Vegas Golden Knights: Mock Expansion Draft, Protected Players, & Line Combinations

After the unveiling of the Vegas Golden Knights name and jersey last month, we will have to wait until mid-June for the expansion draft to occur and for the team roster to be finalized. That’s way too long for my liking, so I am going to engage in the exercise of both mock protecting certain players from each NHL team and then mock selecting the one player from each team that Vegas would take. After the selections, I will lastly unveil some possible line combinations.

Each NHL franchise is allowed to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 Goalie, and all 1st and 2nd year players (which I will designate with an R next to their name if I consider them to be in the range of protected players on the roster). In addition, the NHL recently released a list of 66 players that have no movement clauses written in their contracts, and I will designate them as (NM) accordingly. So it’s all a little complicated, and I may miss some 1st and 2nd year players as I’m only going to include the ones who I feel a team would be interested in, but we’ll do our best here to construct the team.

Mock Expansion Draft & Protected Players

Anaheim Ducks

Getzlaf (NM), Kesler (NM), Perry (NM), Silfverberg, Rakell, Cogliano, Vermette
Fowler, Vatanen, Bieksa (NM)
Gibson

Vegas Selection: Hamphus Lindholm. I think the Ducks will be frustrated by the fact that Bieksa can’t be moved as he’s a 35-year old without a ton of upside left. Assuming they can’t fathom parting with Cam Fowler or Sami Vatanen, then the odd man out is Lindholm who would be a really solid pickup for the Knights. A former top 10 pick in 2012, in 3+ seasons Lindholm has been good for about 30 points a year and a comfortably positive +/- rating.

Arizona Coyotes

Vrbata, Domi ®, Rieder, Martinook, Goligoski (NM), Hanzal, Duclair, Richardson
Ekman-Larsson, Stone, Chychrun
Smith

Vegas Selection: Shane Doan. Maybe Arizona chooses to keep the 40-year old poster child of the Coyotes franchise, but with his numbers on the decline I don’t see it making much business sense. Vegas could be a nice challenge for Doan to finish his career out, and it makes parting with Doan at the tail end of his career less awkward for the Yotes. Plus the whole Battle of the Desert rivalry the NHL will try and promote between Vegas and the Coyotes with Doan leading the charge against his former mates of 20 years would be the perfect storyline. Either way, Arizona isn’t a good hockey club, and Vegas will be getting more of a character guy than someone with skill and longevity. If the Yotes keep Doan, then someone like the veteran Brad Richardson would also make sense.

Boston Bruins

Marchand, Pastrnak, Krejci (NM), Bergeron (NM), Backes (NM), Spooner, Schaller
Chara (NM), Carlo ®, Krug, Kevan Miller
Rask

Vegas Selection: Colin Miller. As a Bruins fan, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller might not necessarily be the 2nd and 3rd non-rookie defensemen I’d protect, but given the way the Bruins have handled their defensemen’s ice time and careers it is hard for me to envision them doing something differently. That leaves the much improved Joe Morrow and Colin Miller as the best options for Vegas. Given Joe Morrow regularly gets healthy scratched, I don’t think he’ll be able to earn the trust of Vegas’ scouts, and it’ll be Colin Miller that is deemed to have the most upside and will ultimately don a Vegas sweater.

Buffalo Sabres
Eichel ®, Okposo (NM), Kane, O’Reilly, Reinhart, Gionta, Moulson, Foligno
Ristolainen, Franson, McCabe
Lehner

Vegas Selection: Johan Larsson. Likely not someone Buffalo will be happy to part with, but he’s the odd man out for me. They boast 9 decent forwards in Buffalo, but someone has to clock in at #9 and it’s the 24-year old Swede.

