If you’ve been out of the loop, the National Hockey League has expanded to 31 teams. Vegas will enter the Pacific division this October and join the grueling journey towards league glory and the Stanley Cup. It’s a tough task to go from expansion franchise to championship contender, so let’s see if owner Bill Foley and GM George McPhee steered their ship in the right direction after an exciting week of draft picks and moves.
Their picks (Via @NHL):
Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury showed the hockey world that he’s still got the ability between the pipes in this year’s playoffs. The 32-year old started 15 games, winning nine and posting a .924 save percentage before again passing the baton to youngster Matt Murray. The rest is history as the Pens won their second straight title, Fleury’s third cup.
He’ll be the backbone of the team and will be a part of a tandem with Calvin Pickard
Fleury isn’t a spring chicken, but as he approaches his 700th career game his experience and leadership will be worth more than just saves in the crease. Fleury has handled the entire situation with tact. He lost the starting job in Pittsburgh for two straight playoffs but now he’ll be a number one again. It will be fun to see the revenge tour of MAF for the next couple of years.
The Knights blue line is where I scratch my head the most. It’s tough to project how the defensive core of Las Vegas will play together.
Brayden McNabb (LA) and Shea Theodore (ANA) will be important piece for the new franchise….and just saying that out loud should scare the Vegas supporters a little bit. They are not awful players by any stretch, however they aren’t impactful enough to give LV a chance to win a Stanley Cup.
They will have some veteran, stay-at-home players, like Marc Methot and Jason Garrison. These two will be the top defensive players on their team. Head coach Gerard Gellant will be able to split these two up and pair them with less experienced D-men.
McNabb will need to play better than his years in Southern California to finally reach his projected potential. Theodore was a painful loss for the Ducks, as he was their 2013 first round selection. He played 17:19 per game, in 34 games, and posted a 50.2% Corsi For at even strength. Theodore will be without the shelter of a strong, young, defensive core around him like he did with the Ducks.
If LV’s six dressed d-men are correct with Dailyfaceoff.com (Theodore, Schmidt, Garrison, Methot, McNabb, Miller), then there’s not a lot of offense to be worried about. That’s only 14 goals and 62 points from those six…combined. Out of those players, who would you pick to be the quarterback of your powerplay? Don’t worry, I’ll wait…we’ll all wait.
What is confusing is their decisions to quickly move Trevor Van Riemsdyk and David Schlemko immediately for picks. The management of Las Vegas proved that they want to build a team for the future, prioritizing stability over a win-now approach.
Las Vegas is going to have a tough time lighting the lamp right off the bat.
Sure, they nabbed James Neal who scored 40 goals once (2011, Pitt) and 31 just two season ago with the Predators. They also picked some scrappy 15ish goal scorers like Cody Eakin and David Perron. They also snatched young NHL-ready talent like Oscar Lindberg, Erik Haula, and Jonathan Marchessault that will hope to reach the high ceiling they might have.
The reason I graded their offense so low is their worrisome center depth. Vadim Shipachyov is pegged as their first line center. The 30-year-old is making the transition from being one of Russia’s most dominant centers in the KHL to the NHL. The two-time champion in Russia will need to adapt on the fly to the North American game. Any hiccups or slow production portions of his first year could really derail the Knights offense.
One note I will add about LV’s forwards is the fact that they can improve this group quicker than any other. Signing a dangerous winger in free agency is possible. Shipachyov might even attract some of his linemates from Russia. Many of the available NHLers are north of 30 or even north of 35-years-old, but a veteran presence in Vegas would do wonders for the ragtag roster they have.
Here are a few of their names:
(Martin Hanzal, Justin Williams, Radim Vrbata Alex Radulov, Patrick Eaves, Eaves, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton.) All lot of those players would be interesting fits with LV but also really weird to watch them wear those colors at this stage in their career…looking at you Marleau.
The Entry Draft: A+
Vegas walked away from the expansion draft like card counters at the blackjack table. General Manager George McPhee and the Knight’s brass had 13 picks prior to the entry draft in Chicago.
On Friday and Saturday in Chicago, McPhee stocked the cupboard full of prospects. Las Vegas won the NHL draft by a landslide by picking the type of players that will bump up the grades of a few of their positions within a few short seasons.
With their THREE first round draft selection they took:
No. 6 overall- Cody Class, Center (WHL), 32 goals/62 assists. Pay attention to that assists number. Indications are that even though he has quite the goal scoring touch, his passing is on an elite level, and he’s ready to make his linemates better.
No. 13 overall- Nick Suzuki, Center (OHL), 45 goals/51 assists. Suzuki is another skilled center that Las Vegas will hope to develop into a solid top 9 forward. He’s not the tallest at 5’11”, but the shift toward speed and skill has birthed the trend of super forwards under 6 feet (Johnny Gaudreau, we’re looking at you.)
No. 15 overall- Erik Brannstrom, Defenseman (Swedish League…transitioned to under-20 league into men’s league midseason). He’s small. 5’9”” to be exact. McPhee again proved in this round that size doesn’t disqualify you when you have extraordinary skill. The Knights organization were high on this skater and even compared him to Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators, which is quite the high praise.
The draft continued to solidify their pipeline of talent in every position. That’s a post for another day, as they start development camp this week we’ll know which players are closest to the big show.
Time will tell if the Knights will be more like the Minnesota Wild, who reached the conference final in 2003, just three seasons after joining the league, or more like Columbus (from the same expansion year) who didn’t make their first postseason until 2008-09, and are finally resembling contenders in their conference.
Chances are they’ll be a competitive team in the next couple of seasons. For now, owner Bill Foley will bank on the allure of bringing professional sports to Sin City while the young Golden Knights hope the master plan makes them one of the brightest franchises of tomorrowland.