By Brett Malamud
The stars will be bright in Las Vegas tonight as the NHL Awards commence. The show will also be significant due to the unveiling of the roster for the league’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are my picks for the 31st NHL team.
Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner, 24, D
Right off the bat, we start out with a tough selection. It was long rumored that the Ducks may make Jakob Silfverberg available if they chose to protect a fourth defenseman, but that didn’t happen, and Ducks GM Bob Murray opted for the 7-3-1 protection format. Defenseman Sami Vatanen could be one of those candidates to get selected and then flipped to another team. We know that there is a deal in place with Anaheim though, which should take Vatanen out of play. So I’m going to believe that the Ducks will allow Vegas to take Stoner.
Arizona Coyotes: Peter Holland, 26, C
While the options aren’t that attractive in the desert, Vegas must take a player from all 30 teams, and Peter Holland is a good depth pick. They could also take the 36-year-old winger Radim Vrbata on a one year deal and try to flip him to a contender later in the year.
Boston Bruins: Malcolm Subban, 23, G
If a team like say, the Philadelphia Flyers, wants Vegas to select goaltender Malcolm Subban for them and make a trade, that’s an option. Of course, that’s if Vegas doesn’t want Subban for themselves. I see this as an opportunity for McPhee to select his goalie of the future. Surely Marc-Andre Fleury won’t be there forever (assuming he picks him). I’d also keep an eye on Colin Miller, who I’d consider an extremely underrated talent. An offensive defenseman, Miller has a wicked shot and while his defending could use some more work, he could see himself on the powerplay regularly.
Buffalo Sabres: William Carrier, 22, LW
The former second round pick should be the pick here, after moving to the Sabres in the Ryan Miller trade. Being only 22, he’ll get some time to develop in the minors before making the jump up to the NHL full-time.
Calgary Flames: Alex Chiasson, 25, RW
Chiasson is a player who I’ve had my eyes on for the last couple of years. The 6-3 winger also is a restricted free agent, but should be pretty easy to lock down to a deal. Vegas could opt to take defenseman Brett Kulak here instead, but with a ton of defense out there, I’ll opt for Chiasson.
Carolina Hurricanes: Lee Stempniak, 34, RW
Not too much talent here. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis did a good job protecting the right guys, and Vegas will probably take Stempniak as the best available player from Carolina.
Chicago Blackhawks: Marcus Kruger, 27, C
There is a rumored side deal with the Blackhawks that’ll see them ship Kruger along with defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk to Vegas. I believe those rumors to be true, as the Blackhawks are currently the only NHL team over the salary cap and look to free themselves from some larger contracts.
Colorado Avalanche: Mikhail Grigorenko, 23, C
Grigorenko is a restricted free agent, so he’d have to agree to a contract, but he’s only 23 years old and has a lot of upside. The popular pick here has been goaltender Calvin Pickard. Pickard played very well in the IIHF World Championships, but based on how I am building this team, Pickard would see himself in the minors, and wouldn’t be a good pick here.
Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, 24, C
The following comes from the Columbus Dispatch: “…the Blue Jackets will pay dearly to dissuade the Golden Knights from taking [Josh] Anderson, [Joonas] Korpisalo or one of the veteran defensemen — Jack Johnson or David Savard — that they would have exposed. The Jackets are believed to be trading this year’s first-round draft pick (No. 24 overall) and a prospect (not Pierre-Luc Dubois or Sonny Milano) to Vegas for assurances that the Golden Knights will select either left wing Matt Calvert, center William Karlsson or defenseman Ryan Murray.”
With that said, I’ll take the former second round pick William Karlsson.
Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, 26, C
For me, Dallas was one of the final picks that I made, and so I’m going on the best player available here, and that’s Eakin for me.
Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek, 25, G
I will admit, I was more surprised about this non protected player more than any other in the expansion draft. But Detroit had to make a decision, and they picked the 33-year-old Jimmy Howard over 25-year-old Petr Mrazek in goal. The problem for me with this was that had they left Howard unprotected, Vegas almost definitely wouldn’t have taken him. But with Mrazek there instead, it’s definitey intriguing and there’s going to be some debate in Las Vegas on who they should select. McPhee will have some other strong options in net, with Washington’s Philipp Grubauer, Colorado’s Calvin Pickard and New York’s Antti Raanta all available, as well as Boston’s Malcom Subban for the taking. Vegas won’t load up on goalies unless they have deals in place to flip players to other teams. So while I’d like to see Mrazek be the selection, don’t be shocked if they play it safe and select center Riley Sheahan.
Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, 23, D
What’s interesting about this pick is the common assumption that McPhee worked with Reinhart, who is an RFA this summer, during his time in New York. Yes, McPhee was a part of the Islanders organization from September 2015 through July 2016 before being hired by Golden Knights owner Bill Foley to run the Vegas franchise. But Reinhart was actually traded in June 2015 during the NHL Draft. But don’t think that he doesn’t know about the young prospect. Yes, Reinhart failed to crack the Isles top six before being shipped off to Edmonton. And yeah, he’s had a minimal impact in Edmonton. I’d take one last shot on him if I were Vegas.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, 26, C
The Panthers left Marchessault unprotected just after he scored 30 goals this season. Vegas should also like the fact that he is making less than $1 million for the upcoming year, and is just 26 years old.
Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, 26, D
At 6-5, McNabb would be a good pick for Vegas and at just 26 years old, I could see him as a player they’d like to keep on their blue line for years to come.
Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal, 32, C
While many were quick to put defensemen Matt Dumba in this spot, there must be some debate over this pick with the Vegas brass. Dumba is a good prospect, and am attractive option. But I see this expansion draft deeper on defense than scoring forwards, and so Staal makes sense. Staal was Minnesota’s top goal scorer this season and could find himself as Vegas’ first team captain, after serving the role in Carolina. It’s widely thought that Minnesota will have a trade in place to have Vegas lay off Dumba/Scandella/Staal and take a player such as Erik Haula. But I honestly think that taking a player such as Staal or Dumba would be more valuable than a draft pick (remember, the Wild traded their first round pick for this season. However they do have picks for the coming years, so keep an eye on that) to take Haula. With that said, I’m taking Staal here as the more marketable asset, and if he is picked, Vegas fans will find themselves sporting his jersey on opening night.
(UPDATE: There are reports out there that Haula will sign a multi year deal with Vegas, so expect that to be the pick tonight)
Montreal Canadiens: Brandon Davidson, 25, D
If the Knights can agree to a deal with UFA Alex Radulov, then they should take the chance on him as he’ll provide an impact, and will take on some salary. Of course, that could come on July 1, and not picking him here could allow Vegas to take two players from the Habs. I believe that their selection here will be Davidson, who represents the youngest Montreal defenseman under contract through next season.
Nashville Predators: James Neal, 29, LW
If George McPhee has a deal in place with the defending western conference champions, it probably take Neal off the table, and I see Colton Scissons as a possible second choice. But I believe that Vegas sees Neal as a potential threat on their first line. After all, this is a team who have repeatedly said that they want to be good right away, while stocking up for the future at the same time. Neal would fit into that equation, even with his $5 million cap hit.
New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill, 25, D
Another young defenseman for Vegas with Merrill being picked here. The Devils don’t want to lose a guy like Merrill, but it doesn’t seem likely that a side deal will be made.
New York Islanders: Casey Cizikas, 26, C
Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported Monday evening that the Islanders have a deal in place with Vegas to send a first round pick and Mikhail Grabovski ($5 million cap hit) to the Golden Knights, in exchange for selecting a designated player chosen by the Isles. I believe that the player is Casey CIzikas, who holds a $3.35 million cap hit. In a move that would free up $8.35 million, the Islanders would create the cap space necessary to go after coveted trade assets such as Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, and Alex Galchenyuk. They could always opt to give Vegas defenseman Thomas Hickey ($2.2 million cap hit), but if the Islanders trade defensemen Calvin De Haan, Ryan Pulock, or Travis Hamonic in a trade for a top six forward (or possibly two trades), I’d bet the Islanders would want Hickey at least on their roster. I’m going to stick with my gut and go with Cizikas.
New York Rangers: Michael Grabner, 29, RW
Coming off of a career year, Grabner could give the Golden Knights some help up front. This pick could end up being goaltender Antti Raanta, who has proven that he could be a number one goaltender in the NHL. I expect him to factor into the goaltender conversation for the Golden Knights if they pick him instead, or if he’s not flipped to another team first. I’ll take Grabner here though, based on the goalies I’ve already selected.
Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, 31, D
According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Ottawa could not get a deal done before George McPhee’s self imposed midnight trade deadline on Monday. Therefore, I believe that McPhee is taking Methot. Of course, there is interest in Methot, but one of the important statements from McPhee came Monday morning when discussing flipping a player to another team, where he said that if they like the player, they’re keeping him for themselves. I believe that Methot may have been one of those players that he was talking about.
Philadelphia Flyers: Jordan Weal, 25, C
Weak would be a good addition as Vegas seeks more young forwards. Wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Raffl is the pick here either.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, 32, G
Fleury is the slam dunk, home run pick for Las Vegas, and is sure to be their starting goaltender come opening night, and the first face of the franchise. It also looks that they’d be getting something from Pittsburgh to take Fleury, so not much to debate here.
San Jose Sharks: Brendan Dillon, 26, D
Dillon would be a good pick in this spot, being just 26, and carrying a manageable 3.27 million cap hit.
St. Louis Blues: David Perron, 29, RW
I see this as a deadline deal for Vegas, with them flipping Perron for more picks. He could get flipped right away though.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jason Garrison, 32, D
GM Steve Yzerman is looking for a way to hold on to young defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin. Therefore I am projecting a side deal here with Garrison being the pick for Vegas.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Kerby Rychel, 22, LW
Rychel is a good pick for Vegas here because of the upside he has. He could factor as a possible trade chip in the future if it doesn’t work out in Sin City.
Vancouver Canucks: Reid Boucher, 23, LW
Boucher flipped around the league this season with New Jersey, Nashville, and Vancouver earlier this season after being claimed on waivers. He has a lot of upside, and so this pick will be more about potential than anything.
Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, 25, D
McPhee could take Philipp Grubauer. McPhee could take Jay Beagle or Brett Connolly. He could even take Kevin Shattenkirk if he can get him to agree to a contract during the exclusive negotiations window. But I have the Capitals going in a different direction and selecting Nate Schmidt, who is one of the best young defensemen available to the Golden Knights. The situation in Washington is interesting because Schmidt got pushed out of the lineup when the Caps traded for Shattenkirk. But Schmidt reminds me of another quick skating defenseman that came up through the system, and made the team. That was John Carlson, and if I’m George McPhee, I’d want that on my team’s blue line.
Winnipeg Jets: Toby Enstrom, 32, D
I believe that Toby Enstrom is a candidate for the pick-and-flip for Vegas. With so many teams looking to get a top four defenseman, Vegas could hold the cards, and look to flip him for picks, or for a player that was protected for the expansion draft.
With this team that I’ve selected, there are sure to be some trades in place before July 1, as the team with this roster will have to sign some of these players to RFA deals while staying away from the cap. McPhee has said that he sees his team in the fifties when discussing team salary. It should be interesting to see what he has up his sleeve.
Brett Malamud is a graduate of Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of dabuzzza.com. His favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Todd Bertuzzi. You can follow him on twitter at @brettnyy