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2017 NHL Awards And Expansion Draft

A look back at the Golden Knights’ expansion draft

In one week, Seattle will look to recreate the magic of the Golden Misfits.

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

June 21, 2017.

Four years and nearly one month ago — long before a new world dictated the need to wear masks and maintain six feet of separation — thousands gathered to recognize and honor the year’s most talented achievers.

In a room filled with legends and eager followers, two men sat at a table, sharing a single sheet of paper. On that piece of paper were the origins of an identity ready to be forged.

Those in attendance waited in anxious anticipation, the excitement palpable in a room that would later become a fortress.

On that fateful evening in June, as the two men read from that single sheet of paper, the Golden Misfits were born.

Thirty-seven players were added to the National Hockey League’s first expansion team since the turn of the millennium.

For the first time, members of the NHL’s newest franchise took the stage in front of the Vegas faithful, donning No. 17 jerseys, completely unaware of what was to come.

Unspeakable tragedy on Oct. 1.

A community coming together.

A team becoming a symbol, serving as a distraction to help lift spirits in a time of darkness.

The strength of that bond between team and city catapulted a brand-new franchise onto an unprecedented ride all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Records were shattered.

Doubters were silenced.

A group of castaways took the league by storm, led by a man who famously hailed his own taxi after he, too, was cast off.

The Vegas Golden Knights had arrived.

It all started on that night in June, in an event held in tandem with the NHL Awards, when former general manager George McPhee and Golden Knights owner Bill Foley announced their selections for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

One week from today, a new chapter will be written in the history books as Seattle does it all over again.

At the end of this week, 30 clubs will submit protection lists, revealing which players are safe and which will be left exposed.

The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s 32nd franchise, will announce their selections four days later on Wednesday, July 21. The first round of the NHL Entry Draft will take place two days later on July 23, and free agency is set to begin July 28.

Though the Golden Knights are exempt from the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, they will not be immune to its consequences, both positive and negative.

However, it’s an advantage the Knights could capitalize on as teams look to maximize assets before leaving some exposed.

There are many teams putting together proposals to incentivize Seattle to make particular selections (or, more likely, avoid others); Vegas was on the receiving end of many of these deals, several of which expedited the franchise’s trajectory dramatically.

But given how masterful some of those trades proved to be, teams will be more reluctant this time around, or instead may look to deal elsewhere. The Chicago Blackhawks traded decorated defenseman Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, and the Minnesota Wild bought out the contracts of both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter yesterday. These could be the first dominoes in a sea of change about to sweep across the league.

Seattle and the 30 teams participating in the expansion draft will follow the same rules imposed on Vegas in 2017.

This opens things up for a Knights team that doesn’t have to worry about exposure requirements. Vegas has very little flexibility cap-wise, but at a minimum, flipping players for picks before and after Seattle builds its team is not a bad strategy, if it’s one Vegas decides to employ.

It’s possible Vegas could make a deal with the Kraken, from one expansion team to another. Plus, since Seattle won’t be stealing someone from the Vegas roster, the Knights will be uniquely situated to propose or accommodate three-way deals as all 32 teams look to come out ahead in the coming weeks.

If the Knights were participating, there would be a few tricky decisions Kelly McCrimmon and Co. would have to make, though he and McPhee are old pros when it comes to expansion drafts.

In fact, their command of the process four years ago continues to hold influence.

Unfortunately for Seattle, general managers will be more cognizant of potential repercussions, though that doesn’t mean Seattle is not in a place of strength at the negotiating table.

After all, the salary cap rules supreme, and given the ongoing effects of COVID-19, it could play an even bigger role with league and team revenues deeply affected. One thing that has remained a constant is the need to get out of large contracts, as evidenced by Minnesota’s bold decision yesterday, so the flat cap will leave Seattle with some especially talented players within reach.

No matter what, this will be a critical process that will directly affect the Golden Knights, as Seattle is set to join Vegas in the Pacific Division starting next season.

It will be fascinating to see how things unfold.

But before watching a new team take shape, it’s worth revisiting what McPhee, McCrimmon, Foley, Gerard Gallant and the Golden Knights organization did four years ago.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft

Vegas drafted 14 forwards, 13 defensemen and three goaltenders in the expansion draft. Twenty players were under contract, with the cap hits totaling a combined $61.3 million.

Four players were set to become unrestricted free agents, while six were set to become restricted free agents and therefore would need contracts.

