I fancy myself a Golden Knights fan.
I really don’t know. Maybe it’s fatigue from years of being a Leafs fan, maybe it’s because I remember how excited I was as a kid when the Sharks came into the league and I want to capture that feeling. Maybe the Leafs are about to be good and by the time playoffs roll around I’d sooner have my evenings to do other things besides watching hockey.
My poor decision making aside, I’m a Vegas Golden Knights, and as a Vegas Golden Knights I’m gonna put out my final mock expansion draft, based on the protection lists and the information we have regarding, which side deals might already be in place.
The first thing to remember is that trying to build a team out of the expansion draft will equal certain death. I’m sure it can be done, but it seems like it’s needlessly hard, and it’s a lot easier to extort GMs into paying to protect their players, or to immediately slap “For Sale” signs on the players that have been selected and see what futures can be acquired. I’m all for playing the long game on the Golden Knights, and I’m pleased to see that George McPhee has chosen that direction.
Team by Team, here’s who I picked with a quick reason why…
Nic Kerdiles- assuming there is a deal in place to keep hands off of Vatanen and Manson (there would have to be otherwise you don’t protect who they did) the best option becomes a young, cheap forward under contract.
After he clears waivers he’s probably a decent AHL option and nothing more, but hopefully Vegas got something nice for leaving the Ducks blue line alone.
Kevin Connaulton- The Coyotes are too young and too bad to give up anything worthwhile in an expansion draft so it probably makes sense to take a player like Connaulton who will actually see ice time on a bad expansion team after the better defensemen have been dealt for futures
Colin Miller- This was an actual tough choice. Khokhlachev would have been a good option, but it’s somewhat doubtful he wants to come back to North America to play on an expansion team. I still call if I’m George McPhee.
Miller is the safer bet as he should be an easy flip for an asset pick for the Knights as there won’t be any shortage of teams looking for good, cheap, right side D.
William Carrier- This is an easy selection from a bad team. Unless the Sabres will pay a premium to have Bogosian or Moulson taken, I’d go with the player who has shown some promise and should have been protected.
Hunter Shinkaruk- Like Carrier, Shinkaruk is a chance to go with a young forward who needs to show promise soon. Between Shinkaruk, Carrier, and Kerdiles we at least have one hell of an AHL team going.
Joakim Nordstrom- I’m guessing he could be a standout on an expansion team or an easy way of picking up a decent pick now or at the next trade deadline as Nordstrom has the skills GMs covet. I can’t see the Hurricanes paying to dump a goalie.
Marcus Kruger- The idea that the Knights take Kruger in order to also receive Trevor van Riemsdyk seems set in stone. I’m not sure I fully get why they do this when they can just take TVR, so there must be another kicker, or a potential suitor interested in Kruger. Either way, no point in looking beyond this option.
Mark Barberio- They’ll probably need someone to play on their blue line and Barberio is a decent, cheap option.
William Karlsson- The rumoured deal to protect Jack Johnson is hilarious and pretty much guarantees that Vegas gets Karlsson and a 1st from the BJs
Dan Hamhuis- Someone is gonna trade for him, might as well pick up Hamhuis and start listening to offers on him.
Petr Mrazek- This looks like a desperate move to clear salary anyway they can, and the hope is Vegas will take him.
They’d be fools not to, as his age and upside is a perfect fit.
Jujhar Khaira- In his limited action there are signs that Khaira could be an NHL regular. He’s probably AHL bound at first, even on an expansion team, but he could be a good and afford fit.
Jonathan Marchessault- Let’s assume that a deal isn’t in place to keep hands off Jonathan, he’s then a easy grab for an offence starved team. Assume a deal gets worked out you still have Demers as a decent Plan B, and Reilly Smith as Plan C. I don’t get Dale Tallon at all.
Los Angeles Kings
Brayden McNabb- Again, something is likely happening here from a trade perspective, but assuming they aren’t bribed into taking Brown, McNabb is the logical pick. It also doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Kings to give up picks or prospects before they are about to decline.
Marco Scandella- Eventually George McPhee will have to turn down offers for leaving players alone and actually take someone who can play. I’ll assume that’s how Scandella becomes a Golden Knight, even if for a brief moment.
Brandon Davidson- I really thought the Beaulieu trade was because the Habs wanted to protect Davidson. Instead he’ll get picked, unless Jacob De La Rose makes more sense because of the lack of viable forwards.
James Neal- Nashville is gonna lose someone good, and they decided it won’t be a defenseman or Calle Jarnkrok. If they can pay the price to have Neal left alone, Aberg, Wilson, or Smith will likely be the price alone with whatever premium had to be paid to keep Neal for one more year.
Scott Wedgwood- He’s legitimately the only option here. Why not have a goalie prospect instead of the other crap that Jersey is offering up?
New York Islanders
Ryan Strome- If we are to believe what has been said, Strome is available for the taking and Vegas should. Calvin de Haan is enticing, but this team needs someone who can score.
New York Rangers
Antti Raanta- Here’s yet another potential Vegas #1, but given his cheap price tag, Vegas will get some decent pressure to move him. Worst case scenario, Vegas will be very deep in net while being questionable everywhere else on the ice.
