The wait is over, and the Vegas Golden Knights have finally picked their roster through the most intense expansion draft in NHL history.
The Golden Knights needed to balance out their lineup between young and veteran players while taking on at least league minimum salary, not to mention respecting side deals they made with numerous clubs to stay away from certain unprotected players.
The results of the draft were… a little uninspiring to say the least, with a lot of good players left on the table without side deals. Frankly, the Vegas roster doesn’t look too exciting at the moment. But the summer isn’t over yet and the Golden Knights are bound to make some changes in the coming days, but let’s say this is the lineup they start October with.
What kind of team will they be?
In terms of goaltending, there’s not much to break down here. Marc-Andre Fleury has been about an average starting goaltender the past few years. But how he’ll hold up behind an expansion team defence will be interesting, and possibly give him flashbacks to the early-2000s Penguins he broke into the NHL with.
Calvin Pickard has some potential, but he’s probably unlikely to be a huge difference-maker. Goaltending performance is so highly dependent on team performance that it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to try and forecast too much of them before we know the style of play the Golden Knights will favour.
For forwards and defencemen however, we have mountains of data with which to work with, so we can break it down into a variety of categories and see how the team Vegas picked compares to the rest of the league.
There is an asterisk at forward in the form of Vadim Shipachyov, who we don’t have data for at the moment, but one player rarely tips the scales too far, even if he’s much better than expected.
While the forwards Vegas selected are average in terms of shot volume, they’re far below average when it comes to getting dangerous chances to score. That’s to be expected somewhat because they don’t have any stars, but Vegas didn’t really pick the best crop of forwards they could, leaving a stud like Eric Staal out there in favour of signing Erik Haula for example, was a weird one. Even if Minnesota did have arrangements for them, it didn’t seem like enough to let all their defencemen and Staal go unpicked.
Besides just shooting, the Golden Knights, as currently constructed, are going to have trouble with pre-shot movement next year, ranking 24th in the league in completed passes to the slot and 29th in passes off the rush.
Another area where they’re lacking is the ability of their forwards to transition the puck with control. Based on the skill sets of their forwards, we’ll be seeing a lot of dump outs and a lot of dump ins. All these factors together lead to a forward group that doesn’t create many scoring chances for each other, with most of the chances they do get coming off of mistakes by their opponents more than their own set ups.
Part of the reason this group is able to capitalize on mistakes though, is because they’re a very cautious group. They don’t try nearly as many daring plays as most teams, boasting high pass success rates and low turnover rates, and they win a ton of puck battles.
From the looks of it, this forward group is going to be a fairly slow, tough, grind-it-out team that might have been able to look a lot better back before the 2004-05 lockout.
Vegas GM George McPhee had mentioned before the roster was announced that they were going to take lots of defencemen in order to make some trades, so which defencemen they now hang on to will be interesting to watch.
While about half of the picks at forward look good, the defence is another story. The Golden Knights have a nice little core to build around with Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller, and Shea Theodore, but all three have played relatively sheltered minutes and are likely to be asked to do a whole lot more. Those three drag up the numbers for the group in a big way, because the rest of the crew is all kinds of bad.
When it comes to generating offence from the back end, the Golden Knights look to be among the bottom five teams in the league, and the strengths they had in their forward group max out as just average on defence, meaning the group as currently constructed doesn’t really have a strength at all.
They turn the puck over slightly less than the average team, but for the most part, that’s because they don’t do much with it, making safe passes that don’t transition the puck up the ice efficiently or create offence.
This group wins puck battles at an average rate, but when they get the puck they’re far worse at exiting their own zone than the worst team in the NHL last year.
To put it frankly, this defence group is immobile, lacking creativity, and not even very good defensively.
Long term it might be best for the Golden Knights to struggle out of the gate anyway, so it’s not like they even deserve much criticism, but the people who figured this team would be competitive right away seem to have gotten pretty far ahead of themselves.