Vegas’ expansion draft selections

Team Pos. Player Team Pos. Player Team Pos. Player
Team Pos. Player Team Pos. Player Team Pos. Player
ANA D Clayton Stoner DET F Tomas Nosek OTT D Marc Methot
ARI F Teemu Pulkkinen EDM D Griffin Reinhart PHI F Pierre-E Bellemare
BOS D Colin Miller FLA F J. Marchessault PIT G Marc-Andre Fleury
BUF F William Carrier LAK D Brayden McNabb SJS D David Schlemko
CGY D Deryk Engelland MIN F Erik Haula STL F David Perron
CAR F Connor Brickley MTL D Alexei Emelin TBL D Jason Garrison
CHI D T. van Riemsdyk NSH F James Neal TOR F Brendan Leipsic
COL G Calvin Pickard NJD D Jon Merrill VAN D Luca Sbisa
CBJ F William Karlsson NYI G J-F Berube WSH D Nate Schmidt
DAL F Cody Eakin NYR F Oscar Lindberg WPG F Chris Thorburn

Notable trades

The Golden Knights benefited greatly from making deals with other clubs looking to influence Vegas’ selections. A few teams were particularly generous, though the Knights collected plenty of assets by completing 10 trades as part of the expansion draft and five more in the days following.

Trades prior to the expansion draft

  1. Anaheim traded (D) Shea Theodore to Vegas for expansion draft considerations (i.e., so Vegas would draft Clayton Stoner).
  2. Buffalo traded its 2017 sixth-round pick (Jiri Patera) for expansion draft considerations (William Carrier).
  3. Carolina traded Boston’s 2017 fifth-round pick (Jack Dugan) for expansion draft considerations (Connor Brickley).
  4. Columbus traded its 2017 1st-round pick (No. 24 overall), its 2019 second-round pick (No. 50 overall) and the contract of (F) David Clarkson for expansion draft considerations (William Karlsson).
  5. Florida traded (F) Reilly Smith for Vegas’ 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 123 overall) and expansion draft considerations (Jonathan Marchessault).
  6. Minnesota traded (F) Alex Tuch for a conditional third-round pick (No. 92 overall in 2018) and draft considerations (Erik Haula).
  7. New York (Islanders) traded a 2017 first-round pick (Erik Brannstrom), 2019 second-round pick (No. 54 overall), (D) Jake Bischoff and the contract of (F) Mikhail Grabovski for expansion draft considerations (Jean-Francois Berube).
  8. Pittsburgh traded its 2020 second-round pick (No. 46 overall) for expansion draft considerations (Marc-Andre Fleury).
  9. Tampa Bay traded its 2017 second-round pick (No. 45 overall), Pittsburgh’s 2018 fourth-round pick (Paul Cotter) and the signing rights of (F) Nikita Gusev for expansion draft considerations (Jason Garrison).
  10. Winnipeg traded its 2017 first-round pick (Nick Suzuki) and its 2019 third-round pick (No. 82 overall) for Columbus’ 2017 first-round pick (No. 24 overall) and expansion draft considerations (Chris Thorburn).

Trades following the expansion draft

  1. Chicago — Vegas traded (D) Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round pick (No. 216 overall) to Chicago in exchange for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second-round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).
  2. Columbus — Vegas traded Tampa Bay’s 2017 second-round pick (No. 45 overall) to Columbus in exchange for (F) Keegan Kolesar.
  3. Montreal — Vegas traded (D) David Schlemko to Montreal for the Canadiens’ 2019 fifth-round pick (Markus Kallionkieli).
  4. Nashville — Vegas traded (D) Alexei Emelin (retaining $1.1 million of his cap hit) to Nashville in exchange for the Predators’ 2019 third-round pick (Layton Ahac).
  5. Dallas — Vegas traded (D) Marc Methot to Dallas in exchange for (G) Dylan Ferguson and the Stars’ 2020 second-round pick (No. 61 overall, later sent to Ottawa in the Mark Stone deal).

Assets acquired

These trades added the following players and draft picks:

  • Players: Theodore, Smith, Tuch, Bischoff, Gusev (signing rights), Clarkson (contract), Grabovski (contract), Kolesar, Ferguson
  • Draft picks:
    (1) — Winnipeg 2017 first-round pick — used to draft (F) Suzuki
    (2) — Islanders 2017 first-round pick — used to draft (D) Brannstrom
    (3) — Pittsburgh 2017 second-round pick — used to draft (F) Leschyshyn
    (4) — Boston 2017 fifth-round pick — used to draft (F) Dugan
    (5) — Buffalo 2017 sixth-round pick — used to draft (G) Patera
    (6) — Pittsburgh 2018 fourth-round pick — used to draft (F) Cotter
    (7) — Nashville 2019 third-round pick — used to draft (G) Ahac
    (8) — Montreal 2019 fifth-round pick — used to draft (F) Kallionkieli

Future returns

Additionally, the following players, drafted players and draft picks can all be traced back directly to assets acquired in the expansion draft:

