Mock expansion draft: Golden Knights claim young talent

Here’s what I think Vegas’ roster will look like.

Editor’s note: We are running four mock drafts leading up to Wednesday’s expansion draft. This is the third, highlighting Ryan Quigley’s selections.

The Vegas Golden Knights are a day away from having a roster of actual, real-life hockey players. There are a lot of options for Vegas and general manager George McPhee has his work cut out for him.

Luckily, we’re here to help.

Without further ado, here is my projection of who the Golden Knights will claim in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

Anaheim Ducks: Sami Vatanen, D ($4.9 million)

It was pretty hard to believe the Ducks chose to leave Vatanen unprotected. Vatanen, who turned 26 earlier this month, is one of the best young blueliners in the NHL. It’s possible Anaheim could have a deal worked out with Vegas to keep them away from their prized defenseman, but nothing has been confirmed.

Arizona Coyotes: Jamie McGinn, F ($3.3 million)

McGinn, who has two years remaining on his contract, would give the Golden Knights a solid goal scorer to add to the bottom six. With a 19-goal season on his resume, the 28-year-old winger would be a very solid pickup for Vegas.

Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D ($1 million)

Miller, just 24 years old, is an intriguing option for the Golden Knights. He is coming off a 29-point campaign and still hasn’t hit his ceiling quite yet. With only one year remaining on his contract, Vegas could also use him as a trade chip down the road.

Buffalo Sabres: Linus Ullmark, G ($750,000)

Vegas could use a younger goalie to develop for the future. Ullmark, who Buffalo signed to a two-year, $1.5 million contract last week, fits that bill. The Swedish netminder was named MVP for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate Rochester Americans this season. The 23-year-old goalie could still use some polishing, though, and would be a likely candidate to start for the Chicago Wolves next season.

Calgary Flames: Alex Chiasson, F (RFA)

Chiasson, who is a restricted free agent, would give Vegas another solid player to add to the bottom six. The 26-year-old winger scored 12 goals and 24 points this season and likely won’t be looking for too big a paycheck.

Carolina Hurricanes: Lee Stempniak, F ($2.5 million)

Stempniak may be 34 years old, but he’s playing the best hockey of his career. The journeyman scored 19 goals and 51 points in the 2015-16 season and is coming off his third 40-plus point campaign last year. Stempniak has one year remaining on his contract.

Chicago Blackhawks: Marcus Kruger, F ($3.1 million)

According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, Vegas may have a deal in place with Chicago to take 27-year-old center Marcus Kruger instead of defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. Kruger, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, scored five goals and 17 points this season and would figure to play a large role in the Knights’ bottom six.

Colorado Avalanche: Mikhail Grigorenko, F (RFA)

The Golden Knights could use some size up front and Grigorenko, 6’3” and 209 pounds, would certainly provide that. Grigorenko was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres and is still finding his footing in the NHL. At just 23 years old, this could be a high-upside addition for Vegas.

Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, F ($1 million)

According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, the Blue Jackets are expected to trade their first-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 24 overall) to the Golden Knights so long as Vegas does not take Josh Anderson, Jack Johnson, Jonas Korpisalo or David Savard in the expansion draft. This leaves William Karlsson as a likely candidate to be scooped up. The 24-year-old center is coming off a 25-point campaign and could develop into a reliable secondary scorer for the Golden Knights.

Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, F ($3.9 million)

Eakin is just 26 years old and could immediately slot in at center on the Golden Knights’ third line. While he underperformed this season, Eakin is only a couple years removed from a 40-point campaign.

Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek, G ($4 million)

The Knights should select Mrazek. Not so he can play games, but so they can trade him for a prospect or draft picks. Vegas needs to select a minimum of three goalies in the expansion draft and Mrazek, who has starting potential, would garner significant trade interest. George McPhee is going to make a lot of moves this week and it would be interesting to see what he’d do with a proven netminder like Mrazek.

Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, D (RFA)

Reinhart was drafted No. 4 overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound defenseman has yet to become a consistent contributor on an NHL roster, but could earn an opportunity with the Golden Knights.

Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, F ($750,000)

Marchessault, who is in the last year of his contract, was one of the surprise names left unprotected over the weekend. The 26-year-old center broke out for 30 goals this season and could become a long-term asset to the Golden Knights if they end up nabbing him.

Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D ($1.7 million)

McNabb, 26, is an imposing defender who should immediately be able to play important minutes for the Golden Knights. He isn’t flashy (just two goals and two assists this season), but there is a place for a player like McNabb on Vegas’ blueline.

Minnesota Wild: Matt Dumba, D ($2.6 million)

Still just 22 years old, Dumba looks the part of a future All-Star defenseman. The six-foot, 183-pound blueliner scored 11 goals and 34 points this season and played an important role on Minnesota’s second power play unit. Barring a deal, it would be hard to imagine the Knights passing on a player like Dumba.

