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.
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.
18 Philip Danault, C – Montreal Canadiens
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.
16 Alex Petrovic, D – Florida Panthers
15 Dustin Brown, RW – Los Angeles Kings
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.
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.
12 Jimmy Hayes, RW – Boston Bruins
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 Dmitrij Jaskin, LW – St. Louis Blues
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.
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.
2 Antoine Vermette, C – Anaheim Ducks
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.
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