  • Players: Tobias Lindberg, Ryan Reaves, Philip Holm, Tomas Tatar, Max Pacioretty, Stone, Lindberg (re-acquired), Nicolas Roy, Garret Sparks, Alec Martinez, Robin Lehner, Martins Dzierkals, Mattias Janmark, Nick DeSimone
  • Drafted players: Peter Diliberatore, Stanislav Demin, Kaedan Korczak, Lukas Cormier
  • Future draft picks:
    (1) — 2021 second-round pick (No. 36 overall, from New Jersey in the Gusev deal)
    (2) — 2021 fourth-round pick (No. 114 overall, from Winnipeg in the Eakin deal)
    (3) — 2021 fifth-round pick (No. 155 overall, from Carolina in the Haula deal)
    (4) — 2022 third-round pick (from Vancouver in the Schmidt deal)
    (5) — 2022 fifth-round pick (from Chicago in the Janmark deal)

Where are they now?

Only 10 of the 37 players added to the roster on the night of the expansion draft remain in the Golden Knights organization today: Carrier, Karlsson, Nosek, Marchessault, McNabb, Fleury, Theodore, Smith, Tuch and Bischoff.

Only six of those players were actual expansion-draft selections.

Of the rest, many never played a game for the Knights, and some never played another NHL game at all.

Here’s a roundup of what became of the players involved in the draft.

Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner, D

Stoner never suited up for the Knights and never played another game in the NHL due to an injury that ended his career; he effectively disappeared after getting placed on injured reserve in October, 2017. Stoner scored seven goals and 41 points in 360 career NHL games with Anaheim and Minnesota before retiring in 2019.

Theodore was the true prize from Anaheim, though, and he remains a core member of the Golden Knights. Theodore has 39 goals and 154 points in 264 games with the Golden Knights. He signed a team-friendly seven-year deal shortly before the 2018-19 season that has him on the books through 2024-25 with an AAV of $5.2 million. He played an especially key role in the Golden Knights’ 2019-20 playoff run in the bubble, carrying the offensive load in the second round when the rest of the Knights’ production vanished. He recorded 19 points in 20 games and has 12 goals and 47 points in 66 postseason games with Vegas.

Arizona Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen, F

Pulkkinen never played a game for the Knights but suited up in 75 games for the Chicago Wolves, Vegas’ former AHL affiliate, in 2017-18, scoring 29 goals (tied with Brandon Pirri for the team lead) and a team-high 65 points before leaving for the KHL. His last NHL action was a four-game stint with Arizona in 2016-17. The former fourth-round pick (2010, No. 111 overall) scored 13 goals and 22 points in 83 career NHL contests with Arizona, Minnesota and Detroit. He scored nine goals and 14 points in 22 games with Dynamo Moskva of the KHL this past season.

Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D

Miller played two seasons with the Golden Knights before getting traded to Buffalo in June, 2019 for cap reasons. He scored 13 goals and 70 points in 147 regular-season contests with Vegas, adding four goals and 10 points in 26 postseason matchups. Miller scored 30 power-play points in his two years in Sin City. He remains with the Sabres organization and has recorded five goals and 23 points in 99 games over the last two seasons. He is entering the final year of the four-year, $15.5 million (AAV: $3.875 million) contract he signed with Vegas after Year 1.

Buffalo Sabres: William Carrier, F

The Sabres sent Vegas a sixth-round pick to encourage them to draft Carrier, who has been the most consistent member of Vegas’ fourth line ever since. After recording one goal and three points in 37 games in Year 1, Carrier has gone on to accrue 21 goals and 43 points over the last three seasons. His physicality played a significant role in Vegas’ Cup run in Year 1, and his speed and underlying numbers have been surprisingly strong. Carrier is signed through the 2023-34 season with an AAV of $1.4 million. The Knights used the sixth-round pick to draft (G) Patera.

Calgary Flames: Deryk Engelland, D

Engelland was an integral part of the early identity of the Golden Knights and will always be remembered for his speech prior to Vegas’ first home game following the tragedy on Oct. 1. He went on to score a goal just over four minutes into the first period of that game, giving Vegas an early 2-0 lead in the first home game in franchise history. That night will go down in Golden Knights lore.

Arizona Coyotes v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

That was the start of what became the best statistical season of Engelland’s career, as he managed five goals and career-bests in assists (18) and points (23). He scored eight goals and 41 points in 202 games with the Knights spanning three seasons, signing a one-year contract for all three. The long-time Vegas resident retired at the end of the 2019-20 season after 11 years in the NHL. He scored 30 goals and 127 points in 671 games with Vegas, Calgary and Pittsburgh and suited up in 27 postseason games for the Knights.

Carolina Hurricanes: Connor Brickley, F

Brickley never played a game for the Golden Knights (or the Hurricanes, for that matter). He played 44 games with Florida in 2017-18 before signing a one-year deal with Nashville, where he played 39 games for the Predators’ AHL affiliate. He was shipped to the Rangers mid-season and went on to play 14 games with the big club and 13 with the AHL Hartford Wolfpack before leaving the NHL to play in Austria in 2019-20. He did not play in the 2020-21 season.

