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In the Zone

As we get closer to a reveal of all 30 team’s protected list, I had some fun with capfriendly.com’s excellent expansion draft tool. I won’t go into every team’s protection strategy in detail. I monitored rumors and applied any news and information I found, such as team’s beat writers, SB Nation’s team blogs and newspapers (thank you, Washington Post!). Here is my expansion team:

By Sascha Keiser

Offense

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The Vegas Golden Knights’ offense features a lot of experience and goal scoring ability. Mike Cammalleri (NJD) gives the team an established goal scorer, which I preferred over younger options like Stefan Noesen or Devante Smith-Pelly. Jason Zucker is a no-brainer, as he is the only NHL player that grew up in Sin City. Minnesota will most probably trade defenseman Jonas Brodin, leaving Zucker as the most appealing player from the Wild’s list. The first line is centered by the “Russian Crosby” Vadim Shipachyov, Vegas’ free agent signee from SKA St. Petersburg (KHL).

Stanley Cup finalist Nashville’s blueline depth means they can only protect four forwards – even if they protect C Calle Jarnkrök through a side deal, Colin Wilson gives Vegas a good middle-six option. My choice for the second-line center spot is Jori Lehtera, who (after a disappointing season) is rumored to be left unprotected by St. Louis. Even without a side deal, Lehtera was my pick over wingers David Perron or Dmitrij Jaskin. To his right side, Lee Stempniak will suit up for his 11th NHL team. With most of the talented Hurricanes youth still exempt, Carolina’s offerings were below average, which made Stempniak an easy choice. He will be flipped for a pick at the trade deadline.

Mikkel Boedker was a surprise pick for me. I would not have expected him to be available, but reports from San Jose suggest just that. He will have a chance to bounce back on a strong third line in Vegas. The two other players on this line are both coming from New York. Michael Grabner had a phenomenal start to his 2016-17 season before his performances dropped. Even if he can’t replicate his 27 goals from last year, his speed and penalty killing will be valuable to the Golden Knights - and any team that acquires him at the coming trade deadline. Center Ryan Strome on the other hand could stay a Golden Knight for a while. He struggled after a good first NHL season, but a change of scenery could help.

The fourth line could be the most expensive fourth line in the NHL. Left Wing Jamie McGinn ($3’333’333 AAV) was the most appealing player on Arizona’s list, as all of their enormously talented young stars are still exempt from the expansion draft. Center Markus Kruger ($3’083’333 AAV) becomes the newest cap casualty in Chicago. He has been one of the best fourth line centers in the league in the past few years. (Additionally, the Golden Knights will receive defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk in a side deal, according to the Blackhawks’ beat writers.) Rounding out the expensive trio is former Kings captain Dustin Brown ($5’875’000 AAV). The Kings are reportedly interested in getting rid of his albatross of a contract (5.875m for another FIVE years). The Golden Knights won’t run into cap troubles for another few years, so with the incentive of getting an additional first round pick, they will gladly oblige and take Brown instead of defenseman Brayden McNabb.

From Philadelphia’s unprotected list, both Matt Read and Michael Raffl could be strong contributors on an expansion team. After long consideration, however, I went with a younger option in Nick Cousins, whose future value may be bigger than a season’s worth of points from a more established forward. (Edit: Nick Cousins was traded to Arizona in exchange for picks and player rights over night. My replacement choice would be Austrian forward Michael Raffl, a good middle six forward and penalty killer.)

A wildcard for Las Vegas may be Vadim Shipachyov’s longtime line-mate in St. Petersburg, Evgeny Dadonov. An established scorer, Dadonov will have multiple suitors on the free agency market come July 1. Vegas will have to pay a premium, but could offer him lots of ice time and a big role.

Defense

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For a long time, it seemed that the Golden Knights franchise could end up being an above-average team on defense and in goal and sub-par on offense. Unexpected twists and developments may have changed their fate though: While experienced and defensively stable, the Golden Knights blue line will be significantly less talented than was once expected. With the Anaheim Ducks reportedly close to a Sami Vatanen deal (plus a side deal with Vegas to protect Josh Manson) and the Minnesota Wild trading Jonas Brodin, the level of talent on offer has dropped.

My first pair consists of Marc Methot (Ottawa) and Alex Petrovic (Florida). Methot is falling victim to Dion Phaneuf not waiving his Non-Move clause and brings experience, stability, and leadership to the lineup. Alex Petrovic is a talented, right-shot defenseman that could improve with more ice time. His age and contract (RFA) make him a better choice than Jason Demers.

Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is a huge blueliner with untapped talent, as he is yet to play a full NHL season. Trevor van Riemsdyk (the add-on to the Marcus Kruger-pick, see above) is a solid all-around defenseman and still developing.

Montreal was one of the most difficult teams to pick a player from with so many different options available. Czech veteran center Tomas Plekanec is too expensive at 34. Throwing boatloads of money at Alexander Radulov could maybe tempt the Russian to play on Vadim Shipachyov’s wing, but it’s too uncertain. Prospects Charles Hudon and Jacob de la Rose would be available. However, I went with Brendan Davidson, a smart and steady defenseman. He will not be a point producer, but could help the Golden Knights if he can get rid of the injury curse that cut short most of his past few seasons. To his right side, I have penciled Red Wings D-man Ryan Sproul into the lineup. While center Riley Sheahan would have been my preferred pick, I had to go with Sproul to reach the mark of nine defensemen picked. Sproul is a former OHL standout that took a while to develop and is still getting used to the NHL level. He could be a good power play option for Coach Gerard Gallant.

I also picked Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn and Anaheim blueliner Simon Despres. They are good depth defenseman at NHL level, but don’t fit into my current lineup as I don’t want to fill all spots with established players without developing younger talent. Both Coburn and Despres could be flipped for picks and/or prospects right away to fill the pipeline.

Goaltending

Between the posts, Vegas is all set. Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-André Fleury has waived his NMC to make way for Matt Murray in Pittsburgh. He should be the undisputed starter for Vegas next season. Philipp Grubauer will be a more than capable backup and could be Vegas’ starter a few years down the road.

I also decided to hoard goalies if there wasn’t a better option available. Therefore I picked Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark, Blue Jackets backup Joonas Korpisalo and Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban. At 23 years of age, all three of them could still develop into future starters and two of them (Ullmark/Korpisalo) already have considerable pro experience. I would trade at least one for picks/prospects and let the other(s) develop with the AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Starting Lineup

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The starting lineup on opening night will be one with more firepower and more experience than expected, but a weaker supporting cast on the blueline. Nonetheless, Vegas should be ready to compete right away and might cause a few upsets if they’re on their game. However, they’re lacking the star power on defense and (except for Shipachyov) on offense to fight for a playoff spot. I expect them to finish between 22-28th place next year.

Prospects

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With the prospect cupboards still bare, it will be essential for Vegas to both draft well and acquire talent through trades and free agency (undrafted players and Europe). The teams’ minor league affiliates will be the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL. Those clubs will get an influx of talent from the expansion and entry draft. Brendan Gaunce is the most attractive option on the Canucks’ list, he could still use the time in the AHL to develop into a good power forward. Another Canucks’ draftee, Hunter Shinkaruk, is my pick from Calgary. He has the talent to play in the NHL, but is not quite there yet. Another AHL forward on the verge of breaking through is Kerby Rychel. In Toronto’s stacked system, he did not get “the call” yet, but he’s close. From Winnipeg to Las Vegas comes Marko Dano, his already fourth franchise at only 22. He has shown a lot of promise in his short NHL stints and is worth the pick over Joel Armia or Andrew Copp. The lone blueline prospect out of the expansion draft is Griffin Reinhart. A former 4th overall pick, working his way to the big league.

Additionally, the Golden Knights have already announced the free agent signings of Czech forward Tomas Hyka and Canadian forward Reid Duke. Both are bound for an extended stay in a lower league to develop properly.

Last but not least, the Vegas Golden Knights will have the chance to make their first ever selection in the NHL Entry Draft next week in Chicago. They have been awarded the sixth overall pick, after losing out on the lottery for the first three picks. Vegas will pick third in all subsequent rounds. I have Vegas picking defenseman Cale Makar with the sixth overall pick and forward Martin Necas with the 11th overall pick (previously acquired in the expansion draft for picking Dustin Brown).

Thank you for reading along. Feedback and opinions are appreciated!

Another opinion: Expansion Mock Draft by NHL Explained

Want to see another take on the Vegas Golden Knights’ first line-up? Check out Micha Hofer’s (NHL Explained) picks below. Thank you to Micha for your contributions.

If you have any questions on how the NHL Expansion Draft works, check out these explanations from yesterday's article.

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In the Zone

Get in-depth insights and analyses into recent developments and events about the Swiss players in the National Hockey League and their respective teams.

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