Editor’s note: This is the final installment of our mock draft series leading up to tonight’s festivities. Check out knightsonice.com to see who we all picked.
With the expansion draft drawing ever closer, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee has been fast at work making deals, great deals, deals that will make Las Vegas great again. As a result, this mock draft will not necessarily opt to take the best player available, but will rather factor in prior deals and likelihood of side deals that have yet to leak (hello, Anaheim).
McPhee’s task is every NHL 17 player’s dream—making a custom roster from scratch essentially, with of course the added wrinkle of stockpiling a veritable arsenal of draft picks. Below are my 30 picks that will, if I may, form the future:
Anaheim Ducks: Sami Vatanen, D ($4.875 million)
Both Vatanen and Josh Manson are quality defensemen, second-pairing caliber on a good team, first-pairing on a poor one. The 26-year-old Vatanen can quarterback a powerplay with ease and will be essential in helping the Knights break out and march up the ice. On the other hand, Manson has been an elite shot-suppressor in his limited time in the NHL. Both options are solid, but I think Vatanen wears black and gold next year.
Arizona Coyotes: Alex Burmistrov, F (RFA)
When a team is as young and barren as the Coyotes, there is barely anything in the cupboard for the Knights to raid. With that said, McPhee could roll the dice on the former top-10 pick, who tallied 14 points in 26 games after joining the ‘Yotes last year.
Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D ($1 million)
The best possession defenseman relative to his teammates in the the league last year was left unprotected. Now, while there is significant nuance to analyzing talent that extends way beyond Corsi, Miller still stands out as one of the best options for Vegas at this time and his youth only furthers such a notion.
Buffalo Sabres: William Carrier, F ($689,000)
Much like with Arizona, there is not a ton available to choose from in Buffalo. While netminder Linus Ullmark is a viable option, there has been some chatter about Carrier, most recently on the excellent Hockey PDOCast, led by Dimitri Filipovic. A 22-year-old with some upside could be a useful piece for the Knights.
Calgary Flames: Alex Chiasson, F (RFA)
Chiasson could be a solid addition to the bottom-six for Vegas, as he should be able to chip in double-digit goals while not hurting the team on the possession front. If Vegas opts to go younger, taking a flyer on inconsistent prospect Hunter Shinkaruk could be a savvy move.
Carolina Hurricanes: Joakim Nordstrom, F ($1.275 million)
Lee Stempniak is a popular pick, possibly due in part to folks hoping to see him add another jersey to his mancave, but I think Nordstrom is the play here. A 25-year-old on a cheap contract with the ability to play the pivot and kill penalties could work out nicely for Vegas—not every pick has to be flashy.
Chicago Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk, D ($825,000)
According to a report from CSN Chicago, the Blackhawks may be looking to get Vegas to take on Marcus Kruger in addition to van Riemsdyk. Frankly, unless there is something extra to sweeten the deal, I don’t understand such a move from the Knights’ perspective. Kruger is an overpaid defensive center and van Riemsdyk is a serviceable bottom-pairing defenseman. Don’t overthink things, George.
Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard, G ($1 million)
Pickard was thrust into a starting role last season after Semyon Varlamov went down with an injury and his results were mediocre (.904 SV%, 2.98 GAA). However, those should be taken with a grain of salt, considering he backstopped the league’s worst team by far. Plus, his .927 SV% across 36 games (26 starts) the previous two seasons shows there is something to be said for Pickard in net.
Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, F ($1 million)
As mentioned earlier, the Blue Jackets are offering the 24th pick in the upcoming draft to keep Vegas from taking a few of their unprotected players, like goalie Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Jack Johnson. Vegas could do a lot worse than getting Karlsson, a capable bottom-six center who is one of the game’s least penalized players (16 PIM in his past 162 regular season contests).
Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak, D (RFA)
You can’t teach height, and Oleksiak has that in spades. Few players can match his six-foot-seven, 255 pound frame, and he is not an awful skater to boot. In addition, the 24-year-old netted five even-strength tallies on the year, something accomplished by just 64 defenseman. Want something that’ll blow your mind? Oleksiak had as many EV goals as Shea Weber, and did it in 1,290 fewer minutes.
Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek, G ($4 million)
Talk about panicking at the first sign of distress! After lighting it up his first couple seasons, Mrazek had a notably difficult campaign in 2016-17 and now finds himself unprotected. Selecting him would not only allow the Knights to have a super tandem (alongside a player we’ll get to shortly), but also a goalie that could become a franchise player in a couple seasons.
Edmonton Oilers: Benoit Pouliot, F ($4 million)
Pouliot had one of the worst seasons of his professional career last year, limping to 14 points across 67 games. While the price tag does not appear to match the performance, Pouliot is a player with solid pedigree and could notch 20 goals with the usage that Vegas would likely give him. If he can get results throughout the first half of next year, he could be excellent deadline bait, giving McPhee another pick or two to hoard.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, F ($750,000)
Man, Florida has some bizarre protections, leaving Reilly Smith, Jason Demers and Marchessault up for grabs in the expansion draft. The latter is the biggest puzzle of the bunch, as Marchessault was one of 26 players to notch 30 goals last year and will run you under a million dollars this season. Sure, he’ll regress a bit, but pencil him in for second-line wing, stat. Expect Reilly Smith to be moved here as well.
Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D ($1.7 million)
Four points in 49 games is likely what led the Kings to leave McNabb available, but points do not tell the full story. The 26-year-old d-man, even considering his sheltered usage (15:04 per game, 64.7 percent offensive zone starts), would be a good get for the Golden Knights, as his team took over 60 percent of the shots at even strength when he was on the ice.
Minnesota Wild: Matt Dumba, D ($2.55 million)
Dumba is without a doubt one of the best players available in the expansion draft. The right-handed shot will be just 23 for the length of next season, can handle second-pair minutes as well as powerplay time, and his 0.45 points per game ranked 11th among defenseman under 25 last year. Marco Scandella and Eric Staal are tempting options here, but youth and promise shall rule the day.
Montreal Canadiens: Alex Radulov, F (UFA)
So here’s where things could get interesting. UFAs are allowed to be selected and, well, Montreal’s hardly got anything worthwhile to offer. Tomas Plekanec is too expensive, Alexei Emelin is too one-dimensional, and Daniel Carr solely exists in my mind as the second-line winger on my NHL 17 AHL roster. Radulov played on a line briefly with early Knight signee Vadim Shipachyov in international play and could instantly bolster the Vegas offense in year one.
Nashville Predators: James Neal, F ($5 million)
Speaking of players who can inject some offense into Sin City, Neal fits that bill as well as any player mentioned here. The one-time 40-goal scorer may be on the decline somewhat, but has the 14th-most goals in the NHL over the past six seasons. That makes him a de facto first-liner and likely one of the marquee attractions this coming season.
New Jersey Devils: Beau Bennett, F (RFA)
I guess. Their unprotected list was arguably the most uninspiring in the league, but it could be neat to take a chance on Bennett, who despite being one of the more injury-prone players in the league, has been a consistently strong possession player in his time in the NHL.
New York Islanders: Ryan Strome, F ($2.5 million)
Our friends at Lighthouse Hockey echoed the sentiments of many Isles fans with massive headscratching over their protected list. Now, a reported deal is in place to keep the Knights from poaching some of their talented players (likely Brock Nelson and Calvin de Haan) at the price of the No. 15 pick. Strome would be a fine selection here. While streaky, centers are hard to come by in this draft and I like him a lot more than Dallas’ Cody Eakin, to whom the Knights have been linked of late.
New York Rangers: Michael Grabner ($1.65 million)
Grabner used his upper-tier speed to boost the Rangers’ attack last year, eventually finishing in the league’s top-10 in even-strength goals with 26. Sure, he may be a tad one-dimensional, but goal-scoring is probably the favored dimension in the hockey world. I would also consider underrated puck-mover Adam Clendening or winger Jesper Fast in this slot if Grabner isn’t ... grabbed.