Vegas received a fifth-round pick from Carolina in exchange for drafting Brickley; that fifth-round pick was used to draft (F) Dugan, a prized prospect in the Golden Knights organization.

Chicago Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk, D

Vegas came away from the draft with 14 defensemen (including Theodore), and van Riemsdyk was one of the first to be flipped. The Knights sent TVR and a seventh-round pick to Carolina in exchange for a second-round pick, which the Knights used to draft (F) Leschyshyn in the 2017 draft. TVR played 206 games with the Hurricanes, racking up 38 points as a bottom-four defenseman. He signed a one-year contract with Washington last summer but served as the seventh defenseman for most of the year despite performing well and getting praise from the head coach. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard, G

Pickard was another player who never played a game for the Golden Knights, though he did make it through training camp. The Knights shipped Pickard to Toronto for Lindberg and a 2018 sixth-round pick, which Vegas used to draft (D) Diliberatore. Pickard played one game for the Maple Leafs and 33 for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. He went on to play a combined 26 games with the Flyers, Coyotes and Red Wings and is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 28.

Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, F

Karlsson was coming off a career-best 25-point season with the Blue Jackets prior to the expansion draft.

In his first year in Vegas, Wild Bill exploded for 43 goals and 78 points.

Needless to say, this pick has worked out for Vegas.

It was a stunning turnaround, and while Karlsson has seen a decline in production in each year since, he has been a steady contributor in every aspect of the game. Playing primarily on the “second” line with Marchessault and Smith, Karlsson has recorded 96 goals and 219 points in 283 regular-season contests as well as 17 goals and 46 points in 66 playoff games. Columbus gave Vegas first- and second-round picks in order to protect Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo. Clearly, the Blue Jackets did not know what they had in Karlsson. Or perhaps Karlsson needed the nudge and the Golden Misfits setting. Either way, the Knights made out like bandits. They ended up trading both picks in deals that landed Suzuki and, ultimately, Pacioretty. Clarkson never played another game and was moved to Toronto in 2019-20 for Sparks.

Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, F

Eakin was a pleasant surprise and proved to be a valuable middle-six center for the Knights, playing in all situations as well as up and down the lineup as needed. He gave Vegas three very solid seasons, collecting 37 goals and 78 points in 199 games before getting moved to Winnipeg at last year’s deadline; he was in the final year of his contract. The trade yielded a fourth-round pick (No. 114 overall) in this year’s draft. Eakin managed seven points in 46 games with Buffalo this past season and has one year remaining on a two-year deal.

Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Nosek, F

Nosek’s numbers aren’t flashy, but that shouldn’t take away from the role he has played for the Golden Knights. He is coming off a career-best 18-point campaign and did so in just 38 games after achieving similar numbers in 67-68 games in the three years prior. Even so, point totals don’t capture the contributions he has made as a dependable bottom-six forward and penalty killer. He also has a knack for coming up big in the postseason; he had a standout performance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, scoring a team-high three goals in the five-game series, which was a strong finish to his first full season in the NHL. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 28; given Vegas’ cap constraints, his future with the Golden Knights is uncertain.

Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, D

Reinhart never played a game for the Golden Knights but played 135 for the Chicago Wolves. He scored six goals and 28 points before leaving for the KHL, where he played 33 games for the Kunlun Red Star. He spent this past season with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL, scoring 11 points in 22 games. Reinhart hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015-16.

Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, F

The Panthers traded Smith to Vegas so that Vegas would draft Marchessault, who was coming off a 30-goal campaign. Marchessault had another year remaining on a contract with an AAV of $750,000. However, forward Nick Bjugstad and defensemen Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic, none of whom are on the Panthers today, were considered more valuable and therefore were protected in the draft. Smith was heading into a five-year, $25 million contract he had signed the summer before but had seen a 13-point dip after a career-high 50-point season in 2015-16; this must have contributed to Florida’s baffling decision, though it was a head-scratcher then and obviously a sore subject for the Panthers now.

In any case, Smith and Marchessault have been two of Vegas’ most consistent wingers and make up two-thirds of Vegas’ long-standing and most successful line. Smith is heading into the final year of his current contract, while Marchessault, who also has a $5 million AAV, has three years remaining on the six-year deal he signed with Vegas midway through Year 1. Ironically, former Panthers general manager Tom Rowe also dismissed Gallant, though the Knights did the same a few years later.

Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D

The Knights drafted 12 defensemen in the expansion draft.

McNabb is the only one left standing.