Calgary Flames

Gaudreau, Monahan, Frolik, Bennett, Backlund, Brouwer, Chiasson
Giordano, Hamilton, Wideman
Johnson

Vegas Selection: Kris Versteeg. Calgary is going to have some decisions to make as you could certainly make the case for protecting Versteeg over the likes of Brouwer and Chiasson who are similar in value. Ultimately I think they will give the edge to Brouwer who they just signed for decent money from St. Louis and then Chiasson who is a few years younger than Versteeg. This is also a goalie situation worth monitoring as they brought in Brian Elliott to be the starter, but he’s been poor and has given way to Chad Johnson who has been absolutely spectacular. Who knows if it stays that way for the rest of the season, but if it does it will be hard to justify protecting Elliott over Johnson. That also opens the door for Vegas if they consider Elliott’s struggles in Calgary to be just a bump in the road of an otherwise solid career. Bringing Elliott in to compete with whoever else they bring in doesn’t seem that far-fetched at this point.

Carolina Hurricanes
Staal (NM), Skinner, Aho ®, Teravainen, Stempniak, Stalberg, Rask, Lindholm
Hanifin ®, Faulk, Pesce, Slavin
Ward

Vegas Selection: Joakim Nordstrom. It’s slim pickings in Carolina. Vegas may ask if they can just take a pass on the Carolina pick.

Chicago Blackhawks
Anisimov (NM), Hossa (NM), Kane (NM), Toews (NM), Panarin ®, Panik, Motte, Kruger
Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson
Crawford

Vegas Selection: Trevor van Riemsdyk. Chicago’s not as deep as we’re used to seeing, and it pays off when there’s an expansion draft. TVR’s not a bad haul though, and Vegas will expect to be receiving a solid 2nd pair guy for the foreseeable future.

Colorado Avalanche
Mackinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Iginla, Rantanen ®, Comeau, Soderborg, Grigorenko
Beauchemin (NM), Johnson (NM), Barrie
Varlamov

Vegas Selection: Patrick Wiercioch. Rene Bourque off to a hot start this year is tempting, but given Wiercioch’s solid career numbers and CORSI rating he looks like the obvious selection. Colorado’s probably a little bummed they can only keep 3 defensemen as they had built some solid depth here that they don’t have at the forward positions. There’s a chance they’ll protect Wiercioch, and then Vegas would just likely take Barrie.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Atkinson, Foligno (NM), Wennberg, Clarkson (NM), Dubinsky (NM), Hartnell (NM), Saad
Werenski ®, Jones, Johnson, Savard
Bobrovsky (NM)

Vegas Selection: Sam Gagner. Columbus is off to a flying start this season, but the expansion draft’s probably got them worried. The no movement clause in sideline-ridden David Clarkson puts them in a terrible spot, and it’s not all that clear they’d protect Dubinsky either if they weren’t obligated to do so. They’re going to have to cough up an asset they don’t want to, and my money’s on in-form Sam Gagner. Other possibilities are Boone Jenner, John Anderson, and William Karlsson. No matter what, Vegas will walk away with a nice haul here, and one that the Clarkson contract makes all the more difficult to stomach for the Blue Jackets.

Dallas Stars
Jamie Benn (NM), Spezza (NM), Seguin, Sharp, Roussel, Eakin, Hemsky
Klingberg, Hamhuis, Jodie Benn
Lehtonen

Vegas Selection: Patrick Eaves. The Stars are a deep team, and with that they could lose any number of players on attack or in defense. I think that when choosing who to protect, they’ll put quite a bit of stock in who led the way for them last season when they cruised to the best record in the Western Conference. For that reason, I have them keeping guys like Roussel, Eakin, and Hemsky over Eaves who is putting up more points this year than he did last year. Whoever the odd man out is of that foursome is the prime target from what I can see.

Detroit Red Wings
Zetterberg, Larkin ®, Nielsen (NM), Nyquist, Tatar, Abdelkader, Helm, Vanek
Green, DeKayser, Ericsson
Mrazek

Vegas Selection: Jimmy Howard. And there we have it, the first goalie selection. This isn’t the gifted Detroit team of the ‘90s and early 2000’s, and with Vegas left choosing between the likes of a Luke Glendening or an Alexey Marchenko at the skater positions, I think Howard makes the most sense. Bring him in and let him compete for the starting gig.

