Two years ago, the Vegas Golden Knights were just getting started as an NHL franchise. In June of 2017, then-GM George McPhee and Co. finished the expansion draft by selecting one player off every other team.
There were other moves being made around the draft, of course. For instance, the Blue Jackets sent Vegas David Clarkson plus first- and second-round picks to ensure they took William Karlsson in the expansion draft. Safe to say Columbus would like a do-over on that one.
At the time, it would have been hard to predict that in the 2019 off-season Vegas would be conducting business as a capped out Stanley Cup contender, but here we are. The Golden Knights have already moved out Erik Haula, Colin Miller and the previously unsigned Nikita Gusev (plus LTIR-bound Clarkson) to get under the cap and keep their core intact.
The Golden Knights have changed quite a bit since that expansion draft, beefing up with the acquisitions of Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Paul Stastny in the past year. So when we focus back on just the 30 players directly taken in the expansion draft just two years ago, it’s jarring how few of them are still around.
So what happened? We wanted to look back at the players McPhee chose in the expansion draft and catch up on where they are now, and how they’re performing.
Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner, D
Stoner missed the entire 2017-18 season, the last on his contract, due to an undisclosed injury and never played for the Golden Knights. The Ducks traded Shea Theodore to Vegas so that McPhee would take Stoner instead of Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson, who both had to be left unprotected. Theodore is still with the Golden Knights in a top-four role.
Arizona Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen, LW
The Knights signed Pulkkinen for one season and he went on to lead their AHL team in scoring with 29 goals and 65 points. He never played for the Golden Knights, though, and when his deal expired, Pulkkinen moved to the KHL and led Dinamo Minsk in scoring last season.
Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D
Vegas was able to get in on a 24-year-old Miller before he had his breakout season. Right away he paid off for the Golden Knights. In Year 1, serving in a third-pair/power-play specialist role, Miller had career highs in goals (10) and points (41), but fell back to three goals and 29 points in 65 games last season. Ultimately Miller became a cap casualty this summer when Vegas traded him to Buffalo for a second-round pick in 2021 and a fifth-rounder in 2022.
Buffalo Sabres: William Carrier, LW
One of the remaining expansion draft players on the roster, Carrier is still only 24 with one year left on a contract that counts for $725,000 against the cap. He’s played 91 regular season games in a bottom-six role the past two seasons for the Golden Knights, totalling nine goals and 12 points. Eight of those goals came in 2018-19. To ensure Vegas took Carrier instead of goalie Linus Ullmark, the Sabres sent Vegas a sixth-round pick. Ullmark played in a career-high 37 NHL games last season, posting a .905 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average.
Calgary Flames: Deryk Engelland, D
At the time of the expansion draft Engelland was just coming off a three-year contract with the Calgary Flames and the timing couldn’t have been better. An Edmonton, Alta., native, Engelland was already a year-round resident of Las Vegas — the Golden Knights took him, then signed him to a one-year deal. He’s signed two more one-year pacts since, and will enter 2019-20 counting for $700,000 against the cap. Now 37 years old, Engelland had a career season in Year 1 with Vegas and has been the team leader in shorthanded time-on-ice per game in both seasons of their existence.
Carolina Hurricanes: Connor Brickley, LW
This was another pick that came with trade considerations, as the Golden Knights acquired a 2017 fifth-round pick to steer them towards Brickley, and away from various other players they had to leave unprotected. His contract was expiring a few weeks later so Vegas let him walk to free agency and Brickley never played a game for the team.
Chicago Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk, D
When the expansion draft dust settled, the Golden Knights were overloaded with defencemen so some follow-up trades were necessary. One day after Vegas’ selections were revealed, they traded van Riemsdyk to Carolina for a 2017 second-round pick. He’s been a serviceable third-pair blueliner for the Hurricanes ever since.
Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard, G
Although Pickard lasted the whole summer on Vegas’ roster, he was traded to Toronto in early October for Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round pick as Vegas decided to move forward with Malcolm Subban as their backup goalie. Lindberg joined Vegas’ AHL team, but was traded to Pittsburgh mid-season for Ryan Reaves.
Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, C
As mentioned above, Columbus traded their first-round pick to Vegas to make sure they didn’t take the likes of forward Josh Anderson or goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Anderson just had a breakout season, scoring 27 goals, and Korpisalo will be a featured piece of Columbus’ next season — but would they take a do-over on this considering Karlsson has emerged as a top-six centre with an excellent two-way game? The 26-year-old Karlsson just re-upped with Vegas last month for eight years and a $5.9-million cap hit.
Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, C
Vegas got a great deal in landing Eakin, who has fit in great as their third-line, all-situations centre the past two years. When they got him, Eakin was in the second year of a four-year deal that paid him $3.85 million against the cap, and he posted a career-best 22 goals and 41 points last season. He’s got one year left on his contract before becoming a UFA at 29 years old.
Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Nosek, LW
Nosek had only ever played 17 games for the Red Wings when they left him exposed to Vegas, but he’s played 67 and 68 games for the Golden Knights the past two seasons. A bottom-six player, Nosek’s 1:42 of penalty-kill time per game last season was second among all Vegas forwards, so he’s carved out a nice little role for himself, but has topped out at 17 points.
Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, D
In another example of poor asset management by the Oilers, two years after they traded a first-round pick (which ended up being Mathew Barzal) for Reinhart, they left him unprotected to Vegas. Reinhart hasn’t played an NHL game in the two years since and was a full-time member of Vegas’ AHL team in Chicago. His contract expired this past July 1 and he’s still a UFA.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, LW
The biggest loser of the expansion draft was no doubt the Panthers, who also traded Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they also took Marchessault! The Panthers instead chose to shield their defence core by protecting Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic, and working a deal to keep Jason Demers from being scooped up. Granted Smith was making $5 million against the cap and had only managed 37 points the previous season — but he was also only one year removed from posting 50 points. As we now know, Smith and Marchessault combined with Karlsson to make a formidable first line that was the driving force behind the Golden Knights’ initial success in Year 1.
Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D
A big bruiser, McNabb has led Vegas in hits the past two seasons and been top two in blocked shots both times as well. Like Engelland, McNabb has played a key role on Vegas’ penalty kill and signed a four-year extension with the team just one month into its inaugural season at a $2.5-million cap hit.
Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula, C
An RFA at the time, Vegas took Haula and then immediately signed him to a three-year deal with a $2.75-million cap hit. Haula was great in Year 1 for Vegas, scoring 29 goals and 55 points, which were starkly more than the 15 and 26 he posted the year prior. But the Golden Knights had to be persuaded to take Haula because the Wild were going to have to leave a core player unprotected — and that ended up being Matt Dumba. So to effectively protect Dumba, Minnesota also sent Alex Tuch to Vegas — he just broke out with 52 points as a 23-year-old last season. Vegas signed Tuch last October for the long term (seven years) and a very manageable $4.75-million cap hit as he figures to be a prominent power forward for the franchise. Haula, who was limited to just 15 games in 2018-19 by injury, was a cap casualty and traded to Carolina for prospect Nicolas Roy and a fifth-round pick in June.
Montreal Canadiens: Alexei Emelin, D
Many thought Vegas would take 23-year-old winger Charles Hudon, who was regarded as one of Montreal’s most NHL-ready prospects at the time of the expansion draft. But instead they went with Emelin, who was traded to Nashville for a third-round draft pick just days later. Emelin played one season with Nashville before leaving for the KHL’s Omsk Avangard in 2018-19.
Nashville Predators: James Neal, LW
At the time, we were having a hard time seeing how Vegas would acquire enough scoring in the expansion draft — defencemen were going to be easy enough to come by, but forwards? Nashville had to protect a number of core players, including four defencemen, so when it became clear Neal would be exposed, that was one of the few choices everyone knew Vegas was going to make. Neal had one year left on his contract when Vegas scooped him up, and he scored 25 goals for them. But when free agency hit, Neal signed on with Calgary — and we all know how much of a disaster that turned into. The Flames traded Neal and his $5.75-million cap hit to Edmonton this summer.
New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill, D
Merrill is the perfect example of the most common type of player Vegas walked away from the expansion draft with: mid-20s, cheap, depth defence. He’s played 91 games combined over the past two seasons, totalling 18 points and averaging around 17 minutes per game. He’s making just $1.375 million against the cap this season and is in line to be a UFA next summer.
New York Islanders: Jean-Francois Berube, G
The Islanders were another team that had more players they wanted to protect than were allowed, so they had to work out a side deal with Vegas so the team would take Berube. To get it done, then-GM Garth Snow sent the 15th-overall pick of the 2017 draft, a 2019 second-rounder and Mikhail Grabovski to the Golden Knights. In losing Berube, the Islanders were finally able to move on from their three-headed goalie monster. Vegas used the first-round pick to take defenceman Erik Brannstrom, who was moved to Ottawa for Mark Stone at the most recent trade deadline. Berube’s contract was expiring, so Vegas just let him go to free agency and he signed with Chicago.
New York Rangers: Oscar Lindberg, LW
Another bottom-six depth option, Lindberg scored 23 points in 98 regular season games with Vegas until he was traded at the 2019 deadline in the package to Ottawa that sent Mark Stone to the Golden Knights. Lindberg finished with eight points in 20 games for the Senators and is currently a UFA.
Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, D
Methot was another of the many blueliners Vegas picked up in expansion, and he was traded about a week after becoming a Golden Knight. On July 1, 2017, McPhee sent the defensive defenceman to Dallas for goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick. Ferguson, 20, will graduate from major junior to the pros this coming season, while Methot is an unsigned free agent at the age of 34. He played just 45 games with the Stars the past two seasons while battling knee injuries and is considering retirement.
Philadelphia Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, LW
For the past four seasons Bellemare has been the leading forward on his team in shorthanded minutes — two with Philadelphia and two with Vegas. In his rookie season with the Flyers only Sean Couturier averaged more. Bellemare logged 16 and 15 points in his two seasons with the Golden Knights, but left as a free agent this summer. He signed a two-year pact with Colorado for an average annual value of $1.8 million to try and help their penalty kill, which ranked 25th in 2018-19.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, G
This was the pick everyone saw coming, but even the Penguins had to offer Vegas a sweetener to make sure they took Fleury’s $5.75-million cap hit. The Golden Knights could have gone with Ian Cole, Carl Hagelin or Bryan Rust and left the Penguins capped out with two starting goalies. But rather than get that far, Pittsburgh tossed Vegas a 2020 second-rounder to pick Fleury. In many ways Fleury has been the happy, smiling face of the Golden Knights franchise for the past two years and at 34 years old, he’s about to begin a three-year contract with a $7-million cap hit. There’s no other goalie in the organization seriously pushing him for work.
San Jose Sharks: David Schlemko, D
A day after being announced as an expansion draft pick, Schlemko was traded to Montreal for a fifth-round draft pick. A fill-in blueliner, Schlemko played 55 games across two seasons for Montreal and was traded to Philadelphia in a minor league deal in February. He’s currently an unrestricted free agent.
St. Louis Blues: David Perron, LW
While the Karlsson-Marchessault-Smith line got all the hype in Year 1 for Vegas, Perron put up a career season on the second line. He scored 66 points in 70 games, hit free agency on July 1, 2018 and signed back with St. Louis for four years and a $4-million cap hit. Good move, considering he’s now a Stanley Cup champion.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jason Garrison, D
With the Lightning starting to face a cap crunch and having to leave a couple of young defencmen exposed (Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin) they worked out a deal with McPhee to instead take Jason Garrison’s $4.6-million cap hit. Then-GM Steve Yzerman sent a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick and Nikita Gusev to the Golden Knights. At the time Gusev had yet to leave Russia, but he was regarded as one of the best players outside the NHL. Just last season Gusev led the KHL in scoring and then signed an entry-level contract with Vegas, but he never played a game for them. Turning 27 on July 8, Gusev became an RFA this summer, but with Vegas up against the cap and Gusev’s camp asking for too much money they traded him to New Jersey this week for second- and third-round draft picks. He immediately signed a two-year, $9-million contract with the Devils.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic, LW
Leipsic played 44 games for Vegas in their inaugural season and was traded partway through the year to Vancouver for Philip Holm (who left for the KHL in the summer). The Canucks later lost Leipsic on waivers to the Los Angeles Kings and after playing 45 games for them in 2018-19, Leipsic signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on July 1.
Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D
Sbisa was among the many defencemen picked by Vegas in the expansion draft and he was a useful piece for them when healthy. But injury contributed to him playing in just 30 regular season games, in which he totalled 14 points and averaged just under 20 minutes per game. He signed a one-year deal with the Islanders last season, but only played nine games as their emergency defenceman. He’s a UFA again right now at 29 years of age.
Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, D
In his last season with the Capitals, Schmidt averaged just 15:29 per game and wasn’t used especially much on special teams. He managed 17 points in 60 games as a 25-year-old and was a favourite of Caps fans. In Vegas, he very quickly became their No. 1 blueliner. In Year 1, Schmidt averaged 22:14 per game with a career-high 36 points and followed it up with 30 points in 60 games with 21:57 of average ice time. He’s used in all situations and signed a six-year extension with Vegas last October, with a $5.95-million cap hit.
Winnipeg Jets: Chris Thorburn, RW
The Jets swapped 2017 first-rounders with Vegas — sending the Golden Knights their own selection at 13th overall plus a third-rounder for Columbus’ first-rounder at 24th. This was done to steer Vegas towards Thorburn instead of having them take either Tobias Enstrom or Marko Dano. Thorburn’s contract was expiring, so he never played for the Golden Knights and signed as a UFA with the Blues a week later. Thorburn played 50 games for St. Louis in 2017-18, but spent nearly the entire 2018-19 campaign in the AHL. At 36 years old, Thorburn is currently a UFA.