Thursday , March 23 2023

The 30 players taken on a Vegas expansion project: Where are they now?


Two years ago the Vegas Golden Knights just started out as an NHL franchise. In June 2017, then GM George McPhee and Co. finished the expansion by selecting one player from each other team.

There were other moves around the draft, of course. For example, the Blue Rams sent Vegas David Clarkson plus first- and second-round picks to make sure they took William Karlsson in the expansion draft. Safe to say Columbus would like to deliver on that one.

At the time, it would be difficult to predict that in the 2019 off-season Vegas would do business as a seasoned Stanley Cup contestant, but here we are. The Golden Knights have already relocated Erik Haula, Colin Miller and the previously unsigned Nikita Gusev (plus LTIR-bound Clarkson) to put on the cap and keep their core safe.

The Golden Knights have changed a bit since that expansion project, accelerating the acquisitions of Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Paul Stastny in the past year. So when we focus only on the 30 players directly taken in the expansion just two years ago, it is clear that few of them are still around.

So what happened? We wanted to look back at the players McPhee chose in the expansion project, and capture where they are now, and how they are performing.

Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner, D
Stoner missed the entire 2017-18 season, the last in his contract, due to an unknown injury and never played for the Golden Knights. The Ducks traded Shea Theodore to Vegas for McPhee to take on Stoner instead of Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson, both of whom had to be unprotected. Theodore is still with the Golden Knights in a top-four role.

Arizona Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen, LW
The Knights signed Pulkkinen for one season and he continued to lead their AHL team in scoring with 29 goals and 65 points. He never played for the Golden Knights, however, and when his deal expired, Pulkkinen moved to the KHL and led Dynamo Minsk in scoring last season.

Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D
Vegas was able to get into 24-year-old Miller before he had his shootout season. Immediately he paid the Golden Knights. In Year 1, serving in a third-pair / power-play specialist role, Miller had career highs in goals (10) and points (41), but returned to three goals and 29 points in 65 games last season. Ultimately Miller turned into a caper this summer, when Vegas traded him to Buffalo for a second-round pick in 2021 and a fifth round in 2022.

Buffalo Sabers: William Carrier, LW
One of the remaining expansion designers on the roster, Carrier still only 24 with one year remaining on a contract that costs $ 725,000 against the cap. He played 91 regular season games in a bottom-six role the past two seasons for the Golden Knights, totaling nine goals and 12 points. Eight of those goals came in 2018-19. To make sure Vegas took Carrier instead of goalkeeper Linus Ullmark, the Sabers sent Vegas a sixth-round pick. Ullmark played in a career-high 37 NHL games last season, posting a 0.905 save percentage and 3.11 goals against average.

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Calgary Flames: Deryk Engelland, D
At the time of the expansion launch, Engelland had just released a three-year contract with the Calgary Flames and the start couldn't be better. An Edmonton, Alta., Native, Engelland was already a year-long resident of Las Vegas – the Golden Knights took him, then signed him to a one-year deal. He has signed two more one-year deals since then and will enter 2019-20 calculating $ 700,000 against the cap. Now 37 years old, Engelland has had a career season in Year 1 with Vegas and has been the team leader in shortened time-ice per game in both seasons of his existence.

Carolina Hurricanes: Connor Brickley, LW
This was another choice that came with trade considerations, as the Golden Knights got a fifth-round pick of 2017 to direct them to Brickley, and away from various other players they had to leave unprotected. His contract expired a few weeks later so Vegas let him walk to free agency and Brickley never played a game for the team.

Chicago Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk, D
As the expansive projected dust settled, the Golden Knights were overloaded with defenders so that some of the following trades were needed. One day after the Vegas election was revealed, they traded van Riemsdyk to Carolina for a 2017 round pick. As of now, he is a three-time utility burner for the Hurricanes.

Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard, G
Although Pickard spent all summer on the Vegas roster, he was traded to Toronto in early October for Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round pick as Vegas decided to move on with Malcolm Subban as their backup. Lindberg joined the AHL team from Vegas, but was traded to Pittsburgh mid-season for Ryan Reaves.

Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, C
As mentioned above, Columbus traded his first-round pick to Vegas to make sure they didn't like forward Josh Anderson or goalkeeper Joonas Corporal. Anderson has just had a shootout season, scoring 27 goals, and Corporal will be presented a piece next season by Columbus – but would they make a compromise on this, considering Karlsson appeared as an upper-six center with a great two-sided. game? The 26-year-old Karlsson just got back with Vegas last month for eight years and a hit of $ 5.9 million.

Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, C
Vegas has been very successful at landing Eakin, who has pitched well as their third-overall, all-situations center for the past two years. When they got him, Eakin was in the second year of a four-year deal that paid him $ 3.85 million against the cap, and he posted a career-best 22 goals and 41 points last season. He has one year left on his contract before becoming a UFA at 29.

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Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Nosek, LW
Nosek only ever played 17 games for the Red Wings when they left him exposed to Vegas, but he played 67 and 68 games for the Golden Knights the past two seasons. A deep six player, Nosek's 1:42 penalty kill per game last season was second among all Vegas forward, so he carved out a nice little role for himself, but got 17 points.

Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, D
In another example of poor stock management by the Oilers, two years after they traded a first-round pick (who ended up being Mathew Barzal) for Reinhart, they left him unprotected to Vegas. Reinhart has not played an NHL game in the two years since and was a full-time member of the AHL team from Vegas to Chicago. His contract expired last July 1 and he is still a UFA.

Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, LW
The biggest loser on the expansion project was definitely the Panthers, who also traded Reilly Smith to Vegas to make sure they took Marchessault as well! The Panthers instead chose to shield their defensive core by protecting Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic, and working a deal to keep Jason Demers from being bullied. Smith Granted earned $ 5 million against the cap and only managed 37 points the previous season – but he was also just one year removed from posting 50 points. As we now know, Smith and Marchessault combined with Karlsson to make a great first line that was the engine of the Golden Knights' initial success in the first year.

Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D
Big noise, McNabb has led Vegas in hits the past two seasons and has been top two in blocked shots both times as well. Like Engelland, McNabb played a key role in the Vegas penalty kill and signed a four-year extension with the team just one month into its inaugural season with a hit of $ 2.5 million.

Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula, C
RFA at the time, Vegas took Haula and then immediately signed him to a three-year deal with $ 2.75 million. Haula was great in the first year for Vegas, scoring 29 goals and 55 points, which was more than the 15 and 26 he threw a year ago. But the Golden Knights had to be persuaded to take Haula because the Wild would have to leave a core player unprotected – and that ended up being Matt Dumba. So to effectively defend Dumba, Minnesota also sent Alex Tuch to Vegas – he recently started scoring with 52 points as a 23-year-old last season. Vegas signed Tuch last October for the long-term (seven years) and a very manageable $ 4.75 million cap hit, as he is estimated to be an outstanding powerhouse for the franchise. Haula, who was limited to just 15 games in 2018-19 through injury, was a cap victim and traded to Carolina for prospect Nicolas Roy and a fifth-round pick in June.

Montreal Canadiens: Alexei Emelin, D
Many thought Vegas would take on 23-year-old winger Charles Hudon, who was regarded as one of Montreal's top NHL ready prospects at the time of the expansion draft. But instead they went with Emelin, who was traded to Nashville for a third-round draft pick just days later. Emelin played one season with Nashville before departing for the KHL's Omsk Avangard in 2018-19.

Nashville Predators: James Neal, LW
At the time, we had a hard time seeing how Vegas would get enough scoring in the expansion project – defenders were going to be pretty easy, but ahead? Nashville had to protect a few core players, including four defenders, so when it became clear that Neal would be exposed, that was one of the few choices everyone knew Vegas would make. Neal stayed one year on his contract when Vegas took him out, and he scored 25 goals for them. But when free agency hit, Neal signed with Calgary – and we all know how much of a disaster there has been. The Flames traded Neal and his $ 5.75 million cap hit Edmonton this summer.

New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill, D
Merrill is the perfect example of the most common type of Vegas player strolling away from the expansion draft with: mid-20s, cheap, deep defense. He has played 91 games combined over the past two seasons, totaling 18 points and averaging about 17 minutes per game. He is making just $ 1.375 million against the cap this season and is scheduled to be UFA next summer.

New York Islands: Jean-Francois Berube, G
The Islands were another team that had more players they wanted to protect than allowed, so they had to work out a side deal with Vegas for the team to take on Berube. To accomplish this, then GM-Garth Snow sent in the 15th overall pick of the 2017 draft, a 2019 second-round pick and Mikhail Grabovski to the Golden Knights. Having lost Berub, the islanders were finally able to move on from their three-headed golf monster. Vegas used the first-round pick to take on defenseman Erik Brannstrom, who was moved to Ottawa by Mark Stone at the most recent trade deadline. Berube's contract expired, so Vegas just left him to free agency and he signed with Chicago.

New York Rangers: Oscar Lindberg, LW
Another bottom-six deep option, Lindberg scored 23 points in 98 regular-season games with Vegas until he was traded at the 2019 deadline in the pack to Ottawa, which sent Mark Stone to the Golden Knights. Lindberg finished with eight points in 20 games for the Senators and is currently UFA.

