The Las Vegas Golden Knights are open for business, as they recently signed their first player, Reid Duke, to a contract. Next up for the Golden Knights will be negotiations with teams, as they look to sneak their way to a creative and successful National Hockey League roster. A large part of that process includes scouting the different NHL teams to find hidden gems and players that can immediately contribute to the success of the Golden Knights. General Manager George McPhee has the difficult task of trying to be a competitive team straight out of the gate, but the NHL did cater the rules a bit towards helping McPhee and the Golden Knights succeed in competing right away. With that in mind, McPhee and company have been able to scour the NHL markets to find the best and brightest players that will not be protected by their respective NHL cubs, thus becoming possible additions for the Golden Knights.
While we do not yet know who will be protected and who will not be, we have a fair amount of logic behind the different spots that will be open, and the different players that will be kept away from the NHL's newest franchise. While some players are playing their way out of consideration for Las Vegas, others are essentially playing their way onto the Golden Knights' roster. Let's focus on those players, as we take a look at 15 players that are playing their way onto the Las Vegas Golden Knights' roster this season.
15 Michael Grabner
Michael Grabner was a classic "keep the expansion draft in mind when agreeing to terms" contract done by Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers. Sure, the Rangers likely enjoyed getting Grabner under contract for two seasons, but the Austrian forwards pact covering the second season made him available for the Expansion Draft. Of course the Rangers could protect him, but that would mean leaving someone like Derek Stepan or Mats Zuccarello unprotected, which will not happen. Michael Grabner is a speedster that is best known for his defensive brand of hockey, but also happens to be a former 30-goal scorer for the New York Islanders. This season Grabner boasts 26 goals in a fantastic year for one of the top scoring teams in the NHL.
14 Jason Zucker
The Minnesota Wild are certain to lose a valuable player to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, as the Wild have far too many talented forwards and far too many talented defensemen to protect them all. It's one of the complicated aspects of the Expansion Drafts, teams see themselves punished for their rosters being too good. Well, that is the case for the Minnesota Wild, who are set to lose a forward or a defenseman to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. George McPhee and company would be wise to snatch up Jason Zucker, who is having a solid year in a role that is not as large as the biggest he can succeed in. Oh, and Zucker happens to be from Las Vegas. It's a perfect fit.
13 Philipp Grubauer
The Washington Capitals will not likely be too upset when they watch Philipp Grubauer leave in the upcoming Expansion Draft. Yes, at this point it seems like a matter of "when" not "if". See, Grubauer has been lights out this season for the Capitals, serving as the best backup in the entire National Hockey League behind Braden Holtby, one of the best starters in the entire league. But teams can only protect one goalie in the Expansion Draft, so the Capitals will lose their sidekick in the Draft. However excellent Grubauer has been, Washington will be happy to lose a player in as minimal a role as the backup goaltender over a top six forward or a top four defenseman. And so the Expansion Draft goes.
12 Thomas Hickey
The New York Islanders have a boatload of NHL ready defensemen, and Thomas Hickey appears the most likely man out. Hickey was recently scratched by the Islanders despite being a fan favorite and a regular overtime hero. Hickey does not contribute much offensively, but plays a fine defense for New York. However, New York also has Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Calvin deHaan, and more defensemen ready to play for the top four. While the Las Vegas Golden Knights could pluck away Calvin deHaan, the bet here is that the Islanders find a way to protect deHaan, leaving the Golden Knights with a choice between an Islanders forward, or Thomas Hickey. The choice is easy there and will be Thomas Hickey going to the newest franchise.
11 Andreas Athanasiou
If Andreas Athanasiou is selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft, the Detroit Red Wings will have made a huge, huge mistake. Andreas Athanasiou is an ultra-talented young forward on the Red Wings, with there being a very good chance that he is the most talented young forward currently on the Red Wings altogether. Yes, that includes Dylan Larkin - former All-Star Dylan Larkin. Yet for whatever reason the Red Wings do not appear to understand what they have in the young centerman, and with plenty of other forwards that demand to be protected, we see the Red Wings leaving their bright young center unprotected. George McPhee is not an idiot, so we see him plucking away the best pick of the draft.
10 Alex Petrovic
Alex Petrovic is having a fine season for the Florida Panthers, and that will be the undoing of his career with the Florida Panthers. The Expansion Draft makes some crazy sentences get typed up. The reasoning behind this is similar to the reasoning behind Thomas Hickey being selected away from the New York Islanders. The Florida Panthers simply have too many good defenseman to be able to protect Alex Petrovic, but Alex Petrovic is simply too good of a defenseman for the Las Vegas Golden Knights to pass up on. In the end, Petrovic's good season and overall contributions as a defenseman in the Panthers' organization will lead him right onto the Golden Knights' roster, joining Hickey and others to form the newest blue-line.
