For the first time since 2000 a new team was joining the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights are set to begin their franchise play this upcoming season and had to accomplish the first step of filling their roster this Summer via the expansion draft. During the expansion draft, the other 30 NHL teams could protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie or 8 skaters and 1 goalie. Players with no-movement clauses as well as recently drafted or players who have only played two or less seasons did not need to be protected since they were not available for Vegas to select.
Being a new team, Vegas had to find the right balance between being decent now (to appease a new fan base and make them not want to refund season tickets right away), and being good in the future. A good way to acquire draft capital for them was to take on bad contracts, players who are on long term injured reserve, and players that would otherwise not have been selected in the expansion draft due to better players available. Vegas gained a lot of draft picks taking players that are far from ideal, especially the ones who can't even play a game due to injury.
Another aspect of taking less than ideal players from a team is so that the Golden Knights' general manager, George McPhee, remains in the good graces of the other 30 general managers. Unfortunately for the NHL, as is seen with the lack of offer sheets to good restricted free agents, these 31 managers don't like stepping on each other's toes. Being a new team like Vegas, nothing can be more detrimental than starting the franchise guns blazing by taking good players from the unprotected lists.
Vegas had to also be cap compliant and at least meet the salary cap floor, so taking nothing but young players on usually cheap contracts wasn't possible.
15 Kris Versteeg
Rather than taking the 35-year-old bottom pair fixture Deryk Engelland, Vegas should have at least taken Versteeg from the very thin list of players the Flames left unprotected. Versteeg can't offer much, but proved this past season that he's still more than capable of a decent amount of production, especially on the power play. He had 37 points in 69 games, and 16 of those points came on the power play.
He can be a decent piece to fill a hole on the top 6, and since the Golden Knights probably won't be in contention this upcoming season, he can easily be traded away for a prospect to a team pushing for the Stanley Cup. The Engelland pick was a little surprising for many.
14 Michael Cammalleri
Between all the busts and older players the Devils had to offer, Vegas could have done a lot worse than taking Jon Merrill. Though the better pick may have been Mike Cammalleri. He's been very injury prone these past few seasons and is likely to miss time once again next year. When he is healthy and playing though he can add a good dimension to the offense. He loves to shoot all his career and even at 35 he can still be somewhat productive. Like Versteeg, Cammalleri could also be flipped at the deadline, but only if he's healthy of course. In any event, the upside for Cammalleri probably outweighs what Merrill will end up offering them, either as a stalwart of the team, or a possible trade chip later on.
13 Nick Shore
Vegas took your prototypical shutdown defenseman from the Kings in taking Brayden McNabb. He's 6'4", 212 lbs and still only 26 so he still has a few years of decent play left. Sure, the Knights want to build up a solid blueline, with the key to their first-year success being in Marc-Andre Fleury's ability to steal games, but Nick Shore may have been a better fit.
A better shutdown type player could have been had though in the form of a center. Shore is still only 24 and can be leaned on as a center with good defensive play as well as being successful on the penalty kill.
He would have fit perfectly as a third or fourth line center, and would make the task of competing as a new team with a far from perfect roster a bit easier.
12 Zach Bogosian
Vegas took a bit of a gamble taking William Carrier from Buffalo. The 22 year old was a 2nd round pick in 2013 and has 41 NHL games under his belt (5 goals, 3 assists). Though he's a big bodied player with apparent offensive upside, he didn't exactly tear it up in juniors and has been underwhelming in the AHL. It's unlikely he'll even spend the season in Vegas.
A better choice would have been Zach Bogosian. The punishing former 3rd overall pick is a consistent defenseman and a good skater considering his size. He's still only 26 and yet to play a full season since his second year in the NHL. He would've rounded out the Golden Knights' top 4 nicely.
11 Lee Stempniak
A couple of roster players still on entry level contracts means that Carolina got to protect all their good young players. The unprotected list for Carolina was pretty thin, and Vegas opted for the 25-year-old Joakim Nordstrom. The third round pick hasn't really panned out to anything special and went from 24 points in 72 games to only 12 points in 82 games. He is at most going to be a depth scorer. Instead, someone like Stempniak should have been taken. At 34 Stempniak has revitalized his career these past two seasons with 51 and 40 point campaigns. He would have added a veteran presence to the team as well as some top 6 or top 9 scoring, and can even play on the power play.
10 Jake Dotchin
George McPhee chose Jason Garrison because of a deal that saw him also receive a 2017 2nd round pick, a 2018 4th round pick, and rights Nikita Gusev (who plays in the KHL). The draft capital is decent for a team that's trying to establish itself, but Vegas had the opportunity to pilfer any one of several good young defensemen from Tampa. Out of Slater Koekkoek, Andrej Sustr, and Jake Dotchin, it seems the one with the most potential would have to be Dotchin.
He played the majority of the year on the top pairing next to the fantastic Viktor Hedman and showed he was capable of keeping up with the high paced tempo of Tampa's top players. The 161st overall pick in 2012 had 11 points in 35 games in his first taste of the NHL.
9 Matt Read
There isn't much of a difference in terms of style of hockey between Read and Vegas' actual pick of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Both players are speedy forwards, commended for their defensive style of play. Read has enjoyed more production though, seeing as he's good for easily double the amount of points Bellemare puts up in a season. This is mostly due to his power play time and ability to play anywhere in the lineup when needed.
