This is a collaboration between Vegas Golden Knights writers Thomas Conroy and Shayna Goldman analyzing the 2017 Expansion Draft by division. The Atlantic Division preview can be found here.
Frenzy is the appropriate description of the week of the NHL Expansion Draft. Each team’s protected lists have been submitted and made public. Now comes the rumors, innuendos and trades of players that could be, might be or very unlikely will be playing in the desert next fall.
Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee is in the spotlight as all of his planning and scouting for this moment is put into play. It’s important to trust the process, but don’t waste any of the 30 picks provided or the criticism will begin before the last choice is announced.
My Fearless Expansion Draft Predictions
The Montreal Canadiens’ unprotected list will provide the Golden Knights with a few options to chew over before making their selection. The Canadiens are dangling promising young forward Charles Hudon and respected veteran Tomas Plekanec, but he will instead select defenseman Brandon Davidson off their roster.
Davidson is a promising physical defenseman that can quickly move the puck out of the zone. However, he offers little offense at the other end of the ice. His struggles with consistency were the main reason why the Edmonton Oilers dealt Davidson to the Habs for David Desharnais last February. The Knights can afford to be patient with him, with the hope that he recaptures the confidence he had in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons.
The call in Canada’s capital city was to protect the forwards, and the Ottawa Senators did just that by shielding Ryan Dzingel, Jean-Gabriel Pageau et al. However, this left Bobby Ryan unprotected but his exorbitant $7.25 million-per-year salary until 2022 will keep Vegas away from selecting him because they have no interest in committing that amount of cap space to one player at this time.
The Knights will select Marc Methot, who is an excellent candidate to become the first captain in team history. It’s hard to pass on a classic stay-at-home defenseman, a necessary building block for a team looking for success in their inaugural season. The Senators think highly of Methot, but there was no room on the protected list after Dion Phaneuf refused to waive his no-movement clause. I guess you can call it having an abundance of riches to a fault.
The Boston Bruins are in an excellent position not to lose a key player from their lineup, but it won’t stop them from sweating out the process until the Knights selection is revealed. Vegas will be looking for a young goaltender that can gain experience as the backup in the team’s inaugural season, and there’s no better candidate available in the expansion draft than Bruins netminder Malcolm Subban.
Subban is a bit of an unknown as he played in only two NHL games with the Bruins. Most of his success was with the AHL Providence Bruins (56 wins in 127 games), so the Knights have a rare opportunity to develop a goaltender prospect at their own pace. There will be no pressure for Subban to have immediate success. If the 23-year-old netminder needs more seasoning, then the Golden Knights can send him to the minors to develop his game. The odds are good that Subban will be the full-time backup in Las Vegas next season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ protected list is another example of saving the forwards first and worrying about the blue line later. The Leafs didn’t have to protect their best young stars (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander) because they weren’t eligible, but the team still had some difficult decisions to make regarding their protected list. Their choices came down to which forwards complemented their young stars and contributed to the team’s rise in the standings.
Unfortunately, this left promising young forward prospect Kerby Rychel exposed, and the smart money is on the Golden Knights selecting him in the expansion draft. His lack of playing time at the NHL level warrants his availability to Vegas. Rychel is a bonafide scorer in the AHL as he scored 108 points in 155 minor league games. He could start the season on Vegas’ fourth line, but Rychel’s skill level will propel him to the first or second line by season’s end.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning had too many assets to protect in the expansion draft with Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman all having no-move clauses. The Jonathan Drouin trade with the Canadiens gave the Lightning the necessary cap relief to hopefully re-sign restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Plus, they gain an 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev who is exempt from the expansion draft and has the potential to be a playmaker from the blue line.
Still, the Lightning were unable to protect every key contributor, and this allows the Golden Knights to select J.T. Brown who is 26-years old and ready to expand his role in the NHL. Every hockey team needs players with speed and a bit of an edge and Brown filled that role perfectly for the Lightning since signing as a college free agent in 2012. The Knights hope that he can continue being a checking forward who can put the puck in the net when given the opportunity.
The Florida Panthers protected four forwards and four defensemen along with a goaltender, but this format guaranteed a few core players would be exposed. The Golden Knights would be foolish to pass on Jason Demers, who is ready to take on a top-four blue-line role next season.
Demers is a good puck mover with scoring potential and could become an asset on the power play from the point. He scored nine goals in a lesser role with the Lightning last season. Vegas is the perfect place for Demers to gain more playing time, which isn’t going to happen if he stays in Tampa.
Detroit Red Wings
There is still time for the Detroit Red Wings to complete an expansion draft trade with the Golden Knights that guarantees that some of their key performers stay in town for another season, but the clock is ticking.
Chances are high that Vegas selects forward Riley Sheahan, who is young and ready to succeed in the NHL. Sheahan had a very disappointing 2016-17 season, scoring two goals in 81 games, which was quite surprising since he netted 13 and 14 goals in the prior two seasons. Clearly, Sheahan is a good player going through a rough stretch in his professional career, but he has the potential to become a top-six forward in the right situation. Vegas cannot afford to pass on such potential.
The Buffalo Sabres have a special group of young hockey players, including Jack Eichel, that were not eligible for the upcoming expansion draft. Still, their protected list left some valuable talent available.
Matt Moulson is too tempting not to be selected by the Golden Knights because it’s rare to acquire a proven scorer in the expansion draft. He would be a great fit for Vegas to mentor their young players, and they will listen to a man that has scored 30-or-more goals in three consecutive seasons.
The one drawback with this selection is Moulson’s contract, which has two seasons remaining at $5 million per year. Vegas must fully believe in his leadership skills because there will not be a market for him at the trade deadline.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy