Memories can be hazy in hockey fandom. The Vegas Golden Knights had their expansion draft in 2017, which isn’t that long ago, but it seems like no one remembers exactly who they took, how few teams gave up meaningful players (other than on purpose to protect someone else) and how few of those players are with the team now.
The biggest star they got was Marc-Andre Fleury, but that was a move paid for by the Pittsburgh Penguins with a second-round pick. They used that pick to get Robin Lehner, by the way. How is Pittsburgh doing on the goalie front, I forget...
This is their list of drafted players from Wikipedia:
Vegas Expansion Draft
|New Jersey Devils
|Detroit Red Wings
|Los Angeles Kings
|Tampa Bay Lightning
|New York Islanders
|Toronto Maple Leafs
|San Jose Sharks
|St. Louis Blues
|New York Rangers
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|Trevor van Riemsdyk
And let’s play where are they now.
Calvin Pickard, who I used to believe in, was traded to the Leafs in 2017, and wasn’t good. He’s currently on the UFA list after two years and nine NHL games in Detroit.
Luca Sbisa played 30 games in Vegas and is on his third team since. He was actually on the Predators roster last year for reasons only they understand, and played one game. His NHL career should be over, but you never know.
Teemu Pulkkinen played a great AHL season for Vegas and then went to the KHL, where he has prospered decently.
Jon Merrill, now why is that name familiar... Merrill played in utter obscurity in Vegas for three seasons, was signed by Detroit last summer, and they made a deadline move (for their AGM’s nephew) to put him on the Montreal Canadiens where everyone seems to think he’s good defensively.
William Carrier, who Buffalo paid a sixth-round pick to have taken off their hands, is a Vegas fixture on their fourth line, and is one of the best depth players in the NHL not named Jason Spezza.
Cody Eakin played a few seasons in Vegas, usually on the third line. His performance waned, and he was signed by Buffalo, where he was considerably worse that Carrier this season for several hundred thousand more in cap hit.
Tomas Nosek has been a regular roster player on Vegas since the draft, proving that if you set your sights on depth players, you can find gems even on the Detroit Red Wings.
Jonathan Marchessault was not a found gem, he was a perfect diamond handed over by Florida on a silver platter. Vegas also got to keep the platter (Reilly Smith). Combined they have 174 regular season goals for Vegas.
Brayden McNabb has remained on Vegas since the draft as well, hitting guys, getting PIM, and generally being their oldest of old school players.
Connor Brickley was taken in exchange for a fifth-rounder from Carolina. He was then signed by Florida, and quickly exited the NHL. He did not play this season. Vegas used the pick in 2017 to draft Jack Dugan, who made his AHL debut for them this season, and did okay.
Chris Thorburn was taken because the Jets paid a good first-rounder and a third to have Vegas select him. They got back a lesser first. Thorburn retired after two seasons in St. Louis, and was never on the Vegas roster. Vegas selected Nick Suzuki and used the third-rounder in a pick trade. Suzuki was, of course, traded to Montreal for Max Pacioretty.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a depth player, played two years in Vegas, two in Colorado, and is currently a UFA.
Jason Garrison played a few games in Vegas, and then the Oilers before moving on to the SHL, he seems to be retired now. Tampa paid Vegas a second rounder and the rights to Nikita Gusev to get Vegas to take their ageing defender. However, Vegas traded the pick, eventually used to draft Alexandre Texier, for Keegan Kolesar. Kolesar played this season in Vegas, and might work out okay, but they lost that trade in hindsight.
Jean-Francois Berube was taken because the Islanders paid a first, a second and two players, Mikhail Grabovski (an LTIR contract dump) and Jake Bischoff, an AHLer for Vegas. The picks netted them Erik Brännström, who was part of the Mark Stone trade, and Robert Mastrosimone, who is still in college.
James Neal played one good season in Vegas, and they let him walk as a UFA, where Calgary snapped him up in a deal that would come to haunt them, right about now, actually.
Deryk Engelland became a fan favourite in Vegas, playing three seasons before retiring last offseason.
Brendan Leipsic played some poor depth NHL hockey after being taken from the Leafs, but he drove himself out of the NHL by being publicly obnoxious. He played at a medium-quality level in the KHL this season on an excellent team, which should silence anyone who thinks there was an NHL player there.
Colin Miller became a analytics meme after playing two seasons in Vegas. Was he a third-pairing darling or a really good defender? After two years in Buffalo, it’s still hard to tell, but his points dried up once he left the desert.
