We are now under six months away from the NHL Expansion Draft. One player must be selected from all 30 teams, but they are all intertwined. Las Vegas GM George McPhee will be mandated to choose a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies when he submits his list of 30 names on June. 21. But for our purposes we will focus on the top 20 that will suit up for the Golden Knights. This will include possible trade acquisitions and free agent signings. After all, a competitive roster can't be made up by just selecting players in an expansion draft.
We will select 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. There is no doubt that fans would love to see a star player of any caliber suit up for the Golden Knights. One man that will circumvent the draft process is Joe Thornton. He and the San Jose Sharks will likely agree to a one-year contract after the two-day selection process is over. George McPhee was worried about teams staging such a strategy and thus, there will be slim pickings for the new expansion team. The only way George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights will land an interesting name is via the trade route. Perhaps the New York Islanders will leave Andrew Ladd unprotected for McPhee.
Let’s be honest, Vegas will need to take on at least one bad contract to reach the cap floor. Here is a projection of the top 20 players the will make up the Vegas Golden Knights roster.
20 Drew Stafford, RW – Winnipeg
The former Buffalo Sabre is 31 years of age and potentially has another contract in him. He’s a journeyman winger who has been able to up reliable 2nd and 3rd line minutes throughout his career. Drew Stafford will have played over 700 career NHL games by next season. He has tallied 387 points with 178 goals. He also accumulated 91 of those points on the power play and has a career shooting percentage of 11. He is a big body standing in at 6’2 and 214 pounds. He plays the right side and is a right-handed shooter.
If the Golden Knights came knocking, this would be a great opportunity for Stafford to become relevant again and even play top line minutes. He is unlikely to be protected by Winnipeg. This season he has appeared in 28 games scoring 3 goals and tallying 8 points. His shooting percentage has also dropped to 6.7.
19 Jonathan Bernier, G – Anaheim Ducks
Jonathan Bernier, once thought to the savior of Toronto, turned to be the scape goat, and then turned into a decent backup. He would most certainly help stabilize the Golden Knights crease as the backup. Bernier is an inexpensive option who could very well slot in a 1A/1B situation if needed. The 28-year-old veteran is currently riding shotgun behind the young John Gibson, who is struggling to find his game, although, the Anaheim Ducks will protect Gibson in the expansion draft and leave Bernier exposed. Bernier has appeared in 229 games with 94 wins, 91 loses and 24 OT loses. The man also has 12 career shutouts to his name.
With Gibson being the goalie of the future in Anaheim, the magic eight ball says Bernier will possibly be a Golden Knight next season. But maybe not via the expansion draft selection process, but rather through a trade.
18 Philip Danault, C – Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin took a gamble on the former first round pick. If we were to evaluate his overall play for the Montreal Canadiens, most people would give him a B+ for his effort. He has stepped in and done a great job during Montreal’s slew of injuries. The 23-year-old is under contract until the end of 2017-18 and the former first-rounder is finding his function in Montreal. But here is the problem. The Montreal Canadiens will not be able to protect Danault as they would rather protect their top 4 defensemen in Weber, Markov, Beaulieu and Petry. Deals can be made. Perhaps players like this will be taken in a trade rather than at the expansion draft. Bergevin is a smart man but so is George McPhee. Danault would help the Knights by centering a team that will be weak down the middle.
17 Benoit Pouliot, LW - Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers finally decided to do a mini rebuild. They traded away Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. In any trade, the team with the best player in the deal wins. Edmonton lost. Now outside of Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon, the rest of the team is having difficulties scoring. The Oilers will need to protect at least four defensemen in this case. Best case scenario for Benoit Pouliot is him being drafted by Vegas. The Oilers signed him to a terrible contract, especially for a player of his skill level.
This is a contract they desperately need to shed quick. Pouliot is having a pretty bad season, and Maroon leads the Oilers in goals behind McDavid. Pouliot is a proven NHL player that can put up 40 points. They could easily add his veteran presence to the locker room of what will surely be a mix of young and seasoned players.