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Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, D
Methot was another of the many Vegas blockbusters lined up in expansion, and he was traded about a week after becoming a Golden Knight. On July 1, 2017, McPhee sent the defensive back to Dallas for goal prospect Dylan Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick. The 20-year-old Ferguson will graduate from a major junior to the pros this coming season, while Methot is an undrafted free agent at age 34. He played just 45 games with the Stars the past two seasons as he battled on a knee. injuries and are considering retirement.

Philadelphia Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, LW
For the past four seasons Bellemare has been his team's leading forward in short minutes – two with Philadelphia and two with Vegas. In his rookie season with the Flyers only Sean Couturier averaged more. Bellemare has logged 16 and 15 points in his two seasons with the Golden Knights, but has left as a free agent this summer. He signed a two-year pact with Colorado for a median annual value of $ 1.8 million to try and help their penalty kill, which ranked 25th in 2018-19.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, G
This was the choice everyone saw coming, but even the Penguins had to offer candy to Vegas to make sure they got Fleury's $ 5.75 million cap. The Golden Knights could have gone with Ian Cole, Carl Hagelin or Bryan Rust and let the Penguins catch up with two starting goalies. But rather than getting that far, Pittsburgh launched a Vegas 2020 second-round pick to pick Fleury. In many ways, Fleury has been the happy, smiling face of the Golden Knights franchise for the past two years and at 34, he immediately began a three-year contract with a success of $ 7 million. There is no other goalkeeper in the organization who seriously presses him for work.

San Jose Sharks: David Schlemko, D
One day after he was announced as an expansion draft pick, Schlemko was traded to Montreal for a fifth-round draft pick. A complete blueliner, Schlemko played 55 games over two seasons for Montreal and was traded to Philadelphia in a minor league deal in February. He is currently an unregulated free agent.

St. Louis Blues: David Perron, LW
While the Karlsson-Marchessault-Smith line got all the hype in Year 1 for Vegas, Perron put a career season on the second line. He scored 66 points in 70 games, hit free agency on July 1, 2018 and signed back with St. Louis for four years and hit $ 4 million. Good move, considering he is now a Stanley Cup champion.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Jason Garrison, D
With the Lightning starting to face cap and being forced to leave some young defenders (Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin) they have worked out a deal with McPhee to replace Jason Garrison's $ 4.6 million deal. Then-GM Steve Yzerman sent a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick and Nikita Gusev to the Golden Knights. At that time Gusev had yet to leave Russia, but he was regarded as one of the best players outside the NHL. Just last season, Gusev led the KHL in scoring and then signed a senior-level contract with Vegas, but he never played a game for them. Turning 27 on July 8, Gusev became an RFA this summer, but with Vegas against the cap and Gusev's camp asking for too much money they Swapped him to New Jersey this week for second- and third-round draft picks. He immediately signed a two-year, $ 9 million contract with the Devils.

Toronto Maple Leaves: Brendan Leipsic, LW
Leipsic played 44 games for Vegas in their inaugural season and was traded partial through the year to Vancouver for Philip Holm (who left for the KHL in the summer). The Canucks later lost to Leipsic because of waivers to the Los Angeles Kings and after playing 45 games for them in 2018-19, Leipsic signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on July 1.

Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D
Sbisa was among the many defenders selected by Vegas in the expansion draft and he was a useful piece to them when healthy. But injury contributed to him playing in just 30 regular season games, in which he totaled 14 points and averaged just under 20 minutes per game. He signed a one-year deal with the Islanders last season, but only played nine games as their relief coach. He is UFA again now at the age of 29.

Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, D
In his last season with the Capitals, Schmidt averaged just 15:29 per game and didn't use many special teams in particular. He scored 17 points in 60 games as a 25-year-old and was a favorite of Caps fans. In Vegas, he very quickly became their number 1. In Year 1, Schmidt averaged 22:14 per game with a career-high 36 points and followed it up by 30 points in 60 games with 21:57 of average ice time. He is used in all situations and signed a six-year extension with Vegas last October, with a hit of $ 5.95 million.

Winnipeg Jets: Chris Thorburn, RW
The Jets traded 2017 first-round with Vegas – sending the Golden Knights their own pick at the 13th overall plus third-rounder for Columbus' first-round tournament at 24th. This was done to guide Vegas towards Shorb instead of making them take either Tobias Enstrom or Mark Dan. Thorburn's contract expired, so he never played for the Golden Knights and signed as UFA with the Blues a week later. Toronto played 50 games for St. Louis in 2017-18, but spent nearly the entire 2018-19 campaign in the AHL. At 36 years old, Thorburn is currently a UFA.

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