Marc Methot- I’m not sure how valuable Methot is to the Knights. He’s probably too old for them to want to keep him. I have my doubts the trade market for him is so exceptional that he’s worth risking eating his salary, but on the other hand he’s a pretty good defenseman and it’s worth leaning this way in hopes that the Senators will pony up something for Vegas to take Bobby Ryan.
Vegas probably should want Bobby Ryan, despite the fact he’s an asshole.
Michael Raffl- He’s priced right and average enough that he seems like he was born to be taken in an expansion draft.
Matt Read is probably the Plan B, but I am curious if the Flyers would actually pay up to have Andrew MacDonald be out of their hair.
Marc-Andre Fleury- Personally, I would take Carl Hagelin, but there is no bloody way that MAF waived his No Movement Clause without this being something they are seeing through to the end.
I am curious if this is something McPhee is just happy to do, or if the Pens are sending a sweetener Vegas’ way.
Brenden Dillon- I am not personally sold on Dillon, but I believe that the Golden Knights would receive an overpayment for him within minutes of their roster being announced.
Jordan Binnington- My heart says take Nail Yakupov, but my mind says he might not receive a qualifying offer and you can take a cheaper run at him then. If you don’t believe that to be the case, you probably take him here.
If you don’t believe that you go with someone like Binnington, and sure up your goaltending pipeline.
Andrej Sustr- I’m a little surprised Coburn was protected over Sustr, but this is still far from a painful loss for them. A big, affordable right side defenseman can be a moveable asset, probably even more so at the trade deadline.
Kerby Rychel- As much as Leafs fans are losing their shit over Leipsic possibly going, my money is on Rychel being the better fit for Vegas. He’s more of a top six type player if he figures it out and Vegas needs to gamble on at least one of their guys like Rychel, Carrier, or Shinkaruk figuring it out.
Brendan Gaunce- I dunno. The list is incredibly unappealing and it should be clear that I’m building the Knights to be a last chance club for potential first round busts.
Nate Schmidt- Grubauer was my first choice for the Capitals, but it became to easy to find decent goaltending elsewhere.
Schmidt adds a lot more depth to the Vegas blue line that might be good even after they trade away a few pieces.
Marko Dano- Another in the just needs a chance club. Dano has over 100 games experience at this point, so that probably would make him a veteran on the Knights. Vegas would be his 4th team and that’s pretty wacky.
The End Result
So at a quick glance, the goaltending situation is deep beyond what would ever be required. There are two capable NHL starters, a capable NHL backup on a great contract who could be a starter, and two prospects who may or may not ever pan out.
It seems like the opening night goaltender is going to be Marc-Andre Fleury, but Mrazek and Raanta should be easy to shop. It’s debatable whether Wedgewood or Binnington will be ready for backup duty this season, but something tells me that teams like Dallas and Carolina might be willing to send a backup to Vegas, if they are interested in taking on a bit of salary.
Definitely another strength for this team, and I’d argue this group, if kept intact would be in the top half of the league quality wise.
Of course, they really shouldn’t keep them intact, and instead rely on there being a market for Hamhuis and Methot.
After the two of them, I could make a case for wanting to keep the rest, but I’d have to imagine the returns for Scandella, Miller, Dillon, Schmidt, and Sustr probably see at least a couple more departures.
There has to be one area of the team that’s a total train wreck and it’s easily the forward group. I’m sure a case can be made for different selections, and frankly I’m a little disgusted with myself for relying so heavily on near bust former first round picks, but ideally this is the best way of swinging for the fences. The players who you think aren’t too bad, are probably the players that will be traded before the entry draft, minus one who will likely be the player the team hopelessly markets as it’s star.
Is It Reasonable to Expect Trades?
Short answer: Yes
Long answer: The NHL is so bloody joyless and risk averse, there is no way that the flurry of trades you’d hope to see will ever materialize. Vegas will make more deals than we’re used to seeing, but they aren’t going to turnover their entire roster in a matter of days.
With the roster I selected I’d assume at least one goaltender, two defensemen, and a forward gone at minimum over the course of the summer. That’s my low bar.
Players like Neal, Hamhuis, and Raanta might be better dealt at the trade deadline hoping there is a premium later on, and the Knights have been able to ice a better team for a few months thanks to these few players. The players I’d feel a sense of urgency around would be Methot and Mrazek.
The Mystery Box
It’s rumoured that the Golden Knights already have 3 additional first round picks (Ducks, Blue Jackets, and Islanders?) in this draft thanks to deals made around the expansion draft, that’s not too shabby. They also apparently have a deal worked out with Chicago (which may include Trevor van Riemsdyk), and probably one with Pittsburgh, though the returns may not be as significant there.
Nashville, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Ottawa also likely have some interest in getting something done, but at some point you also have to wonder if it’s just better for Vegas to take the player they want.
The lack of high end players in this draft might have teams more willing to pay the price to protect their average assets, and that’s fair, but for Vegas to potentially walk away from their first week as a franchise with one of the deepest prospect pools is also a huge win.
The fact that the majority of the players I selected in this mock draft are former first rounders, so be warned that this is far from a foolproof approach, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you try to build a team that can compete immediately out of the players available, you are even more likely to fail miserably.