16 Alex Petrovic, D – Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have made some costly mistakes in the off-season and during the regular season. First, bringing in Yandle and Demers while trading away defense man Erik Gudbranson. It shocked up their core defensive play and it really has given their goalies and difficult time in the crease. Then, they went on to fire their coach Gallant. Clearly something is wrong in the retirement state. Having said all that, Alex Petrovic has been a slow progression for the Panthers. He was drafted by them 36th overall in 2010. He is 6’4 and 206 pounds. The 24-year-old has played his entire career with the Panthers. In 5 seasons, he has appeared in 128 games and tallied 26 points with 3 goals. He would definitely be a bottom pairing of sorts in Vegas, but the new opportunity may spark some more of his offensive abilities and bring forward what he has been lacking in Florida.
15 Dustin Brown, RW – Los Angeles Kings
The book on Dustin Brown finally seems to be drawing to a conclusion. It is no secret that the Los Angeles Kings would like to part ways with him. Having said that, there is little chance the Kings will protect him. But, his salary might be one of those bad contracts you could decide to take on. After all, the Vegas Golden Knights will need to hit the cap floor. He is making $5.9 million per season until 2022. It doesn’t look like Brown will ever reach the 50-point mark again. However, being a former captain and a Stanley Cup winner does provide much needed leadership for a new club. He is a reliable penalty killer and can still punish people with his 6’0, 205-pound body. Plus, he is familiar with warm weather. What is not to like about this guy? This is a character player McPhee and the Golden Knights will appreciate having in the locker room.
14 Calvin de Haan, D – New York Islanders
The New York Islanders made Calvin de Haan the 12th pick in the 2009 draft. He has played all of his five seasons for the Islanders. In 227 games played, he has tallied 53 points with eight goals. His career shooting percentage is 2.5. Clearly, he would not be drafted to quarterback the power play for the Golden Knights, but rather a solid defenseman, capable of making very few mistakes, playing a strong game. The Carp, Ontario native is also a shot blocking machine, who will sacrifice himself on the ice. He is 6’1’ and weighs 197 pounds.
Again, he is another young man at the age of 25 who George McPhee can use to build his team without taking on a bad contract. The New York Islanders have too many other players to protect and it is likely that Vegas drafts him.
13 Kevin Klein, D – New York Rangers
It looks like the logical situation with regards to Kevin Klein will be him leaving the Big Apple for Sin City. The New York Rangers will likely protect their other defenseman. The Kitchener, Ontario native stands at 6’1 and 206 pounds. He is a right handed D-man that has developed a plus rating since joining the Rangers. The former Nashville Predator had his two best offensive seasons of his career the last two campaigns. In 605 career NHL games, he has tallied 150 points and 35 goals. His career rating is plus-22.
Klein is also an excellent checker with shot blocking skills. He has never really been given that many power play opportunities. In fact, he only has four career power-play points. In Vegas he will have the opportunity to put up better power play numbers.
12 Jimmy Hayes, RW – Boston Bruins
Chicago gave up on Jimmy Hayes and so did the Florida Panthers. But the one thing Jimmy Hayes does well is bang bodies. George McPhee may want to add some size down the right side and Jimmy Hayes of the Boston Bruins would be a sound pick. The former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick is not very fast but hurts people in the corners. Hayes has appeared in 279 games in the NHL and has tallied 98 points with 51 goals. This year, he has played in 36 games and put up a mere three points. Boston is certainly not happy with him and it does not look like he will be protected at the expansion draft. If the Golden Knights can pair him up with a defensive center, Hayes will look like a steal. Yes, it is true. The plus/minus statistic is related to your line mates. His plus minus game looks horrible because he has been playing with players like Matt Beleskey and Riley Nash.
11 Jack Johnson, D – Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are absolutely dynamite this season. Everyone can whine and complain how much they hate John Tortorella, but he is really making powdered eggs taste like real eggs. But, let’s start throwing names out there. If anyone needs a fresh start, it’s Jack Johnson. Prior to John Tortorella coming aboard part way through the 2015-16 season, the former third overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes was enjoying a resurgence. Then Tortorella came along and Johnson’s production dipped quite a bit. He scored just six goals and eight assists in 60 games.
