Six Picks the Vegas Golden Knights Should Make
Tomorrow night the initial Vegas Golden Knights will be announced during the NHL Awards Show. Since Sidney Crosby raised up the Stanley Cup in Bridgestone Arena, hockey discussion has pretty much exclusively revolved around the expansion draft. Just about every sports website on the internet has a mock draft you can read, so I won’t be doing one of those. Instead, I’d like to highlight a few players I think are must-haves for this Vegas team.
Before we begin, it is important to clarify that I fully believe George McPhee is capable of putting together a playoff-worthy roster. The combined quantity and quality of defensemen left unprotected is staggering; this Golden Knights squad could very well begin the season with one of the best bluelines in the entire league. Take a look at Dom Luszczyszyn’s piece for the The Hockey News in which he makes the case that Vegas can be quite competitive.
With this in mind, I believe that Vegas should focus on players who are entering or remain in the prime of their career and have a substantially positive impact on the game currently. Collecting some future draft picks is all well and good, but passing up on some of this talent would be a huge mistake in my opinion, particularly as some of these players will have considerable trade value toward contenders.
Initially I was confused by the Predators’ decision to protect Calle Jarnkrok. However, it may benefit them as James Neal now seems to be the likeliest selection for the Golden Knights. Neal has been a prolific scorer throughout his career, ranking in the top 30 in both goals and shots per 60 minutes over the last four seasons. However, Neal will be 30 years old by the time Vegas takes the ice next season and has one year remaining on his $5M contract. He is a declining player who can provide some veteran leadership yet lacks the kind of long-lasting impact that Vegas needs.
Colin Wilson, on the other hand, would be a fantastic pick for the Golden Knights. Wilson has often drawn the ire of Predators’ fans, particularly as a 7th overall pick (2009) who has yet to produce more than 42 points in a season. However, his two-way play is strong and, by Dawson Sprigings’ Goals Above Replacement Metric (an explanation of which can be found here), Wilson has been a first line player for most of his career. Wilson also has two years left on his contract which carries a cap hit of just below $4M annually. By taking Wilson instead of Neal, Vegas would get a player closer to his prime who would provide real high-end performance for the club for at least two seasons.
Josh Manson/Sami Vatanen
There have been reports that Anaheim has a deal in place with Vegas to not select Manson, with Vatanen possibly being the selection but potentially being avoided as well. Given the resources Anaheim has to make a trade, I have a hard time believing Vegas comes out of this with a win if both defensemen are protected. Both are first pairing right-handed blueliners in their primes who are under team control for multiple seasons. Manson is more of a bruising, defensive player while Vatanen is more offensively-minded, but both have roughly the same value.
One of these two players would comprise half of the stellar first pairing that the Golden Knights should ice this coming season, with the other player being featured later on in this piece. It sounds like the decision has already been made regarding Anaheim’s players, so come Wednesday night we’ll see if Vegas got fair value for passing up on two productive defensemen.
This pick seemed to be pretty popular until reports came out that there was a deal in place for Vegas to select Tobias Enstrom. With all of the great defensemen available, it’s important that strong forwards are selected when they become available. Dano is a 22 year old first round pick who has been traded twice already despite his consistent production when he has been given NHL time. He has scored 42 points in 107 NHL games and ranks 65th among all forwards in point scoring rate since 2014. This is in addition to his strong defensive play, which is highlighted in his GAR chart. Dano would make a fine addition to one of Vegas’ likely interchangeable top three lines and his presence will be missed if Enstrom is indeed the selection.
Another young defenseman who has already proven to be a consistent performer, Dumba would fill in very nicely on a second pairing or would be a great trade chip to use. He’s an offensively-focused player who has been a high-end number three for the past few years. Only 22 years old, he may just be waiting for an opportunity to step out of the shadows of that great Minnesota defense.
Some people think that the Golden Knights will pick Eric Staal. I can’t really fault them for that decision, as he would be the obvious captain and first line center of the team, but with an organization which is trying to build long term, I don’t see how he is the answer over Dumba.
The report last night was that Jonathan Marchessault will be the selection from Florida, which I also can’t fault. As I mentioned before, there are a plethora of strong defensemen for Vegas to choose and they need to find forward talent where they can. However, I’m skeptical of Marchessault’s current perceived value as a result of his 30-goal season. His shooting percentage is likely to regress and I think the Golden Knights may be disappointed with him if a prolific goal scorer is what they are expecting.
Instead, I believe they should take Jason Demers. Demers was my favorite option on the free agent market last offseason and signed a very reasonable deal with Florida. He’s yet another defenseman who falls on the line between a true first pairing and second pairing guy. He’s a strong two-way player and is entering his seventh NHL season, which means he has some of that veteran leadership which may help some of the younger players on that blueline. If they felt inclined to trade him, I am willing to bet that there is a long line of contending teams who would pay a premium to acquire his services, particularly at $4.5M per year.
Calvin de Haan
The final player on this list is one who, admittedly, I didn’t know too much about before conducting this research. I knew that the Islanders were stocked with solid defensemen and that de Haan was one of them. He’s received a lot of coverage over the last few days and I decided to dive into his stats. The results were shocking.
GAR has its flaws, and while I have used it extensively here I don’t consider it to be a perfect metric by any means. However, the results are pretty conclusive that de Haan has consistently been an elite #1 defenseman. He chips in a bit offensively but his main contributions are in limiting opposing chances. As is the case with many of these players, there are reports that the Islanders have a deal in place to protect de Haan. I hope that Vegas GM George McPhee isn’t being too nice to opposing teams, as a first round pick isn’t nearly enough to give up a stud left defenseman for the next half-decade (de Haan is an RFA currently; I can’t imagine why Vegas wouldn’t be able to sign him to a contract for 5–6 seasons).
With just six of their 30 picks, Vegas can put together a first line (centered by free agent signing Vadim Shipachyov) which can at least allow them to compete, as well as a top-four defensive corps which rivals just about every team in the league minus Nashville. Given the rumored deals, it’s entirely possible that none of these players are announced as Golden Knights on Wednesday night. Unless McPhee is receiving a few ransoms, however, I think that would be a big mistake.
GAR courtesy of @DTMaboutheart
Stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com
Contracts courtesy of capfriendly.com