Marc Methot was traded by Vegas to Dallas for a goalie prospect and a second-round pick at the entry draft. Dallas did not get their money’s worth, but Vegas traded on his reputation and sold high on a player who was quickly laid out by injuries.
David Schlemko was traded by Vegas immediately to Montreal for a fifth-round pick. He played parts of two seasons before he dwindled away into an AHLer. It’s amazing what you can get for an ageing defender. Marcus Kallionkieli, selected with that pick, made his AHL debut this year in a very few games.
David Perron played one season in Vegas and then re-signed as a UFA back in St. Louis. He has a cup ring now, and is likely happy with his choices. He just never really fit in Vegas for some reason.
Oscar Lindberg played one and a half seasons of very poor hockey in Vegas, even though he’d seemed like a great pick at the time. He went to Ottawa in the Stone trade and he is now in the KHL.
Griffen Reinhart would never have even been in the NHL or the draft but for his last name. Vegas gave him every chance, and he turned in two desultory years in the AHL. He played in the KHL, poorly, and then the DEL and is not signed to any team for the coming season.
Alexei Emelin was another defenceman traded post expansion draft, this time for a third-round pick. Emelin played one more very poor NHL season for Nashville, and went to the KHL where he won the cup this year as the captain of Avangard Omsk. Vegas selected Layton Ahac with the pick, and he made his pro debut in the AHL this year.
Clayton Stoner was selected by Vegas because Anaheim paid them Shea Theodore. Vegas is fine with this. Stoner never played post 2017, and is retired. Anaheim stayed bad with whoever they were protecting in that foolish deal.
Erik Haula was taken by Vegas because Minnesota gave them Alex Tuch. The Wild got back a third-round pick, making them hard bargainers by the standards of that draft. Haula played one great season, was injured the next, and moved around to three teams, landing in Nashville. That first golden season in Vegas was the highwater mark of his career. Tuch is a Vegas regular, under contract to 2026. Minnesota took Connor Dewar with the pick, who is in the AHL for them.
William Karlsson, the other contender for best get at the draft after Fleury, became Wild Bill because Columbus was the real desert, where goals were frowned on and fun was forbidden. To be fair to CBJ, Karlsson looked pretty terrible in the 2017 Worlds too. But in Vegas, he’s a new man, and they’ve got him locked up until 2027.
Wait, just one more thing — Columbus paid Vegas their first-round pick a second-rounder and (crucially for the Leafs) the contract of David Clarkson to take Karlsson. Vegas traded the CBJ first to get the Suzuki pick, and they threw in the second-rounder in the Pacioretty deal.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was traded immediately after selection to the Hurricanes for a second-round pick. Vegas took Jake Leschyshyn who made his AHL debut this season.
Marc-Andrey Fleury, seen as a washed up cap dump at the time, was taken because Pittsburgh paid a second-round pick. He was supposed to quietly get worse and retire, but he had other ideas. The pick was used to get Robin Lehner.
Nate Schmidt was available because Washington just didn’t make a deal. Unlike many of the other defenders taken, Vegas kept Schmidt for three years, signing him to a rich extension in 2019. They then promptly traded him for a third-round pick in the howler deal of last offseason. Vancouver is now considering buying out Schmidt because he turned out to be so very not worth that money once he was away from the hot top lines in Vegas. Vegas used the space to add a different defenceman, can’t remember who.
What have we learned by the walk down memory lane wearing hindsight goggles?
Defencemen have trade value, even if they aren’t very good. But also, if they aren’t very good, you should get rid of them. No one can tell who is going to be good, though.
Goalies can look (to use the term favoured by bitter old men) washed, but they are sometimes just in the trough of their confusing cycles of results. Or they’re Calvin Pickard, and it’s all an illusion.
Sometimes players on teams that “play right” can score heaps of goals on teams that don’t. They’re really valuable if you plan to win hockey games instead of a morality contest.
A lot of the players available in an expansion draft are near the end of their careers, or are mistakes made in the past, overrated prospects or defenders who look like they could model a romance novel cover but can’t play hockey.
Vegas made out as well, if not better, from stupid GM tricks than they did the draft itself.
Vegas spread out the picks they took in over many years, giving them a steadier supply of prospects. They’ve fearlessly traded away good prospects early, and they’ve signed some contracts that will be interesting to get rid of in a few years. They trade players at will, as well, and their roster is not a “draft and develop” one, and not just because they traded all those prospects. and their picks are only now turning pro. They chose, intentionally, to buy in NHL-level players, and not to wait. So far, what they’ve prospered off of most is other GMs not recognizing what they have right under their nose as well as a lot of luck.
In general, the GMs who just let Vegas take someone did better than the wheeler-dealers.