George McPhee secured a king’s ransom to avoid selecting certain players in the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft , and he’s not done dealing.
Not by a long shot.
McPhee got his starting goalie and first face of the franchise in Marc-Andre Fleury, a top-line winger in James Neal and a plethora of defensemen by raiding the existing 30 NHL teams. He also picked up two more first-round picks in the entry draft Friday night along with other selections, prospects and NHL players.
“It looks good,” Fleury said of the initial roster. “I think we picked up some good players, but a lot of draft picks also with it.”
Here’s a look at what Vegas did in the expansion draft and hints of what’s to come:
Fleury was long expected to be the man in net for Vegas, which also got a 2020 second-round pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins for the agreement to select the 32-year-old with three Stanley Cup rings. Calvin Pickard from Colorado and Jean-Francois Berube from the New York Islanders are only 25, and each one could be Fleury’s backup or trade bait.
“I’ll give it everything I’ve got to win some games,” Fleury said. “I’m not looking to be the face of much. I just want to come and play hockey.”
Vegas didn’t go hog wild with goalies, opting to leaving Detroit’s Petr Mrazek, Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth, the New York Rangers’ Antti Raanta and Washington’s Philipp Grubauer alone.
This is where McPhee spared no expense, even as he picked up assets for not taking Minnesota’s Matt Dumba or Marco Scandella, Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson, Tampa Bay’s Slater Koekkoek or Jake Dotchin or the Islanders’ Calvin de Haan or Thomas Hickey. Making those agreements got Vegas forward prospect Alex Tuch from the Wild, defenseman Shea Theodore from the Ducks, unsigned forward prospect Nikita Gusev from the Lightning and the 15th pick and defensive prospect Jake Bischoff from New York.
The existing Golden Knights’ blue line isn’t bad: Brayden McNabb from Los Angeles, Colin Miller from Boston, Jon Merrill from New Jersey and Griffin Reinhart from Edmonton. They also signed former ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers player and adopted local Deryk Engelland, formerly of the Calgary Flames, to a $1 million, one-year deal.
Vegas emerged from the expansion draft with 15 defensemen, and McPhee alluded before the expansion draft to trading some of them. It remains to be seen what happens with Washington’s Nate Schmidt, Ottawa’s Marc Methot, Chicago’s Trevor van Riemsdyk and San Jose’s David Schlemko, any of whom could be traded as soon as Thursday.
Nashville GM David Poile couldn’t hide his emotions at the moment Neal’s name was announced. The 10-time 20-goal scorer gives Vegas immediate top-line scoring punch, and the Predators couldn’t work out a trade to spare him.
The Golden Knights also got a bargain-basement 30-goal scorer in Jonathan Marchessault and acquired 26-year-old winger Reilly Smith and his $25 million, five-year contract from Florida for the measly price of a 2018 fourth-round pick. William Karlsson from Columbus, David Perron from St. Louis and Cody Eakin from Dallas give Vegas some established forwards, and the club signed another in Minnesota’s Erik Haula, inking the pending restricted free agent to a three-year deal worth $2.75 million a season.
Vegas went young with most of the rest of its forward picks, including Oscar Lindberg from the Rangers and a few unproven players in Arizona’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Carolina’s Connor Brickley, Buffalo’s William Carrier, Detroit’s Tomas Nosek and Toronto’s Brendan Leipsic.
Not taking Columbus forward Josh Anderson or goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and Winnipeg defenseman Toby Enstrom allowed Vegas to get a first-round pick and move up from 24th to 13th.
Armed with three first round picks — Nos. 6, 13 and 15 — and players with trade value, McPhee still has leverage when the NHL’s trade freeze lifts Thursday morning. Defensemen are a hot commodity, so McPhee might be able to flip a few for forwards and still has over $20 million in cap space.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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