Montreal Canadiens: Jacob De La Rose, F (RFA)

The 22-year-old winger isn’t much of a scorer, but plays a solid defensive game and could be a good penalty killer for the Golden Knights. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound forward brings a physical game to the table and could develop into a reliable two-way player.

Nashville Predators: James Neal, F ($5 million)

As we noted on Monday, Neal should be a prime target for the Golden Knights. The 29-year-old winger has never scored less than 20 goals in a season and would give Vegas a top-tier sniper from day one. Neal could also warrant a significant return as a trade chip for Vegas at the 2018 trade deadline. This seems like a lock.

New Jersey Devils: Ben Lovejoy, D ($2.7 million)

Lovejoy played important minutes for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Stanley Cup run last year and could be a useful player for the Golden Knights. The 33-year-old is stay-at-home defenseman who won’t light up the scoresheet, but could be a stable presence on the penalty kill.

New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak, G ($4.5 million)

The Islanders are reportedly trading their first-round draft pick, along with Mikhail Grabovski, to the Golden Knights to protect their younger forwards. The Islanders have designated a player for the Knights to claim, but it is currently unknown who that player is. One candidate could be Jaroslav Halak, who has mightily fallen out of favor with the Islanders after being sent down to the minors this season. With such a large cap hit next season, New York may be trying to rid themselves of the 32-year-old’s contract.

New York Rangers: Antti Raanta, G ($1 million)

Raanta is coming off a phenomenal season and would give Vegas an extremely reliable backup netminder. In 26 starts, Raanta went 16-8-2 with a .922 save percentage and a GAA of 2.26. He even challenged Henrik Lundqvist for playing time. Raanta has one year remaining on his cheap contract.

Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, D ($4.9 million)

Ottawa could still keep Methot, but no deal has been agreed to yet (that we know of). Methot played a huge role in the Senators’ playoff run this season and the defensive stalwart would immediately slot in on the Golden Knights’ top pairing if he does end up being taken.

Philadelphia Flyers: Michael Raffl, F ($2.4 million)

Raffl missed a large portion of the season due to a knee injury, but still managed to have decent campaign. The 28-year-old Austrian scored eight goals and 11 points in 52 games and even spent some time on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Raffl would be a very good play driver on Vegas’ third line.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-André Fleury, G ($5.75 million)

No surprise here. Fleury is the best goalie available and will unquestionably be the team’s regular starter in net next season. The 2016-17 season wasn’t his best, but there’s no reason to believe the 32-year-old goaltender won’t turn things around.

San Jose Sharks: Brenden Dillon, D ($3.3 million)

Dillon is another big defender who could play a significant role for the Golden Knights. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Dillon would likely be one of the largest players on the roster. Dillon is coming off a two-goal, eight-assist season and figures to be another solid option as a penalty killer.

St. Louis Blues: David Perron, F ($3.8 million)

Perron is coming off the best season he’s had in years. He scored 18 goals and 46 points this season and recorded 13 points on the power play. Perron is entering the final year of his contract and should be looking to earn a pay raise come next summer.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Slater Koekkoek, D (RFA)

Koekkoek was drafted No. 10 overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and could become an impactful defenseman down the road. The blueliner still needs a little more time to develop and should start the season in the AHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Seth Griffith, F (RFA)

Griffith is one of Toronto’s top prospects. The 24-year-old forward scored 10 goals and 44 points in 38 games for the Toronto Marlies and could be ready to make a permanent leap to the NHL. Set to become a restricted free agent, Vegas could sign him to a cheap, short-term deal and enjoy the ride as he finally gets accustomed to NHL.

Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D ($3.6 million)

Sbisa hasn’t lived up to expectations since being selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. However, he could be a serviceable third-pairing defenseman for the Golden Knights. Vegas could do much worse.

Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, D (RFA)

This is a Capitals fan’s nightmare. Schmidt showed signs of a legitimate top-pair defenseman this season. At 25 years old, he still hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. Schmidt would give Vegas an exciting young defenseman to put on the top pairing with Marc Methot, which would be a lot of fun to watch.

Winnipeg Jets: Marko Dano, F ($850,000)

Dano has been all over the place since being drafted by Columbus No. 27 overall in 2013. At just 22 years old, Dano is already on his third team and could possibly move again if he is selected by Vegas. The Austrian forward has yet to make much of an impact in the NHL, but might be able to earn a larger role with the Golden Knights.

Total: $67 million

For those keeping track, this leaves Vegas with about $8 million in cap space. Vegas will surely look to trade some of these players, though, which will result in the Golden Knights getting additional future draft picks and cap relief.