Read's cap hit is a bit high as well for the production he's been able to have for the past two years, regardless of injuries, since he's yet to reach the 20 goal mark since he last did it in 2013-14. Making $3.625M for one more year, Vegas could have been enticed into taking him off Philly's hands early.
8 Michael Grabner
Vegas missed out on the unreal speed and the rejuvenated scoring touch of Grabner. With every shift, and especially on the penalty kill, he adds an interesting niche dynamic of being able to blast by the opposing players via a turnover and create a scoring chance. This was especially evident with his 27 goals and only 13 assists this past season, his best since 2010-11 where he had 34 goals and 18 assists.
That speed also helps defensively in pressuring whomever has the puck. Still only 29, Grabner doesn't show any signs of slowing down. You wonder if the Rangers laid off of Grabner because the Rangers worked out a future side deal with Vegas, but there are no signs of one so far, which really makes this puzzling.
7 Marko Dano
Dano was on his way to already his third team in Winnipeg with the trade that saw Andrew Ladd go to Chicago. With so many talented players crucial to the Jets' core, the shifty forward found himself on the unprotected list for the expansion draft. The 27th overall pick for Columbus in 2013 is phenomenal to watch with the puck, and is lauded for his possession numbers and being sound defensively.
All at the young age of 22. Vegas instead chose Chris Thorburn, a fringe NHL player who was lost to free agency anyway. Vegas did swap draft picks for that expansion pick, gaining the 13th overall pick and 3rd round pick in 2019, while giving the Jets the 24th overall pick.
6 Clarke MacArthur
MacArthur is finally healthy again and is looking to get back to his old role as a top 6 scorer. As we saw this past postseason, MacArthur's return elevated the Sens and he is always capable of clutch goals. He shoots a lot and can generate offence no matter who he plays with. Another veteran that can help bring that Vegas team together is also a plus.
Depending on how good of a shape he's kept over the two years he missed because of injuries, MacArthur can jump right back in to his 20+ goals and 45-50 point potential if he plays a full season. In any event, the risk definitely would have been worth it on MacArthur. Marc Methot was flipped for a 2nd round pick, but MacArthur, if healthy, could have helped Vegas immediately.
5 Brock Nelson
The Islanders were forced to trade their 15th overall pick (Vegas picked Erik Brannstrom), a 2nd round pick in 2019, and Jake Bischoff in order to incentivize taking Mikhail Grabovski's contract as well as only taking backup goalie J-F Berube at the expansion draft. Islanders' general manager Garth Snow had no choice to offer so much because of how many players key to the Islanders had to be left available at the expansion draft. Vegas could have probably done better by taking Brock Nelson. Nelson has excelled at the second line center role. Still only 25, Nelson is almost always good for 20 goals and about 40-45 points per season, as well as being a big body down the middle that so many teams covet.
4 Charles Hudon
The fourth round pick for the Canadiens in 2012 has developed nicely into a consistent point producer in the AHL. A fixture on the Bulldogs/IceCaps first line, the 23-year-old has posted 159 points in 198 games in the AHL. For a team like the Habs that's often pegged with lacking offense and a finishing touch, Hudon has only played in 6 total NHL games in the past two seasons. He's still shown off his offensive potential in the limited opportunities he's gotten, with 4 assists in those 6 games.
Compared to Vegas' eventual choice of taking Alexei Emelin (and his bad contract) off Marc Bergevin's hands, and then trading him to Nashville for a third round pick, taking a prospect like Hudon could have easily been the alternative.
3 Malcolm Subban
Vegas had a few options in terms of prospects to take from the Bruins. Between Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, Malcom Subban, and Alex Khokhlachev, Vegas decided to take 24-year-old Miller. Not necessarily a bad pick, but the Golden Knights could have had some pretty good depth at goalie had they taken Malcolm Subban. Though his NHL numbers in the two games he played are pretty ugly (5.81 GAA, .727 save percentage), the 24th overall pick in 2012 has been good in the AHL.
Where Subban really shines is in the playoffs. In juniors and in the AHL, Subban has more often than not posted stellar numbers, especially in his 17 game run with Belleville (2.00 GAA, .933 save percentage). The upside on Subban could have been much higher.
2 Petr Mrazek
Nobody is quite sure what Ken Holland was thinking when he decided to protect 33 year old Jimmy Howard instead of 25 year old Petr Mrazek. Mrazek did have a step back this season with a 3.01 GAA and a .901 save percentage, but had showed huge promise in the almost 100 games before that. Especially last season when he had a 2.33 GAA and .921 save percentage. The Golden Knights should have definitely taken the young Czech net minder over their eventual selection of Tomas Nosek. Nosek isn't exactly a household name. Only 24, but went undrafted and has only played in 11 NHL games thus far (1 goal). Mrazek and Fleury would've been a very decent tandem for the Golden Knights in their first season.
1 Matt Dumba
The Wild dodged a bullet in the expansion draft. They had at least three good players Vegas could have taken with Eric Staal, Matt Dumba, and Marco Scandella all up for grabs. But for the low price of losing the now 26-year-old former 7th round pick (and basically depth scorer) Erik Haula, as well as 1st round pick in 2014 Alex Tuch as well as a conditional draft pick in a trade, the Wild keep three key players. Out of those three though, Vegas would have made a great move in taking Dumba. A right handed shot that has the potential to be on a top pairing, the 22 year old is coming off a breakout season. He had 34 points in 76 games compared to his 26 points in 81 games the previous year, the former 7th overall pick in 2012 is now starting to come into his own.