The Vegas Golden Knights filled out its roster in this week’s expansion draft with a good mix of current and future NHL talent, according to a hockey writer and podcaster.
For its inaugural season, the team struck a balance between acquiring established players and investing in the future, said Larry Fisher, at-large contributor to The Hockey Writers website and host of its “Facing Off” podcast
“In some cases, they passed on bigger names, more expensive contracts in order to go with younger guys that have upside and come in a lot cheaper,” the Kelowna, British Columbia-based Fisher told State of Nevada.
The expansion draft came amid a week of hockey business and celebration in Las Vegas that also included the NHL Awards and the release of the Golden Knights schedule.
The team takes to the ice for its first-ever regular season game on Oct. 6, playing the Dallas Stars on the road.
How did they fare?
They fared quite well. They did what a lot of people expected. There weren’t a whole lot of surprises. By the time the roster was announced, most of the names had leaked out. A lot of the names were the names we expected. In some cases, they passed on bigger names, more expensive contracts, in order to go with younger guys who, have an up side that comes in a lot cheaper on the cap. So, they may not have iced the best team possible, but they iced the team that could be good now and in the future.
Is that a good strategy?
They could have had enough talent out of that draft if they would have made no side trades and just took all the top-end players that were technically available to them, that teams couldn't protect on their protection lists. If they would have picked all those players they would have had a strong team in year one but it wouldn’t have been a sustainable team. It would have been guys in the last year of their contract or guys that are going to need a big raise next year. It would have been a very exciting product for year one. They would have won quite a few games. Maybe they would have squeaked into the playoffs but then what come year two.
How many wins should the fans expect this first year?
They’re playing in a really tough division. You’ve got the Alberta teams. Edmonton and Calgary are on the rise. They both made the playoffs again this year. You got the three California teams, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim. Anaheim went to the conference final against Nashville. LA is a team that is older but they still got some juice left in the tank, much the same with San Jose. Playing those teams so many times, it’s going to be tough to muster a lot of wins.
If they get 30 wins out of 82, I think that’s a reasonably successful season. If they somehow made 500 and got 40 wins, which would put them right around a playoff spot that would be overachieving in my opinion based on the roster we see today.
Some teams are known for being physical and some teams are known for their finesse. What kind of team will the Golden Knights be?
I think owner Bill Foley has wanted a blend, a combination all along of finesse and physical. I know he’s going to like some rough stuff. They drafted some guys who are built for the rough stuff. Deryk Engelland lives in Vegas year-round. He’s a Vegas resident. Not necessarily the player that most people who have picked from Calgary but obviously, his Vegas connections helped him become a Golden Knight.
He’s a guy that’s obviously a real tough customer. One of the tougher guys in the league. As well as a guy like Chris Thorburn. He’ll be a fourth line energy guy, who will run around and bang some bodies.
They drafted some guys like that, and at the same time, they drafted some finesse guys. You look at a guy like Jonathan Marchessault A young guy who is a real finesse player and scored 30 goals last season. Cody Eakin, he’s got some jam to him and David Perron but you put those three on a line and that could be a finesse high-skill line. Reilly Smith, James Neal, he’s probably going to be a go-to-guy offensively as far as scoring and the Russian that they signed prior to the expansion draft Vadim Shipachyov. He’s a very high-end, high-skill play-making forward. I think you’re going to see a fast team with a nice blend of finesse and physicality.
What does the rest of hockey think about the NHL in Las Vegas?
I think everybody is super excited about a team in Vegas. Free agency starts on July 1 and we’re going to see it there. Do players want to play in Vegas? Guys who can sign with any of the 31 teams are they going to consider Vegas a realistic possibility. They’re going to look at the roster and say, ‘okay, I can get first, second – top minutes – on the team. Or do I go sign with Pittsburgh where I take less money but have a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup.’ That’s what players have got to weigh: do you want to win now or do you want to be part of something from the ground up.
Everybody I’ve talked to and sources around the league, everybody is super excited for the Vegas hockey market and experience an NHL game on the Vegas Strip, there is a ton of excitement from fans to media to players to coaches, general managers, scouts – everybody is looking forward to experiencing hockey in Vegas.
Larry Fisher, hockey writer and podcaster
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