The former Kings defenseman signed a four-year extension a few months into the inaugural campaign with a very team-friendly cap hit of $2.5 million. He has been a steady top-four defenseman for the Golden Knights. McNabb has one year remaining on his contract; it’s extremely unlikely he will be moved any time soon.

Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula, F

Former Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher “wildly” mismanaged the expansion draft, which worked in Vegas’ favor. Not only did Fletcher encourage the Knights to take Haula, who went on to have a career year with Vegas, but he also handed the Knights former first-round pick Tuch, who remains a core member of the team. Haula emerged as a top-six center and smashed previous career highs with 29 goals and 55 points. He also led Vegas with 19 power-play points. He missed most of the next season after suffering a bizarre injury on a hit along the boards against Toronto; Vegas moved the final year of his contract at the end of the season for cap reasons. Haula has played for three teams since (Carolina, Florida, Nashville), scoring 21 points in 51 games this past season. He will hit free agency at the end of the month.

Tuch recorded 37 points in his rookie season and went on to set career highs with 20 goals, 32 assists and 52 points the following year. He struggled with injuries and inconsistent linemates in Year 3 but was on pace to set a new career high in goals this season with 18 in 55 games. He led the Knights with eight goals in last year’s playoff run and has five years remaining on an eight-year deal with a team-friendly $4.875 million cap hit. He has the potential to be a perennial 30-goal scorer, though his role took a slight hit with the arrival of Stone.

Montreal Canadiens: Alexei Emelin, D

Emelin was another player flipped after the draft and therefore never suited up for the NHL’s 31st franchise. Vegas sent Emelin — retaining $1.1 million of his cap hit in the final year of his contract — to Nashville in exchange for a third-round draft pick, which was used to draft (D) Ahac in 2019. Emelin finished out his contract, playing 76 games with the Predators in 2017-18 before leaving for the KHL; he has played the last three seasons with Avangard Omsk, most recently recording 21 points in 59 games in 2020-21.

Nashville Predators: James Neal, F

Neal was one of the bigger names to come out of the expansion draft. He scored 25 goals in the inaugural campaign and helped the Knights in their quest for the Cup. Neal left in the offseason despite expressing interest in staying. He signed a notable five-year deal with Calgary instead and was later sent to Edmonton as the two Alberta clubs swapped under-performing players on bad contracts (Milan Lucic). Neal has two years remaining on said deal, which carries a $5.75 million cap hit. He could be one of a few players to be drafted twice, though he was a much more attractive option back in 2017.

New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill, D

Merrill played 140 games across three seasons for the Knights but was not re-signed after the 2019-20 campaign. He signed a one-year contract with Detroit and was traded to Montreal in April, where he played 13 games, recording zero points and a minus-11 rating. He skated in 13 games in the Canadiens’ recent Stanley Cup run, including five against his former team. He will hit free agency later this month.

New York Islanders: Jean-Francois Berube, G

The Islanders gave up a lot in order to protect assets, and the Knights accepted their offer of first- and second-round picks as well as defensive prospect Bischoff in exchange for drafting Berube and taking on the final year of Grabovski’s contract. The Knights used the first-round pick to select (D) Brannstrom, who was later part of the package sent to Ottawa in exchange for Stone. Brannstrom skated in 41 games with the Wolves prior to the trade; he has played a combined 63 games with Ottawa over the last three seasons and has one more year on his entry-level deal. Unfortunately, Grabovski battled concussion symptoms for years and never played another NHL game. Bischoff played four games with the Knights in 2019-20 but spent most of this season on the taxi squad after playing for the Wolves for three seasons. He has one year remaining on a three-year deal he signed in 2019. The second-round pick acquired in the deal was later used in the trade for Tatar, who was later used in the deal for Pacioretty.

As for Berube, he never played a game for the Golden Knights. He hit free agency that summer and signed a two-year deal with Chicago, where he played 13 games in 2017-18. He bounced around, playing for various AHL squads over the next few seasons, including the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in 2019-20 after signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia. He signed an AHL contract with the Ontario Reign for the 2020-21 season and played 19 games.

New York Rangers: Oscar Lindberg, F

Lindberg played 98 games over two seasons with the Knights before being traded to Ottawa in the package for Stone. He played 20 games with the Senators at the end of 2018-19, scoring five goals and eight points. His last NHL game was April 6 of that year. He signed with Zug of the National League in Switzerland and spent this past season, like Pulkkinen, with the Dynamo Moskva of the KHL.

Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, D

Methot never played for the Knights, as he was traded just days after the draft. The Knights sent the veteran defenseman to Dallas in exchange for goaltender prospect Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick. Ironically, that pick was later sent to Ottawa in the Stone deal. Methot finished his career in Dallas, playing 45 games over the final two seasons of his contract.

