Seattle’s Potential Targets: Vegas Veterans

Seattle’s expansion draft is still two seasons away but — through the process of conducting three mocks this month — several potential targets have emerged in the present as players of interest for 2021.

These players fall into one or more of the following categories: Familiarity With Francis, Former Thunderbirds, Homegrown Talent, Vegas Veterans, and Projected UFAs.

By analyzing the current NHL rosters — as well as the protected and exposed lists from those aforementioned mocks — Seattle can start to identify their potential targets two years in advance of the actual expansion draft.

In the fourth of a five-part series, the focus will be on Vegas veterans who have been through the expansion process and have experience in the Pacific Division.

Seattle would be wise to select — or otherwise acquire — a couple players from Vegas’ inaugural roster and they could have as many as 13 to choose from, including four prime targets.

However, those targets won’t include current Golden Knights under contract through 2021-22 since Vegas will be exempt from Seattle’s expansion draft.

So that rules out the likes of Shea Theodore, who starred for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in junior, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt and Marc-Andre Fleury, but those seven would have all been protected by the Golden Knights anyway — along with post-expansion acquisitions Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, plus defence prospect Nic Hague. That would be Vegas’ 7-3-1 protected list as of today.

Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Unless those players are traded between now and then — before Seattle’s expansion draft takes place in June 2021 — they will be off limits. Considering they comprise Vegas’ core in the present, it seems doubtful that any of them will be moved over the next two seasons. Stranger things have happened, but it’s safe to assume they won’t be available for Seattle.

Prime Targets

David Perron

Perron enjoyed a career year with Vegas — producing a career-high 66 points in 70 games to finish third in scoring on the shockingly successful expansion team. 

Now back in St. Louis for his third tour of duty with the Blues — and perhaps hoping to bookend his career with that franchise — Perron will likely be exposed with one year remaining on his contract at $4 million. That would be very palatable for Seattle.

David Perron #57 of the Vegas Golden Knights
David Perron, now of the St. Louis Blues, seen here as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. (David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)

Perron has bounced around quite a bit in his career — playing with five different teams to date as a first-round pick from 2007 — but has been a consummate pro everywhere he has went. His ability to adjust and thrive in new environments — including Vegas, Edmonton and Anaheim in his Pacific Division stops — could prove invaluable for Seattle.

Perron also has plenty of recent playoff experience, with the distinction of being the only player to play in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2018 and 2019, becoming a champion for the first time this spring — shortly after celebrating his 31st birthday in May.

Perron will be 33 at the time of the expansion draft but should get serious consideration from Seattle as a versatile veteran that can play either wing while being an offensive catalyst capable of contributing on the power play.

Colin Miller

Miller played all 82 games in Vegas’ inaugural season, posting career-highs across the board in goals (10), assists (31) and points (41). He fell out of favour there in dipping to 29 points over 65 games this past season and became a salary-cap casualty in getting traded to Buffalo last month for a couple of draft picks.

Miller, a right-handed defenceman turning 27 in October, is making $3.875 million through Seattle’s expansion season in 2021-22. Like Perron, he would be an unrestricted free agent following that campaign but prior to his 30th birthday in 2022.

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller
Colin Miller, now of the Buffalo Sabres, seen here as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Miller should help bolster Buffalo’s defence for the next two seasons, but he’ll probably be the odd-man out on the Sabres’ protected list. Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju will be locks, with Brandon Montour presumably ahead of Miller for the third spot — and that’s assuming Rasmus Ristolainen is traded by Buffalo between now and then.

If Miller is exposed in the expansion draft, he could be another good fit for Seattle.

Erik Haula

Haula’s career year with Vegas was a breakout performance, exceeding all expectations with 29 goals and 55 points. His momentum was derailed by a knee injury that forced him to miss most of this past season and Haula has since been traded to Carolina in another cost-saving move by Vegas.

Haula should be healthy for the coming season and should fit right in with the Hurricanes alongside fellow Finns Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Carolina could become a long-term home for Haula, but he’ll need to impress to earn an extension there since he’s a pending unrestricted free agent next summer.

Golden Knights left wing Erik Haula
Erik Haula, now of the Carolina Hurricanes, seen here as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Carolina’s protected list is tough to predict — and really depends on the Hurricanes’ defence going forward — but that could be a moot point if Haula ends up signing elsewhere.

Regardless, Haula should be on Seattle’s radar as an another versatile forward capable of playing up and down the lineup in a variety of roles as a centre or winger.

Cody Eakin

Eakin is still in Vegas, as of today, but he’s another trade candidate this offseason with the Golden Knights still in cap trouble and wanting to sign KHL standout Nikita Gusev.

Eakin is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he’s unlikely to be on Vegas’ roster when the expansion draft rolls around in two years’ time despite coming off a career-high 22 goals in his second season with the Golden Knights.