Ottawa Senators: Chris Wideman, D ($800,000)
While there might be a Methot to their madness, Wideman might actually be the better player? It’s crazy, but the non-referee assaulting Wideman blew his teammate out of the water in shot metrics and happens to be four years younger and much cheaper.
Philadelphia Flyers: Michael Raffl, F ($2.35 million)
Raffl is likely to get his golden ticket on Wednesday, as he appears to be the player Vegas will take from the Flyers. A one-time 20-goal scorer, Raffl could be a capable third-line winger for the Knights ragtag squad.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, G ($5.75 million)
At some point in the future, I’ll likely pen an emotional piece about how Fleury is my favorite hockey player and how his use — specifically — of a sports psychologist informed my career path and was responsible for what unfolded afterwards. But that’s not what today is for. The Flower has long been linked to the Knights, and it really was time to move on, as Matt Murray has firmly entrenched himself as an elite goalie in this league. Hey, at least Fleury gets to wear “Vegas Gold” again.
San Jose Sharks: Brenden Dillon, D ($3.27 million)
Defensemen who wear No. 4 always catch my eye. While Brenden Dillon is not Bobby Orr even in his dreams, he is a capable bottom-pairing defenseman who can put up respectable possession numbers, even while once carrying the carcass of Roman Polak. Although I think David Schlemko brings more to the table — especially offensively — I feel as though the Knights will go for the younger player this time around.
St. Louis Blues: David Perron, F ($3.75 million)
I cannot fathom why the Blues protected Ryan Reaves, but they did, thereby leaving David Perron available in the process. Perron is a second-line caliber talent and Reaves is a guy more suited for Punch-Out! than NHL 17. Twenty goals and 20 assists would not be out of the question for the 29-year-old Quebec native.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Slater Koekkoek, D (RFA)
Koekkoek ca-choo! This young defenseman, alongside Jake Dotchin, are enticing options for Vegas. While both may bring a similar level of talent to the ice, Koekkoek is a more gifted skater, and that certainly seems to be the direction the NHL is trending. Also, to have an ‘A’ on your sweater in your early 20s, even in the AHL, shows potential leadership qualities.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Kerby Rychel, F ($863,000)
Rychel has seemingly been around for a long while, but alas, he is just 22 years old. Despite having never caught on in the NHL, this young power forward is worthy of another chance, considering that 12 points in 37 NHL games is not awful for a 20-21 year old, especially when he was getting about 10 minutes of ice time per game.
Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Gaunce, F (RFA)
Luca Sbisa may be the big name on the ‘Nucks’ unprotected list, but he simply bleeds shot attempts and is not worth anywhere near the sticker price. Gaunce could be a fun gamble given his first-round pedigree and success in the AHL. To me, it’s between him and Reid Boucher. How enthralling.
Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, F (RFA)
Schmidt asserted himself against the Penguins in this year’s playoffs, and while this was again not the Caps’ year, Schmidt was distinctly a bright light. It was not just the playoffs, though, as the nearly 26-year-old blueliner ranked in the Top 40 among defensemen in even-strength points per 60 minutes (0.98) among players with at least 750 minutes played.
Winnipeg Jets: Marko Dano, F ($850,000)
Like Rychel, Dano is another young guy who has bounced from team to team and is still in his early 20s. However, Dano is a higher-caliber talent than Rychel and can play center. Dano scored 21 points in 35 games his rookie year in 2014-15 (all at even strength) and could possibly be Vegas’ third-line center this season.
Total cost: $51.2 million, plus seven RFA’s and a UFA.
Addendum: Hear me out here, folks. The Knights will have their own sixth pick, the 15th from the Islanders and the 24th from the Blue Jackets in the upcoming entry draft (and probably more). If I’m McPhee, I’m calling up Ray Shero, the Devils’ GM, and trying to strike a deal for the No. 1 pick. They surely will have enough picks and assets to get it done, and this would naturally enable them to nab an excellent young center, a position they will likely be thin on after the expansion draft. Whether they’re #TrollinForNolan or attempting to go #HigherForHischier, it is certainly worth a try.