Picture it now. George McPhee, General Manager of the Vegas Golden Knights, is walking around his Vegas war room. He has a plethora of names in front of him as well as his phone on a constant ring. He’s a busy man with eyes from all over the hockey world on him. He has a team to assemble.
The last time the NHL had an expansion draft back in 2000, the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t exactly have a plethora of good players to choose from. Arguably, Mathieu Schneider and Filip Kuba were the best players on that list with 368 and 326 points respectively.
This time, McPhee has it a little easier. He has much less of an opportunity to fail. The list before him includes Olympians, 30 goal scorers, proven veterans, breakout candidates on the blue line as well as players who can be spun for assets at the trade deadline.
With that being said, let’s dive in a little deeper as to who McPhee should prioritize.
Fleury represents the obvious and no-brainer choice for Vegas. When Matt Murray was unable to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Fleury stepped up in a big way. His nine playoff wins proved clutch and helped Pittsburgh capture their second straight Stanley Cup. Outside of that, the Flower also won the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and captured his own gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Speculation has been swirling as early as March when Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said, “A lot of people, speaking of goaltenders, believe that George McPhee is targeting Marc-André Fleury. He’s the best goalie out there that is available, he can be a franchise type of player and might be the guy that ends up being the face of that franchise in the near future.” It just makes too much sense for Fleury to head to Sin City. Matt Murray is the bonafide number one in Pittsburgh and Fleury has proven he can still play as a number one goaltender. Fleury has already said his goodbyes and had his emotional farewell so anything but a move to Vegas would be mind boggling.
Matt Dumba – Minnesota Wild – Age: 22
While Las Vegas will certainly be looking for players they can unload for assets, Dumba, 22, is almost too good to pass up. At 183 lbs, Dumba isn’t a big player per se but he’s blossoming into a big-time player. His 34 points last year was a new career high but the more telling stat was his +15 rating and his 20:20 ATOI, nearly four minutes more than he’s used to in his career. While he isn’t the biggest player in the NHL, he’s not afraid to throw his body around and block shots. His 96 hits and 71 blocks make him a valuable asset to Vegas. Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher isn’t blind to what’s about to happen. He realizes he’s going to lose a great player and said, “The good news is we can only lose one player. But when you’ve drafted and developed a lot of these players, it is a bit frustrating, I’ll admit that.”
James Neal – Nashville Predators – Age: 29
If you didn’t think Nashville’s defense was good before the expansion draft or during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you have to know they’re the real deal now. Undoubtedly, Nashville boasts the best D-corps in the game today which is why James Neal had to be exposed instead of their top four on the blue line. This isn’t a knock on James Neal’s talents whatsoever. He’s strung up nine consecutive seasons where he buried 20 or more goals. James Neal is a very good hockey player but the youth and defense in Nashville can no longer be overlooked. Vegas have a ton of options with Neal. If David Poile, Nashville’s General Manager, can’t swoon McPhee with a deal, McPhee should go ahead and pull the trigger and select Neal. Neal is on the last year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent. If by the deadline Vegas is a seller (which they probably will be), Neal immediately becomes an attractive piece to Stanley Cup Contenders. Who knows, he could even go back to Nashville if the price is right.
There you have it. Three must-drafts for Vegas. Who are yours? Leave a comment below and get the discussion started.