Edmonton Oilers
McDavid ®, Draisaitl, Eberle, Lucic (NM), Maroon, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi ®, Pouliot, Kassian
Sekera (NM), Larsson, Klefbom
Talbot (NM)

Vegas Selection: Kris Russell. The high-flying Edmonton Oilers have finally figured things out, and Connor McDavid’s more than living up to the hype. To boot, they’re so young that you can’t touch many of their offensive assets until you’re down to the fringe 3rd/4th lines. I think it comes down to defensemen Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, and I think they’ll opt to protect the young Swede knowing his and the team’s future is bright. They won’t be happy with losing a fine commodity in Russell, but things are looking up in Edmonton for the next decade.

Florida Panthers
Marchessault, Barkov, Trocheck, Jagr, Huberdeau, Smith, Jokinen
Yandle (NM), Ekblad, Demers
Luongo

Vegas Selection: Alex Petrovic. Florida will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in terms of who they choose to protect and who they choose to expose. Do they expect Jaromir Jagr to wear a Panthers jersey for 2-3 more years? You can pose the same question about Roberto Luongo. If they were to expose and lose Luongo, would they be willing to put the team in the hands of James Reimer?

I’m a Reimer guy so it pains me to admit that so far this season he hasn’t proven he can be a reliable #1 netminder. For that reason, I expect Florida to protect Bobby Lu and hope they get a few more years out of him. Vegas could swoop in and get Reimer, but again I don’t think he’s helped his stock enough this year for that to happen. That leaves us with fringe guys like Colton Sceviour, Jussi Jokinen, and Alex Petrovic. I think Vegas will realize the depth that Florida has on defense, and test the waters with the promising Petrovic. I have Florida keeping Jokinen, but if they opt to protect Sceviour then there’s certainly a possibility that Vegas will relish the chance to add a consistent veteran like Jussi. Alternatively, if Jussi’s protected, then they could take a chance on Sceviour. Lots of scenarios for how it could play out with the Panthers.

Los Angeles Kings
Kopitar (NM), Carter, Toffoli, Gaborik, Brown, Pearson, King
Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez
Quick

Vegas Selection: Derek Forbort. The Kings are a veteran team that wins when it matters, and for that reason I think they lock up all their veterans that have proven themselves on the biggest stages before. They’ll have to get younger at some point, but I don’t think they’re worrying about that just yet. Vegas could opt for someone like a Nic Dowd, but he’s an unproven commodity posting a poor +/- in the NHL. Dwight King’s also an option if LA doesn’t choose to protect him, but I think the clear choice here is Forbort.

Minnesota Wild
Koivu (NM), Parise (NM), Pominville (NM), Coyle, Staal, Niederreiter, Granlund
Suter, Spurgeon, Dumba
Dubnyk

Vegas Selection: Jonas Brodin. It comes down to Brodin, Dumba, and Jason Zucker for me. I just don’t think Zucker has enough offensive upside to justify taking him over Brodin or Dumba, and I give the slight edge to Dumba in terms of who the Wild will protect. That leaves Brodin, a fine pickup for Vegas and one a stout Minny D won’t enjoy having to relinquish.

Montreal Canadiens
Galchenyuk, Radulov, Pacioretty, Gallagher, Desharnais, Shaw, Byron
Petry (NM), Weber, Markov
Price

Vegas Selection: Phillip Danault. You could make a case for Alexei Emelin here as he’s slotted in well next to Shea Weber on Montreal’s top pair. And of course, if Montreal were to keep Emelin over Markov, then Markov would certainly be coveted by Vegas. But the Knights are going to need some forwards and can’t just choose the most solid available defenseman left from every team. Danault’s a versatile forward who the coach will be able to move up and down the lineup as he’s mixing and matching linemates throughout their inaugural season.