Philadelphia Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F

Bellemare was Vegas’ fourth-line center for two seasons, scoring 12 goals and 31 points in 148 games with the Knights; his two-way play and penalty-kill prowess were vital assets. Bellemare signed a two-year deal with Colorado in the summer of 2018-19; he went on to score 18 goals and 33 points in 122 games with the Avs, including six points in 10 games against Vegas. He will be a free agent this month.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, G

Fleury became the face and heart of the Golden Knights franchise, and he has played the best hockey of his career in Vegas. He is coming off a Vezina-winning campaign — the best statistical season of his career — and was the most important player in Vegas’ Cup run in 2018. Pittsburgh gave Vegas a second-round pick to take Fleury; the pick was later used in the Lehner deadline-day deal. The irony is remarkable given how things have played out, but Fleury’s meaning and value to the franchise is immeasurable.

San Jose Sharks: David Schlemko, D

Schlemko was one of two players traded the day after the expansion draft. The Knights received a 2019 fifth-round pick from Montreal in the deal; the pick was used to draft (F) Kallionkieli. Schlemko played 55 games across two seasons for the Canadiens before getting traded to Philadelphia; the Flyers bought out the final year of his contract, and he has not played since.

St. Louis Blues: David Perron, F

Perron was another well-known player who was considered one of the better pick-ups in the draft, and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, he had a career year in the Knights’ inaugural season, scoring 16 goals and a career-high 50 assists for a career-high 66 points in 70 games. That’s 0.94 points per game. That scoring touch dried up in the Cup run, though that had been an ongoing trend throughout his career. After Year 1, he went back to St. Louis for his third stint with the Blues and has recorded 67 goals and 164 points in 184 games over the last three years. Perron’s streak of ineffective performances in the playoffs snapped when he helped the Blues win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 2019. He has one year remaining on a very team-friendly contract that carries an AAV of just $4 million.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jason Garrison, D

Garrison was one of the four players who took the stage during the actual expansion draft and in the Round Table Rally that followed the NHL Awards that night. He only played eight games for the Golden Knights, however, instead suiting up in 58 with the Wolves. He then signed a one-year deal with Edmonton and played 17 games before leaving for the SHL later that year. He finished out the 2018-19 season with Djurgårdens IF, recording 10 points in 20 games. He played another 29 in 2019-20 but did not play this past season.

Tampa also included Gusev’s signing rights as well as a draft pick that was later traded for Kolesar, who is coming off his rookie season with the Knights. Gusev signed with the Knights but never played a game; he was traded to New Jersey for two draft picks, one of which is the Knights’ lone second-round pick (No. 36 overall) in the upcoming draft. The other pick was used to draft (F) Cotter. Gusev, the former leading scorer of the KHL, scored 44 points in 66 games in his first year with New Jersey but was placed on unconditional waivers this year after a disappointing follow-up in which he scored two goals and five points in 20 games and served as a healthy scratch many times. He signed a one-year deal with Florida after his contract was terminated; he will hit free agency in a few weeks.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic, F

Leipsic signed a two-year deal with Vegas but played only 44 games before getting shipped off to Vancouver in exchange for Holm. It seemed somewhat questionable at the time given Leipsic’s underlying numbers, though he never became a consistent scoring threat. He played 17 games with the Canucks the following season before getting traded to the Kings, where he played 45 games in 2018-19. He signed a one-year deal with Washington in free agency but ultimately had his contract terminated in May, 2020 after screenshots of his now-infamous vulgar group chat were leaked. The disgraced forward signed with CSKA Moskva several months later; he scored 11 goals and 24 points in 42 games with them this past season. Leipsic played for five NHL clubs in five years.

Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D

Sbisa chipped in 14 points in 30 games for Vegas in 2017-18, adding four assists in 12 postseason games later that year. He ate up minutes but was one of the most ineffective players on the team (and in the league) from a possession standpoint. That being said, he went on to sign three one-year deals with different clubs, including the Islanders, Ducks and Jets, playing a combined 55 games, including one this past season. He will be a free agent in a few weeks.

Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, D

Schmidt became a No. 1 defenseman for the Golden Knights and scored a career-high 36 points in his first season in Vegas. He was sorely missed during his 20-game suspension after violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program, though the emergence and growth of Theodore as well as the acquisition of Alec Martinez diminished Schmidt’s role over time. He was traded last year to clear up cap space so that Vegas could sign Alex Pietrangelo in free agency. Schmidt was underutilized in Washington but was originally drafted by McPhee when he was the general manager of the Caps. Washington attempted to make a deal with Vegas to keep Schmidt, but clearly the Knights, or McPhee, did not play ball. Interestingly, Schmidt was the final player to be announced in the expansion draft, coming one pick after the much-anticipated Fleury selection. In the end, Schmidt’s six-year deal and inconsistent play in the playoffs led to his departure from Sin City; after a 15-point campaign this past season, Schmidt reportedly has asked to be traded.

