik may be attractive options, both have massive cap hits on long deals that would ultimately hurt Vegas in the long run. Nick Shore can serve as a bottom-six forward right now, and at just 24 with a new deal needed, he won’t break the bank.
Minnesota Wild - Defenseman Matt Dumba
While the resurrection of Eric Staal’s career could mean that Vegas has the option of landing a 32-year-old capable of a nearly 70-point season, Matt Dumba is the wise investment. At just 24, Dumba has the makings of a true offensive weapon from the blue line. Marco Scandella would be another solid selection, and no one would fault McPhee if he goes with Staal.
Montreal Canadiens - Forward Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec becomes the second-most expensive player on the roster at $6 million for one season (we haven’t gotten to the most expensive player yet), but this selection allows Vegas to acquire a proven NHL scorer who is also respectable defensively.
Nashville Predators - Forward James Neal
The Predators’ great depth at the blue line and at the forward position essentially meant Vegas would automatically get a solid player. James Neal is a sniper, with 23 goals last season and 238 career goals in just 632 games.
New Jersey Devils - Defenseman Jon Merrill
Not much is available to Vegas from the New Jersey Devils, but Merrill could at the very least serve as a depth defenseman.
New York Islanders - Defenseman Calvin de Haan
After protecting five defensemen, including promising offensive blue liner Ryan Pulock, and an assumed deal in place that essentially protects every forward of value, not many options remain. But upcoming restricted free agent Calvin de Haan has a proven pedigree and could be a valuable player for the Golden Knights right away. Forward Josh Bailey could also be a valuable pick for Vegas, but there is a lot of unknown from the Islanders. What may be known from New York is that the Islanders will reportedly send their first round pick to Vegas, as well as Mikhail Grabovski. As part of the deal, Vegas will essentially choose one player that the Islanders designate. There’s a good chance it’s not de Haan, but assuming he is still available, de Haan should be the choice.
New York Rangers - Goaltender Antti Raanta
With many teams needing goaltenders, it would be wise for McPhee to stack his cupboard with talented goaltenders with the purpose to flip them for picks and prospects. Antti Raanta could be one of those guys. Playing in more games than what was initially expected this year (30 in total), Raanta excelled with a .922 save percentage, a 2.26 goals against average and four shutouts. Whether Vegas would like to keep him for themselves or trade him, there is a lot of value in this pick.
Ottawa Senators - Forward Bobby Ryan
It was an odd year for Bobby Ryan in Ottawa. Sometimes he was scratched, often times it was reported he was unhappy and he wasn’t really able to perform at the level that a $7.25 million player should perform at. Much of that is believed to be because Ryan did not buy into coach Guy Boucher 1-3-1 system, a traditionally boring way to play hockey. However, once playoffs started, Ryan’s talent began to flourish. A Ryan selection would make him the most expensive player on the roster, but there is no denying just how skilled he is. Selecting Ryan and allowing him to do his own thing may end up ultimately proving to be extremely wise.
Philadelphia Flyers - Forward Jordan Weal
The Philadelphia Flyers have a plethora of talented defensemen, but unfortunately none are eligible for the expansion draft. That leaves Vegas with few options when it comes to the Flyers. Michael Raffl could be the player selected, but that’s not who McPhee should go for.
Instead, McPhee should look to sign upcoming unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal. At 25, Weal was a point per game player in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (47 points in 43 games) and proved that he could continue that production in the NHL, with eight goals in 23 games. McPhee should approach Weal with the promise of a consistent NHL roster spot, and in return, he may get a surprising amount of goals.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
It is so tempting to select forward Bryan Rust, the Penguins proven clutch or even Carl Hagelin, a player with proven speed, but Marc-Andre Fleury seems to be the right choice.
Immediately, the Golden Knights would acquire a goaltender capable of taking the No. 1 role within the team. Fleury could mentor the younger goaltenders Vegas could potentially select, and it would even make some of the younger goalies expendable through trade. Fleury would be an important piece of the Vegas expansion puzzle.
San Jose Sharks - Defenseman Brenden Dillion
Defenseman Brenden Dillion would make for an excellent third pairing defenseman if the Golden Knights need him to be, but he could easily serve as a second pairing defenseman as well.
St. Louis Blues - Forward David Perron
Between forwards David Perron and Jori Lehtera, Vegas could really go either way. But Perron is the cheaper option. Immediately, Perron would be a veteran presence on the team, and as a proven scorer, he may end up being a key piece to Vegas’ success.
Tampa Bay Lightning - Defenseman Jake Dotchin
It was a bit surprising to see that 23-year-old Jake Dotchin was left available through the draft. The promising young defenseman recorded 11 assists in 35 games this season, and that scoring trend appears to be a pattern for Dotchin. Slater Koekkoek would also be a wise investment.
Toronto Maple Leafs - Defenseman Martin Marincin
The Toronto Maple Leafs are an incredibly young, inexperienced team. Most of their key players are not eligible for the expansion draft. But Martin Marincin may serve well as a depth defenseman for Vegas, possibly even as a third pairing player. Kerby Rychel, a battering ram forward who is the son of former NHLer Warren Rychel is also a distinct possibilty. Rychel had 52 points in 73 games this year in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies.
Vancouver Canucks - Forward Brendan Gaunce
The Canucks didn’t leave many options for Vegas, but Brendan Gaunce represents a bit of promise at just 23. The No. 26 pick in the 2012 draft hasn’t established himself as a NHL scorer yet with just one goal in 77 games, but a change of scenery may kick start that production.
Washington Capitals - Goaltender Philipp Grubauer
Sitting behind the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubbier didn’t get too many starts this past season, but when he did, he shined. In 19 starts, Grubauer had 13 wins, recording a .926 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average in the process. That’s actually statistically better than Holtby’s numbers this season, and much of those starts came on the tail end of back-to-back games for the Capitals, which obviously meant Grubauer was getting the short end of the stick more times than not. Grubauer has all the tools of an NHL goaltender as a disciple of goaltending guru Mitch Korn, and there’s strong familiarity between Grubauer and McPhee: McPhee drafted Grubauer with the 112th-overall pick in 2010.
Winnipeg Jets - Marko Dano
Like some of the other younger teams, the Winnipeg Jets didn’t leave many options for Vegas, but Marko Dano and his $850,000 cap hit next season really stands out. Dan hasn’t been able to maintain a spot on an NHLer roster yet (he was traded from the Blue Jackets to the Blackhawks to the Jets in a span of a year), but his speed could prove to be valuable in Vegas.
16 Forwards, 9 Defensemen, 5 Goaltenders
22 total 2017-18 contracts, $57.1 million in cap space
Projected Opening Night Roster
F1: James Neal — Vadim Shipachyov — David Perron
F2: Benoit Pouliot — Jonathan Marchessault — Bobby Ryan
F3: Jordan Weal — Tomas Plekanec — Lee Stempniak
F4: Marko Dano — Marcus Kruger — Alexander Burmistrov
D1: Calvin de Haan — Colin Miller
D2: Dan Hamhuis — Matt Dumba
D3: Brenden Dillion — Jake Dotchin
G1: Marc-Andre Fleury
G2: Philipp Grubauer