Nashville Predators
Johansen, Ribeiro, Neal, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Smith, Ellis
Josi, Subban, Ekholm
Rinne (NM)

Vegas Selection: Colin Wilson. Nashville is a team of a bunch of 2nd and 3rd line forwards in many respects and they’ll be unable to protect everyone they’d like. They have a clear strongest 5 in my opinion, and then the 6-9 are Craig Smith, Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson, and Mike Fisher. I think they retain the first two guys on that list due to their superior years in 2015-16. That leaves Vegas choosing between Wilson and Fisher. Given Fisher’s 36 years old and a -21 since the start of the 2015-16 season, that leaves Wilson who will give you even hockey and 30-40 points a campaign.

New Jersey Devils
Clowe (NM), Zajac, Cammalleri, Hall, Palmieri, Henrique, Parenteau
Greene, Severson, Quincey
Schneider

Vegas Selection: Devante Smith-Pelly. There isn’t much to separate between New Jersey’s top 4 defenseman, so there’s definitely a chance that Vegas goes with the odd man out—in my scenario that’d be John Moore. With that being said, I have Vegas taking Smith-Pelly—a guy who’s bounced from team to team over the past few years. He’s still only 24 and he’s getting alright ice time with the Devils albeit with little to show for it. Perhaps he finally finds a home with the Knights.

New York Islanders
Ladd (NM), Tavares (NM), Nelson, Bailey, Cizikas, Lee, Prince
Boychuk (NM), Leddy, de Haan
Halak

Vegas Selection: Ryan Strome. This was another tough one here. It’s a bunched up roster with a lot of guys that are pretty equally productive in both attack and defense. Anders Lee, Shane Prince, and Ryan Strome have all posted similar stats over the last couple years—I gave the edge to Lee and Prince because they’re having better years than Strome currently. If I was to base the decision off of ice time of late alone, then it’d probably be Lee who was left exposed and packing. You could even make a case that someone like Cal Clutterbuck is either worth protecting for the Isles or worth snatching if you’re Vegas and he’s available.

It’s the same dilemma at the back end. After Leddy and Boychuk, you have de Haan, Hickey, and Hamonic all bunched up. You could even make the case for Seidenberg if he keeps putting up points at the rate he is. I went with Hickey because he seems like the most consistent presence when I do see the Isles on occasion, but I think de Haan’s right on his heels. Knowing Hamonic wants out and is brutal in +/- right now, I think they’ll leave him exposed. Any of the available defensemen could make sense to Vegas. In conclusion, I have no idea what the Isles will do, and Vegas could take any number of players here.

New York Rangers
Nash (NM), Miller, Hayes, Stepan, Zuccarello, Kreider, Zibanejad
Girardi (NM), McDonagh, Staal (NM)
Lundqvist

Vegas Selection: Michael Grabner. The Rangers look like the best team in the Eastern Conference so far, and Vegas will benefit from getting one of their players. Kevin Klein and Nick Holden are possible defensive options, but with a team scoring at their pace, it makes sense to take a forward. The Rangers will be disappointed they can only protect 7 of them and not 8, because I think it’ll be Michael Grabner who has scored 13 goals already posting a ridiculous team-leading +19 that’ll be sent packing. The other 7 guys have just been more consistent over their careers whereas Grabner is on pace for well beyond what he’s ever posted in his. If Grabner’s production isn’t just merely a result of playing for a strong offensive Rangers hockey club, then this could be a real steal of a pickup for the Golden Knights.

Ottawa Senators
Hoffman, Stone, Turris, Dzingel, Brassard, Ryan, Pageau
Karlsson, Phaneuf (NM), Wideman
Anderson

Vegas Selection: Zack Smith. Smith had a respectable 36 point campaign last season, but he hasn’t really been able to get going so far this year. It’s hard to see him being protected over any of the names listed above, and Ottawa doesn’t have any exposed defensemen that jump off the page. By process of elimination, my money’s on Smith.

Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux (NM), Simmonds, Voracek, Schenn, Couturier, Raffl, Cousins
Gostisbehere, MacDonald, Manning
Mason

Vegas Selection: Michael Del Zotto. I think if you’re Vegas, you can’t pass on the offensive upside of a defenseman like Del Zotto. Philly doesn’t seem to like him as they scratch him from time to time, but that seems to be a product of Philly having a leaky defense. If they could play better team D, in other words, Del Zotto would be a better fit. I think he’ll be keen on heading elsewhere too.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby (NM), Kessel (NM), Malkin (NM), Hornqvist, Kunitz, Sheary, Hagelin
Letang (NM), Cole, Schultz
Murray

Vegas Selection: Nick Bonino. This one may be the trickiest of them all because there’s so many moving parts. Here’s the deal: Fleury’s got a no movement clause and I can’t see the Pens holding on to Fleury and Murray until the expansion draft. Therefore, there’s almost no way they’re not trading Fleury to someone that wants him. Whether they’ll have to eat some of his contract to do so will have to wait to be seen.

Going off the assumption it’s just Murray in Pittsburgh when the draft happens, then they’ll keep Murray. Like most teams, there are some decent defensemen in guys like Maatta and Dailey that Vegas could look to but, let’s be real, if you’ve got a chance to steal a Penguin you’re taking one of their legion of goalscorers. I’ve got the Pens protecting Sheary and Hagelin over the likes of Cullen and Bonino. They seem to like Sheary a lot, and he’s on a line with Crosby and Hornqvist right now who are having monster years. Hagelin’s gelling with Malkin and Kessel. Cullen and Bonino are the odd men out, and at 40 years of age I can’t see Vegas going for Cullen over the, in comparison, spry 28-year old Bonino. The Penguin faithful will remember him fondly for centering the dominant HBK line on route to their Stanley Cup, but there just isn’t enough room for him now on such a good team.

San Jose Sharks
Pavelski, Couture, Thornton, Hertl, Marleau, Donskoi, Ward
Burns, Vlasic, Martin
Jones

Vegas Selection: Justin Braun. I think it comes down to forward Chris Tierney and defenseman Justin Braun here. The Sharks are playing shut down defense, and for that reason I think you have to poach their best defenseman they leave exposed. That’s Braun for me, a guy who should be good for 20 points and in the green in the +/- department.

St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko, Schwartz, Perron, Stastny, Steen, Fabbri, Lehtera
Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Parayko
Allen

Vegas Selection: Jay Bouwmeester. Similar to San Jose, this is a team that can struggle to put the puck in the net for stretches. What they do night in and night out is play solid team defense. It makes sense to take the best defenseman they leave exposed, and I think that’ll be Bouwmeester.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Callahan (NM), Filppula (NM), Stamkos (NM), Kucherov, Johnson, Palat, Drouin
Hedman (NM), Stralman, Nesterov
Vasilevskiy

Vegas Selection: Ben Bishop. After accruing so much depth, the expansion draft doesn’t hit any team harder than the Tampa Bay Lightning. The no movement clause in Ryan Callahan’s contract doesn’t make matters any easier as that’s one spot filled that could go to a better player. The way I see it is that Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Killorn, and Vladislav Namestnikov are competing for the final 3 forward spots. I have Killorn and Namestnikov on the outside looking in just because I think the Bolts believe Johnson and Palat are the more natural goalscorers, and then Drouin has just too much upside to be exposed. If Callahan didn’t need to be kept, then I’d slot Killorn into that top 7—a player I like a lot and would personally find a way to keep.

The good news for Tampa on the forward front is that it won’t matter if they don’t find Ben Bishop a home. The reason why I favor Pittsburgh finding a buyer for Fleury more than Tampa finding a buyer for Bishop is that Fleury’s less valuable. He’s a couple years older and playing the worst hockey of his career. Pittsburgh knows they can’t be too greedy. Bishop on the other hand is a valuable commodity, and it’s tough to envision another team giving up enough for Bishop when knowing the Bolts are up against the wall. With that being said, I wouldn’t underestimate Steve Yzerman as he’s built a team to last down south. It’s either Bishop or a strong forward going to Vegas, and if it’s Bishop he becomes Vegas’ 1A to Howard’s 1B according to my mock.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Horton (NM), van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Bozak, Komarov, Martin, Marincin
Hunwick, Polak
Andersen

Vegas Selection: Peter Holland. Toronto’s so young it’s difficult to even find many guys on their roster that are eligible to be selected. What you’re left with is a lottery ticket. For me, why not cash it in on former 1st round pick Peter Holland? He’s still just 25, and in limited action he’s put up decent numbers in the NHL. Like Vegas, he’s looking to establish an identity, and he’s at the bottom of Mike Babcock’s pecking order as it stands right now.