Winnipeg Jets: Chris Thorburn, F

The Golden Knights used the first-round pick from Columbus in a deal with Winnipeg to move up in the draft, ultimately drafting Suzuki with Winnipeg’s No. 13 pick. The Jets also gave up a 2019 third-round pick in order to make sure the Knights took Thorburn instead of Marko Dano; Dano is no longer with the Jets. Thorburn was a pending unrestricted free agent anyway; he signed a two-year deal with St. Louis and played 50 games in 2017-18 and one the following year. He finished his career in a 40-game stretch with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. Quite ironically, the Rampage franchise was sold in 2020 and has since relocated; the team is now known as the Henderson Silver Knights.


Evaluating the draft

The best moves

Anaheim

Getting Theodore for free was a gift, and the Knights continue to reap the rewards. Not to mention the fact that he is significantly more valuable than the two defensemen Anaheim chose to protect (Sami Vatanen, who was traded later that season, and Josh Manson). Stoner was off the books after the first year, and Theodore is knocking on the door of being a Norris Trophy candidate and is one of the most valuable players in the organization.

Columbus

Karlsson continues to be one of the best players on the Knights year after year. In fact, he leads the Golden Knights in games played (283), goals (96), plus/minus (plus-80), short-handed goals (7), shooting percentage (15.9 percent) and hat tricks (3). He has been a top-5 scorer for the Golden Knights every year and led Vegas in scoring in this year’s playoff run with 16 points in 19 games. He scored one of the most memorable goals in Vegas’ short history with a between-the-legs move that clinched the Pacific Division title for the Knights in their inaugural season.

In addition, the draft picks eventually led to the acquisition of Pacioretty. While losing Suzuki was a mistake on management’s part, Pacioretty has given the Knights elite production.

Florida

It is still shocking to believe that Florida made this deal willingly, but the Panthers are responsible for giving Vegas two-thirds of its most consistent and highest-producing line over the last four years. Marchessault leads Vegas in all-time scoring with 225 points in 280 games. He’s first in even-strength goals (72) and power-play goals (20) and leads the Knights in game-winning goals with 19. He has scored many of the most exciting goals over the last few seasons, and his goal in Game 2 against Minnesota in this year’s playoffs changed the tide of the season for the Knights (much like in Game 3 against Colorado). Smith is an excellent two-way forward and is third in points (192), trailing only Marchessault and Karlsson. That trio has been a massive piece of Vegas’ offense across all four seasons, and they had a particularly strong push in this year’s postseason, combining for 35 points.

Minnesota

Fletcher wanted to protect Eric Staal and defensemen Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba, so he gave the Knights Tuch and encouraged them to take Haula. The two played critical roles in the Knights’ astonishing inaugural campaign, and Tuch could be a future captain of this team. Staal did go on to score 42 goals that year, though it’s unclear if he would have done so in Vegas. Scandella was traded later that month. Though Haula is no longer with the team, the Minnesota trade remains one of the most glaring feats the Knights have managed in four years.

Pittsburgh

The night of the expansion draft was 14 years — to the day — after Fleury was drafted first overall by the Penguins. Based on the crowd’s reaction when he was taken in the expansion draft, he might as well have been drafted first overall all over again. Fleury immediately gave the Golden Knights credibility, and he has played the best hockey of his career in Vegas. To be fair, Pittsburgh couldn’t have predicted that; it later came out that former Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford deeply regretted his decision and tried to get Fleury back. Pittsburgh went with Matt Murray, who is no longer a Penguin. There are rumors that Fleury could be moved this summer as he enters the final year of his contract, though it’s difficult to imagine the Golden Knights without him. He has made so many spectacular saves over the last four years. Too many to highlight. But two in particular — the “dolphin” save on Mark Scheifele and “The save” on Nic Petan — are particularly legendary.

Fleury’s acquisition was a franchise-altering move; without a doubt, the Knights would not be the success story they are without him.

Honorable mention

St. Louis: Perron had a career year in Vegas; it’s hard to argue with his results, even if he only stayed for one season.

Moves worth reevaluating

It’s difficult to criticize the Knights’ handling of the expansion draft, especially considering how the team has used so many assets to build a Cup-contending team in such a short period of time. However, here are a few moves worth reconsidering four years later.

Edmonton

Reinhart was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft but never panned out in the NHL. He tallied just two assists in 37 career NHL games with the Islanders and Oilers. He never played a game for the Golden Knights. Vegas didn’t pass on incredible options, but the Knights would have been better off with someone like Jujhar Khaira or Laurent Brossoit. After all, Vegas found itself in quite the goalie predicament at the start of the 2017-18 season, so goalie depth couldn’t have hurt.

New York Islanders

This is a tough one, and it’s sure to be a controversial choice. On the one hand, the Knights got first- and second-round picks as well as a strong defensive prospect in Bischoff, and all they had to do was take on Grabovski’s contract and take Berube. It’s very difficult to criticize that move. On the other hand, Vegas left some pretty valuable players on the table, one of which would have been a great top-six center, which the organization has needed desperately. Center depth has hurt the Knights in the playoffs, including this past year. If Vegas had a guy like Brock Nelson right now, they’d be a significantly better team. He would have been a terrific addition to the roster, and he has signed team-friendly deals in the years since. The Knights couldn’t have known that he’d be worth that package today; it’s always hard to know if players would have reached the same level of success in different environments, but in this case, Nelson would have gotten very similar minutes and opportunity in Vegas. This is arguably the biggest miss of the draft; Nelson would have been a true difference-maker.

New York Rangers

Lindberg was a serviceable center for the Knights, and there was nothing wrong with his game. Plus, he helped the Knights get Stone. However, Jesper Fast was the better offensive option, even if Lindberg offered center depth. But had they known they had a shot at a Cup run in Year 1, Michael Grabner would have been a steal. He was coming off a 27-goal season and went on to score 25 in 2017-18. He’s one of the best penalty killers in the NHL, has great speed and was extremely productive. He’s no longer in the NHL at this point, though neither is Lindberg.

San Jose

Barclay Goodrow has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons with Tampa Bay. He did so with a very strong team, but he played a key role, and he wasn’t relied on for offensive contributions. Dylan DeMelo also would have been a better pick than Schlemko; he ultimately helped San Jose land Erik Karlsson. Goodrow was the pick, though. One can’t blame McPhee and Co., however; the Knights made the safer play, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hindsight is 20/20.

Honorable mention

Nashville: Craig Smith would have been the smarter long-term play, though Neal carried name recognition and a strong record. Again, it’s very difficult to challenge Vegas’ decision.

Other top players left on the board

Forward

Bryan Rust (PIT)

Defenseman

Ben Chiarot (WPG)

Goalie

Jordan Binnington (STL), Philipp Grubauer (WSH)

Interesting observation

A number of players who were left exposed ended up in Vegas despite not getting selected in the expansion draft. Five of them are goalies.

  • (G) Malcolm Subban — Boston
  • (F) Patrick Brown — Carolina
  • (G) Oskar Dansk — Columbus
  • (G) Maxime Lagace — Dallas
  • (F) Daniel Carr — Montreal
  • (F) Stefan Matteau — Montreal
  • (D) Brad Hunt — Minnesota
  • (F) Tye McGinn — Tampa Bay
  • (G) Mike McKenna — Tampa Bay*
  • (G) Garret Sparks — Toronto
  • (F) Chandler Stephenson — Washington

*Not technically on the Golden Knights team, but he did join the broadcast team.


Final thoughts

The Golden Knights did an exceptional job in the expansion draft, so much so that many now believe the NHL made life too easy on the Golden Knights, which is the only reason for the team’s success. Regardless, the work that McPhee and his staff did to prepare for and execute the draft was admirable, and nothing should invalidate what the Knights were able to accomplish that night.

Four years ago, the Knights made deals with other human beings. There was no auto-simulation from NHL 17; actual people agreed to these trades. Other than Fleury, none of the “big names” Vegas actually drafted remained on the team after the first season, and several of those players left for nothing via free agency (i.e., Neal, Perron). Marchessault was coming off a strong year, but he certainly wasn’t a proven or household name.

The fact that excuses are made for the Knights’ success also takes away from the incredible job Gallant and his coaching staff did, as well as the players’ individual drive to prove everyone wrong. What happened in Year 1 was not normal, but the people involved deserve credit for making it what it was. The Knights’ opening-night lineup certainly didn’t intimidate anyone.

In the coming weeks, all eyes will be on general manager Ron Francis and the Seattle organization, and the Kraken will be compared to Vegas every step of the way, whether that’s fair or not.

Seattle has big shoes to fill.

It will be interesting to see what the Kraken are able to pull off; at least a few similarly-favorable moves should be in store given teams’ need to get out of big contracts, but there will be a key difference this time around: people will be expecting it.

Going back to the night of the 2017 expansion draft, no one expected that the Knights would be particularly good, let alone spectacular. Not even McPhee knew what he had created.

“We had two objectives,” he said that night after the selections were made.

“The first was to put a team on the ice that was entertaining and competitive and one that the NHL and Las Vegas could be proud of. The second objective was to acquire prospects and surplus draft picks that can help us draft our way to success.”

McPhee added, “Time will tell if we met those objectives, but we’re certainly delighted with the way that it went, and it was a fascinating experience. ... It’s been a great ride so far.”

Just you wait, George. Just you wait.

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