Vegas Golden Knights Turning Assets Into Stars

When Las Vegas was granted the 31st NHL franchise, general manager George McPhee knew this would be no ordinary expansion draft. The game has changed immensely since the last expansion. The game is a lot faster, it requires more skill, and with the growth of hockey in general, there are a lot more players who can play the game at a high level.

That led to a lot of teams having players they wanted to keep but could not because of the roster rules; teams were allowed to keep seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or four forwards, four defensemen and one goalie. This forced teams to give other assets to the Vegas Golden Knights in order to protect players they already had on their roster.

Golden Knights’ Asset Management

McPhee was able to take advantage of a number of general managers, receiving multiple assets in return for not selecting a specific player(s). The first step was the actual expansion draft. McPhee made 10 trades during this process, acquiring an extra 10 picks and moving up in the first round from the 24th selection to 13th. A few of the notable players he acquired via these trades are: Nikita Gusev, Alex Tuch, Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore.

George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights, NHL
George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights have impressed as an expansion team. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gusev is currently in the KHL and has averaged over a point-per-game for the last four seasons. Since there is no contract agreement with the NHL and the KHL, the Golden Knights need to wait until his KHL contract expires, but once that happens you can bet McPhee will be on the phone with Gusev’s agent. Tuch currently leads the team in scoring and is only 22 years of age, while Smith is a smart hockey player with impressive hands and was a big part of Vegas’ success in its inaugural season. Theodore is their franchise defenseman and is only 23 years old.

The Trades: Tatar, Pacioretty, and Stone

After losing out on Erik Karlsson at last season’s trade deadline, McPhee made a deal with the Detroit Red Wings to bring in three-time 20-goal scorer Tomas Tatar to Vegas. The Knights dealt a first rounder in 2018, a second in 2019 and a third in 2021 for the left winger. This trade proved to the entire league that they were for real and going all-in for a deep Stanley Cup run.

And even though he did not pan out as the team had hoped, Tatar was flipped over the summer to the Montreal Canadiens for Max Pacioretty. The Knights also threw in prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round selection in 2019, but Pacioretty is a big-time goal scorer who uses his body to create plays, offensively and defensively. It was a steep price to pay, considering all the assets they used to acquire Tatar, but Pacioretty fits better into the Golden Knights lineup than Tatar did.

Over the summer, McPhee had a ton of cap space to play with and signed top free agent center Paul Stastny. The Knights were very familiar with Stastny, as they had eliminated he and the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Final a couple of months earlier. The next big fish that McPhee landed was Mark Stone.

Golden Knights Mark Stone
Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

He was this season’s most-prized rental and Vegas won the sweepstakes. The major piece Vegas had to give up was highly-touted defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom who the Knights drafted with the first rounder they received when they took on Mikhail Grabovski’s contract in the expansion draft. So essentially they were able to turn Grabovski into Stone. Talk about a return on investment.

If you look at the Knights roster now, they are set up for another deep playoff run this season and many more as they have the majority of their core signed long-term. Meanwhile, McPhee and his scouting staff will still be busy this summer as they have five draft picks in the first three rounds of the entry draft. He set the franchise up by having multiple darts to throw at the board and hit a bulls-eye on almost every shot.