Vancouver Canucks
D. Sedin (NM), H. Sedin (NM), Eriksson (NM), Horvat, Sutter, Granlund, Baertschi
Sbisa, Stecher, Hutton
Markstrom

Vegas Selection: Alexandre Burrows. The Canucks are an awful hockey team, and nothing sums it up better than this Twitter account that details all the blunders that the team makes on the ice and management makes off the ice. They’re a team without a direction. At the bare minimum, they do have some young pieces in attack worth keeping around for when they might be good in 10 years. Bearing this in mind, I think Burrows is the only guy left exposed worth rostering.

There’s also a chance Vegas takes a Vancouver goalie if the skating prospects just look too ugly. One has to assume the Canucks lock up Markstrom and not Miller who is 10 years the Swede’s senior, so maybe Vegas takes their chances with Miller for a few years before his career is over. He’s still got some game.

Washington Capitals
Backstrom, Ovechkin, Johansson, Oshie, Kuznetzov, Beagle, Burakovsky
Carlson, Orlov, Alzner
Holtby

Vegas Selection: Matt Niskanen. Like we’ve seen before, a lot of teams have 4 very strong defensemen and you can only protect 3. I only have Niskanen as the odd man out because he’s the oldest, and I assume the Caps want to protect their assets that have the latest expiration dates. Niskanen’s a solid hockey player, and any 4 of these defensemen could be the guy Vegas gets to roster.

Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler, Scheifele, Little, Perreault, Stafford, Ehlers, Dano
Byfuglien (NM), Enstrom (NM), Trouba
Hellebuyck

Vegas Selection: Tyler Myers. Characteristic of this mock, Tyler Myers comes in as the 4th best defensemen in a crop of 4 very fine defensemen. It’s close between Myers and Trouba, but Trouba has youth on his side and a new contract. With Myers on IR and known to be injury-prone, I think the Jets have to leave him exposed.

So there we have it. By my calculations that’s 15 forwards, 13 defensemen, and 2 goalies. Obviously this roster would be a tough one for defensemen to crack into, so chances are Vegas will probably choose a few more younger, lesser-known defensemen than this.

Line Combinations

Forwards

LW                                                 C                                                   RW

Michael Grabner (NYR) Sam Gagner (CBJ) Patrick Eaves (DAL)
Colin Wilson (NSH) Nick Bonino (PIT) Kris Versteeg (CGY)
Phillip Danault (MTL) Johan Larsson (BUF) Alexandre Burrows (VAN)
Zack Smith (OTT) Ryan Strome (NYI) Shane Doan (ARZ)
Joakim Nordstrom (CAR) Peter Holland (TOR) Devante Smith-Pelly (NJD)

Defensemen

Matt Niskanen (WSH) Hamphuis Lindholm (ANA)
Justin Braun (SJS) Tyler Myers (WPG)
Alex Petrovic (FLA) Colin Miller (BOS)
Kris Russell (EDM) Jonas Brodin (MIN)
Derek Forbort (LAK) Jay Bouwmeester (STL)
Michael Del Zotto (PHI) Trevor van Riemsdyk (CHI)
Patrick Wiercioch (COL)

Given that these are the 4th best defensemen at a lot of hockey clubs, there isn’t all that much to separate 1-13 here. Any of these hypotheticals could break into the top 6.

Goalies

Ben Bishop (TBL)
Jimmy Howard (DET)

That’s all I’ve got. We’ll see how close this lands to the real thing.

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