Cody Eakin #21, Vegas Golden Knights
Cody Eakin of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Eakin, as valuable as he is as a third-line centre capable of chipping in offensively, is unlikely to be protected by his new team. He’ll be 30 years old at the time of the expansion draft, but Seattle should have interest in Eakin — be it as a draft selection or as a free-agent signing, depending on the length of his next contract.

Secondary Targets

Brendan Leipsic

Leipsic is already on his sixth NHL team in Washington, with previous stints in Nashville, Toronto, Vegas, Vancouver and Los Angeles. Seattle could be lucky No. 7 for him.

Brendan Leipsic, Vegas Golden Knights
Brendan Leipsic’s time with Vegas was short-lived. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Leipsic, 25, is only on a one-year contract with the Capitals and will be a restricted free agent again next summer after earning $700,000.

Still trying to carve out a role as an NHLer, Leipsic will turn 27 prior to the expansion draft and might be more established by then. He may settle in as an energy player — a bottom-six winger — but Seattle could see untapped offensive upside.

Jon Merrill

Merrill has been making nice strides for Vegas, developing into a dependable defender after bordering on bust status as a second-round pick from 2010.

Jon Merrill #15, Vegas Golden Knights
Jon Merrill of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Already 27 years old, Merrill might never live up to that draft position, but he has now surpassed 300 career games, which tends to be a telling benchmark for blueliners. It’s looking like he will be a player going forward, but Merrill might not be long for Vegas since he’s also a pending unrestricted free agent next summer.

If and when Merrill leaves Vegas, he would likely be exposed by his new team unless even bigger strides were taken over the next two seasons. Therefore, Merrill is another player for Seattle to keep tabs on as a decent depth option like Leipsic.

James Neal

Neal wasn’t The Real Deal for Calgary but Edmonton is counting on a return to his Vegas form. Maybe not to All-Star status — Neal represented the Golden Knights at the 2018 showcase — but to the 20-goal man that Neal had consistently been throughout his career.

Neal netted 25 goals for the Golden Knights in their expansion season before cashing in with Calgary — signing a five-year, $28.75-million contract with the Flames in free agency last summer.

James Neal Golden Knights
James Neal, now of the Edmonton Oilers, seen here as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY)

Neal will turn 34 prior to the start of Seattle’s expansion season and will still have two years remaining at $5.75 million, assuming he isn’t bought out in the meantime. Neal only managed seven goals and 19 points over 63 games in his lone season for Calgary, but if he rebounds for Edmonton, that could pique Seattle’s interest.

Neal could play his way onto the Oilers’ protected list over the next two seasons but — even if he’s productive for Edmonton — he would more than likely be exposed based on his age and contract.

Brayden McNabb

McNabb is the exception as a current Golden Knight under contract through 2021-22 since he’s not part of Vegas’ core and it’s conceivable he could be traded between now and the expansion draft — perhaps as early as this offseason.

Brayden McNabb #3, Vegas Golden Knights
Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McNabb, a 6-foot-4 physical defender, will be making $2.5 million through Seattle’s expansion season. Like Perron and Miller, McNabb would be an unrestricted free agent following that campaign in 2022.

McNabb isn’t flashy — outside of the occasional big hit — but he’s effective and very familiar with the Pacific Division, having previously spent three seasons with Los Angeles. He will be 30 at the time of the expansion draft but could still have some good hockey left in him for Seattle.

Lesser Targets

Tomas Nosek

Nosek will be an unrestricted free agent next summer after making $1 million with Vegas this coming season. He’s a depth forward turning 27 in September, a potential fourth-line centre for Seattle who can kill penalties.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Bellemare is another fourth-line centre candidate — and served Vegas in that role ahead of Nosek the past two seasons — but he’ll be 36 years old for Seattle’s expansion campaign. Bellemare signed a two-year contract with Colorado this summer — with a $1.8-million average annual value — so he’ll be an unrestricted free agent again in 2021, the summer of the expansion draft.

Luca Sbisa

Sbisa is currently an unrestricted free agent but should be able to prolong his NHL career at 29 years old. He was serviceable for Vegas in their expansion season — producing 14 points in just 30 games — but then only got into nine games with the New York Islanders this past season as a frequent healthy scratch. Sbisa is likely looking for more opportunity, more playing time, and he could potentially find that in Seattle when the time comes.

Oscar Lindberg

Lindberg also remains unsigned this summer, still searching for a landing spot as a depth winger who will turn 28 in October. His stats haven’t been great — though Lindberg did finish relatively strong this past season with eight points, including five goals, in 20 games for Ottawa after being acquired from Vegas in the Mark Stone blockbuster — but his underlying numbers are positive and Seattle is expected to be big on analytics.

Griffin Reinhart

Reinhart was selected from Edmonton in the 2017 expansion draft but didn’t get into any games with Vegas over the past two seasons — spending both campaigns with the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. He is now an unrestricted free agent and at a career crossroads, looking like a bust as the fourth overall pick from 2012 despite only being 25 years old. Reinhart could get another chance with an expansion club in Seattle but, for that to happen, he would first need to find a way to hang around the NHL over the next two seasons.