But this year it seems Tortorella has stabilized Johnson quite a bit. In 39 games played this season he has tallied 11 points and is also a plus 21. He would make an excellent addition to a franchise for his shot blocking alone and it looks like he has found his defensive game. He is a $4.35 million cap hit next season.
10 Andreas Athanasiou, C – Detroit Red Wings
Andreas Athanasiou is a 22-year-old center with tremendous potential. He stands in at 6’2 and weighs 188 pounds. He has appeared in 62 games for the Detroit Red wings tallying 26 points with 16 goals. This season he has put up 12 points in 25 games. With a little more seasoning and added muscle mass, this kid will be absolutely dynamite. It is also possible that the Golden Knights go with experience and pluck a veteran from the Red Wings. But, today's NHL is all about youth and developing young players rather quickly. He is a solid bet for Las Vegas.
Detroit has a good mix of veterans and young talent and it seems almost likely that they would rather protect Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan, and Anthony Mantha, just to name a few. George McPhee is a very knowledgeable hockey professional. He will not take on any bad contracts unless he absolutely needs to. Frankly, there are no bad contracts that I would want from Detroit. Andreas for the win.
9 Brett Ritchie, RW – Dallas Stars
Brett Ritchie is a 6’3’’ right winger who weighs in at 220 pounds. He is the type of acquisition that will cost the Golden Knights nothing… but pay huge dividends in the end. Ritchie is 23 years of age and does not have a tremendous deal of NHL experience. In 79 career games played for the Dallas Stars, he has tallied 21 points and 13 goals. He has the ability to score more goals. His shooting percentage is 7.7% this season, but if the Golden Knights expanded his role and asked him to shoot more, that percentage could easily jump up.
The product of Orangeville, Ontario could improve his possession metrics, to make himself for marketable in the short term. After all the big man is exactly that, a big man. He needs to use his strength to hold onto the puck more.
8 Trevor Daley, D – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired a rather early Christmas gift by acquiring Trevor Daley from the Dallas Stars in 2015. He played a strong two-way defensive game in 53 regular season games and 15 games in the postseason before getting hurt. During the regular season, he scored 6 goals and 6 assists and had a plus-minus rating of plus-8. In the playoffs he added a goal and five assists and was plus-1 in just over 22 minutes of ice time. He is 5’11 and weighs 195 pounds. The 33-year-old plays bigger than his size and was a large reason the Penguins turned it around last year.
Trevor Daley was drafted 43rd overall by Dallas in 2002. In 872 career games played he has tallied 271 points with a rating of plus-23. He’ll earn $3.3 million in the last year of a six-year contract and is an excellent pillar to help steady the Golden Knights.
7 Chris Tierney, LW – San Jose Sharks
Chris Tierney is a lot like Colin Wilson. Tierney, a left shooting center, is a solid cheap option. He is making $925,000 in the last year of his three-year deal. He has been known to play the wing, so flexibility is in his game. The 55th overall selection by the Sharks in 2012 stands in at 6’1 and 195 pounds. He is also only 22 years of age but is not a huge point producer. However, he can be a dependable fourth line option who can move up and down the line up as needed.
He has appeared 162 NHL games and tallied 52 points, scoring 16 goals with 36 assists. Perhaps given a chance to eat up some minutes outside of the shadows of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns would help his career. McPhee could not go wrong in drafting Tierney.
6 Colin Wilson, LW – Nashville Predators
Many fans had Colin Wilson on their radar for their fantasy team this year. But to be realistic, it seems like being in Nashville might actually hurt his ability to evolve. He has been a steady point producer with several decent seasons. Wilson would be a smart choice for McPhee. He stands at 6’1 and 221 pounds and is still fairly young at 27. Wilson is also signed through 2019 at just under $4 million per season, is defensively responsible and can score on a semi-regular basis. In 470 NHL games played, he has tallied 219 points.
In the 2015-16 playoffs, Wilson was a force for the Predators, scoring five goals and eight assists in 14 games. The former Boston University product has spent his entire career with Nashville after being picked seventh overall in the 2008 draft. His face-off numbers are not amazing, which would be a clear sign that he should have been playing the wing most of these years. Grab this workhorse, McPhee.
5 Dmitrij Jaskin, LW – St. Louis Blues
DmitrijJaskin is a player who is making $1 million a season through 2017-18, but is more of a defensive presence and hitter. He is 6’2 and 196 pounds. In his NHL career, he has appeared in 172 games and tallied 42 points. This season he has put up 9 points in 33 games. Two seasons ago the Omsk, Russia native tallied 13 goals and 18 points in 54 games, but slipped to scoring only 4 in 65 games last season. His ice time has decreased since the acquisition of Nail Yakupov. He spent a great deal of time playing on the third line with players like Patrik Berglund and David Perron. At the age of 23, there is still plenty of upside left to drafting a player like Jaskin. He is a big boy that can bang around in the corners. He may even score 10-15 goals a season again.
4 Alex Killorn, LW – Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in cap hell and they are loaded up front with amazing forwards. They will not be able to protect all of their assets. George McPhee’s best bet would be to draft power forward Alex Killorn. The Harvard grad has been a great addition to the Bolts’ line-up since being drafted 77th overall in 2007. He has appeared in 313 NHL games and tallied a career total of 160 points and 66 goals. The man can fight, score and check. He is 27 years of age and in his fifth season with the Lightning. He stands at 6’1 and 196 pounds but plays like a bigger body. He would be a lock to be Vegas’ first line left winger and is signed through 2023 at $4.45 million per season.
Now if only George McPhee is able lure a talented center to play with someone like Killorn.
3 Dmitry Orlov, D – Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals agreed to a one-year, $2.57 million contract with restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Orlov, which means that they may let him go to free agency then sign him to a big deal. Why would the 25-year-old want to play any where else? Oh right, money! George McPhee knows the Washington Capitals better than anyone else, having served as Washington’s GM for 17 years, between 1997-2014. It’s widely believed that the Vegas Golden Knights are eyeing Dmitry Orlov. Everyone knows this, even the Capitals. Perhaps in defense or Orlov, the Capitals would expose Orpik and Schmidt.
Orlov is a sound defensive player who has appeared in 240 games for the Washington Capitals. He has tallied 16 goals, 62 assists for a total of 78 points and has a plus-26 rating to go with his solid stats. In a cap world there is a good chance the Capitals leave Orlov unprotected, which would be a great draft option for the Vegas Golden Knights.
2 Antoine Vermette, C – Anaheim Ducks
Antoine Vermette is a solid two-way forward that can provide stability for the new franchise. He is 6’1 and weighs in at 198 pounds. Anaheim could certainly part ways with his contract and he can be plugged into the second or third line in Vegas. The Anaheim Ducks have him signed through to next season at about $1.75 million, which frankly is a bargain. The native of Saint-Agapit has suited up for five different clubs and at 34, he could still go a few more years. Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2000 at 55th overall, he has appeared in 950 games and tallied 489 points. His career shooting percentage sits at about 12.7% with 218 goals to his name, while 22 of those goals came short-handed and 28 were game winning goals. His best statistical season was back in 2009-10 for the Columbus Blue Jackets where he tallied 65 points in 82 games.
1 Semyon Varlamov, G – Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche need to start rebuilding. That starts with trading some of their key pieces such as Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla. Currently, there isn’t much demand on the goalie market. Jaroslav Halak was recently put on waivers and was not claimed. In regards to the Vegas Golden Knights, they should be thinking goalie first. Without a goalie, no matter how bad or good your team is, chances are your team will fall head first. Semyon Varlamov would be a key building block for McPhee as he is locked up through 2019 at $5.9 million per season. Colorado can afford to expose him at the expansion draft due to the solid play of Calvin Picard.
George McPhee is also familiar with him from his time in Washington. After all, he was the one who drafted Varlamov 23rd overall in 2006. He has appeared in 345 games and tallied 169 wins, 131 loses and 35 overtime loses. His career save percentage is .916… this selection can be made blind folded.