Along the way to the Stanley Cup Final, former Pittsburgh Penguins players have helped cement the Vegas Golden Knights into the history books. It’s only taken this expansion team 15 games to reach this milestone. The Golden Knights defied all odds by becoming the first expansion franchise to reach the Cup Final in their debut season since 1967-68.
What’s even more interesting is that over the 100 years of the National Hockey League, a “first-year” team has made the Stanley Cup Final every 50 years. In 1918, it was the Toronto Arenas; in 1968, the St. Louis Blues. And of course, in 2018, it was the Vegas Golden Knights.
The “Golden Misfits” have banded together to become a team filled with storylines that you could never get sick of hearing. Marc-Andre Fleury has the opportunity to win a third Stanley Cup in a row. Deryk Engelland has become the heart and soul of his hometown team.
James Neal wasn’t the right fit in Pittsburgh or Nashville. He’s found his identity as a Golden Knight. David Perron has dealt with injuries throughout the playoffs but has had the best regular season of his career. Ryan Reave’s simplified his game and showed up in a huge way.
With a new team, these players have established new identities. After making history, it’s time to take a look back at their play with the former Stanley Cup Champions.
Ryan Reaves began his NHL career by being selected by the Blues in the fifth round (156th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He played seven seasons as a member of the Blues and tallied almost 700 penalty minutes in that time.
Reaves was then traded to Pittsburgh by St. Louis for the No. 31 pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and forward Oskar Sundqvist. The forward came to the team to enhance their physical presence. The fit clearly didn’t work. After playing 58 games for the Penguins and having a total of eight points (four goals and four assists), he was traded to the Golden Knights.
On Feb. 23, as part of multiple transactions, Vegas acquired Reaves and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (belonging to the Vancouver Canucks) in exchange for prospect Tobias Lindberg. In the 21 regular season games he’s played as a Golden Knight, he has two points but has significantly lowered his penalty minutes. On Pittsburgh, he had 84 penalty minutes. As a Golden Knight, he’s had just 10.
This could have to do with not feeling as pressured to protect star players, as Vegas doesn’t have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
In Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, Reaves scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win to guarantee Vegas’ trip to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final.
Deryk Engelland was drafted in the sixth round (194th overall) by New Jersey in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Over the span of time before he joined the Penguins, he played for numerous WHL, ECHL and AHL teams. In 2009, Engelland finally made his NHL debut as a member of the Penguins, playing in nine games over the course of the regular season.
He would go on to play four more seasons in Pittsburgh, rotating between defence and forward, before being acquired by the Calgary Flames in 2014. Engelland played three seasons in his home province between 2014 and 2017 before being left unprotected for the Expansion Draft.
The Golden Knights decided to take a chance.
Engelland has resided in Las Vegas for 14 years and met his wife in the city. It’s fitting that with the expansion he would be chosen to play in the city he loves most. Las Vegas was always going to be his home.
After the terrible Las Vegas shooting, Engelland had a message for his team and his city: “Vegas Strong.” Engelland delivered his emotional speech at the end of the Golden Knights first pregame ceremony. The team made sure to honour the 58 people killed in the mass shooting.
He was one of the players that could really relate to the city affected by such a horrible tragedy.
Since, he’s gone on to embody this team’s heart and soul completely. As multiple others have, Engelland had the best regular season of his career and was the obvious choice to receive the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl from deputy commissioner Bill Daly when the Knights won the Western Conference Final.
Coming into the league, Marc-Andre Fleury was already making history. He became one of only three goalies to be selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft. In his NHL debut, he made 46 saves despite a 3-0 loss. At that moment, everyone in Pittsburgh knew they’d found a star.
Over his 13 seasons with the Penguins, he won three Stanley Cups. Fleury was a franchise player in not only his play off the ice but his personality off of it. Despite playing backup to Matt Murray in their last two Stanley Cup runs, they wouldn’t have made it far without his constant support of the young goaltender.
Without the reassurance from Fleury, Murray isn’t as confident in his first two playoff runs. After the Penguins won their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups, Flower passed the Stanley Cup to Murray. No one could have been more encouraging and no one exemplifies the true meaning of a teammate more than Fleury.
When the league introduced the Golden Knights franchise and the expansion draft rules, it was well-known that Flower’s time with Pittsburgh was finished. At the annual NHL Awards, every Penguins nightmare became reality. Fleury walked out from behind the stage once his name was called, dressed in his new team’s jersey.
Fleury possesses every individual goalie record in Penguins’ franchise history. He continues to have a lasting impression on every teammate he’s ever played with in Pittsburgh.
He now finds himself in a new home as the face of the franchise. At 33-years-old, he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career; breezing through teams this playoff season with a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage, as well as four shutouts. He helped his team sweep the Los Angeles Kings. He stood up to a team with tons of veteran players against the San Jose Sharks. And he’s now bested the Winnipeg Jets, one of the best regular season teams this year.
The Penguins certainly don’t win in 2009 unless Fleury stands on his head the majority of the playoffs. They don’t win without Fleury’s selflessness and regular season play in 2016. And they don’t make it to the Eastern Conference Final without Fleury’s nine wins last season.
The Golden Knights don’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final without his experience and composure this year. If Vegas wins the Stanley Cup this year, Flower should be the obvious choice to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP.
Despite Winnipeg having the best season in the history of their franchise, Vegas was the more dominant team. After losing Game 1, the Golden Knights did not trail in the final four games of the Western Conference Final. That’s 240 minutes either tied or leading.
Multiple teams have never had the chance to even make the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights are going to one in 227 days since the start of their inaugural season. With a little help from some former Penguins, the “Golden Misfits” will take on either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final to go for a little more history.
I’m a 21-year-old journalism graduate looking to expand my skills writing about the Pittsburgh Penguins.