9 Alex Killorn
The Tampa Bay Lightning have the same problem that the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers have, only instead of defensemen, the Lightning's problem comes up front. Tampa Bay has so many talented young forwards that they will not know what to do with them all. Due to the tremendous play of Anton Stralman, the Lightning won't be able to simply protect only Victor Hedman on the back-end and go all-in on protecting their forwards. That means a top forward will be available for selection for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the Golden Knights will not swing and miss on this one. They will grab Alex Killorn, a fine two-way forward that can help lead the top six into early relevancy.
8 Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov is an interesting case because the Colorado Avalanche will likely be fine with losing him in the Expansion Draft to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will likely be thrilled to bring him aboard. So how does this end up happening? Varlamov is essentially playing his way onto the Golden Knights' roster by playing poorly for an awful team, and often getting hurt. The Avalanche do not have a major need for a goaltender with injury problems trending in the wrong direction, while the Golden Knights would be wise to take a chance on a goaltender who could serve as their starter, and has a strong history with George McPhee. Varlamov's poor play is exactly what will bring him to Vegas.
7 Josh Manson
Josh Manson is not exactly the biggest name that we expect to be available for the taking in the upcoming Expansion Draft, but make no mistake about it. Manson will be a highly useful player for his entire NHL career, and the Golden Knights would be wise to jump on him if he becomes available. The Anaheim Ducks, Manson's current team, are in a bind given that they have a boatload of defensemen on the roster, more waiting in the wings on defense, and plenty of forwards to protect. That leaves them with little choice but to leave the young defenseman Manson available for the taking, and the Golden Knights have little choice (nor should they want any choice) but to grab him and go.
6 Trevor van Riemsdyk
The Las Vegas Golden Knights will have yet another defenseman made available to them, this time by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks have plenty of difficult decisions ahead of them, with Trevor van Riemsdyk fighting to be protected by the Blackhawks on defense, and Marcus Kruger, Ryan Hartman, and Richard Panik hoping to be protected by the Blackhawks up front. While Hartman, Kruger, and Panik are having solid seasons offensively for the Blackhawks, van Riemsdyk has struggled through some injury woes and some inconsistency. That may result in his being left unprotected by the Blackhawks, which in turn will lead to the Las Vegas Golden Knights getting another middling defenseman. As you can tell, the Golden Knights will not have trouble finding defensemen for their new roster.
5 Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop is a curious case because absolutely no one expected him to be traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Los Angeles Kings this Trade Deadline. But Bishop was traded, and it set him up to eventually opt to sign with the Golden Knights this off-season. Although the Golden Knights can get their fair share of goaltenders in the Expansion Draft, signing Bishop would solve a few problems. They would have a big name, they would make their big free-agency splash, and they would have someone who wishes to be a starting goalie and has the experience to do so. There are not many teams looking for goalies currently in the NHL, meaning Bishop is likely to land with the league's newest franchise.
4 Paul Byron
Finally, the Las Vegas Golden Knights get themselves another forward. Although Paul Byron went through some dry spells at different times this season, he is still a fine scorer that would make a nice bottom six addition for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Montreal Canadiens have an abundance of forwards, making Byron expendable to them. Of course someone who is expendable to them does not have to be meaningless to the newest expansion franchise, as plenty of times the two situations will not match up. This is one of those cases, and Byron will end up as the newest forward for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Who knows, maybe he can take on a more offensively-driven role with his new club as well!
3 Colin Wilson
The Nashville Predators are all bur certain to use the method of Expansion protection that saves them an extra defensemen instead of a forward, meaning that one of Craig Smith or Colin Wilson will be made available to the Golden Knights. After an outstanding postseason, Colin Wilson is not lighting things up in the regular season this year. That will help make the decision easier for the Predators, who will leave Wilson exposed in the Expansion Draft. Enter the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a team that will have to get used to bringing on middle six forwards rather than lethal talents. Wilson will fit right in as a player who is not good enough for the top line, but can help in general situations.
2 Matt Read
Matt Read began the season as one of the best scorers in the entire National Hockey League. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Matt Read did that! But Matt Read has been horrendous since then offensively, essentially playing his way off of the protection list for the Philadelphia Flyers. With that in mind, he will be the best player available for selection when it comes time for the Las Vegas Golden Knights to pluck away a player from the Flyers. Read will join the Golden Knights as a bottom six player, and if George McPhee and company are lucky, maybe they can get him to maintain the scoring pace he was on at the beginning of the season. Don't count on that at all, though.
1 Brian Dumoulin
Brian Dumoulin's race for the Las Vegas Golden Knights' roster began in last year's playoffs, and he did not even know it at the time. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman proved to be a capable top four defenseman in the playoffs, and has only furthered his case this season. Pittsburgh has suffered various injuries on their defense, but Dumoulin has managed to be a consistent positive on the blue-line despite it. His reward will be a spot on the first ever roster of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, as it is simply not realistic for the Penguins to protect him when they have so many other assets to keep away from the Golden Knights. Dumoulin will be a talented, young addition to the Golden Knights.