Exposed: Plenty who played here are available to Vegas
Whether Golden Knights select any of them in Wednesday’s expansion draft is another question
There are plenty of former St. John’s Icecaps and a few Newfoundlanders available in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft Wednesday, but even though there are over 40 players with some sort of connection to this province who have been left exposed by the other National Hockey League teams, there’s a likelihood none will wind up on the Golden Knights’ roster.
The one with the best chance to go might be winger Charles Hudon, who scored 55 goals over the last two seasons for the Icecaps, when they were the American Hockey League farm team of the Montreal Canadiens. If Vegas decides not to add high-priced forward Tomas Plekanec or defencemen Brandon Davidson or Alexei Emelin from the Canadiens’ available list, it may very well be Hudon, recently signed to a new and reasonable two-year deal by Montreal, who could be heading to Nevada.
Hudon is one 11 players exposed to the expansion draft by Montreal who ended the 2016-17 season on the Icecaps’ roster. The others are forwards Daniel Carr, Bobby Farnham, Max Friberg, Stefan Matteau, Chris Terry and Jacob de la Rose and defencemen Keegan Lowe, Zach Redmond and Dalton Thrower.
Players with one or two years of pro experience are exempt from the draft, meaning Habs prospects like goalie Charlie Lindgren and forwards Michael Mccarron and Nikita Scherbak can’t be drafted by Vegas.
Defenceman Adam Pardy of Bonavista and forwards Teddy Purcell and Colin Greening of St. John’s are also listed as available, but all are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, meaning Vegas is unlikely to draft any of the three, who all finished last season in the AHL.
The Golden Knights do have exclusive negotiating rights with pending restricted and unrestricted free agents from now until the expansion draft, but if Vegas does sign a player through this process, that player will count as the expansion loss of the NHL team that had him last season.
Each team will lose one player in the expansion process.
Of course, Greening, Pardy or Purcell could be eventually signed by the Knights when the NHL’S regular free-agency period gets underway July 1.
Pardy, for one, has already expressed hope the additional 23 NHL jobs created in Vegas will create an opportunity for someone like him, either with the Knights or another NHL team which lost a similar player in expansion.
The 32-year-old Pardy was signed as a depth defenceman by the Nashville Predators last fall and appeared in four NHL games with Nashville in December.
However, there will be less overall job creation than first thought when expansion was announced, since the Golden Knights have announced they will share an AHL farm team — the Chicago Wolves — with the St. Louis Blues next season. Otherwise, there would probably be another 10 to 15 players signed to NHL contracts as the result of the Golden Knights’ birth.
There are 36 players who played for the Icecaps who can be found on the availability lists, although some are only there as a matter of technicality. Friberg, for example, has signed to play in his native Sweden next season, while Carl Klingberg, another former Icecap from Sweden, shows up on the New York Rangers’ availability list even though he’s played in Europe the last two years.
The same goes for Shawn Thornton, the former member of the AHL’S St. John’s Maple Leafs who has announced his retirement as a player and has taken a job in the Florida Panthers’ front office. Nevertheless, Thornton’s name is still shown as being made available by Florida, simply because he had an NHL contract last season.
When it constructed rules for the upcoming expansion draft, the NHL tried to ensure at least one thing: that the Vegas Golden Knights weren’t immediately terrible.
The list of available players to the Knights suggests that might be the case. But in all likelihood, Vegas will lack stars and scoring in the early years of its existence.
“I’m really pleased with what’s available,” general manager George Mcphee said Sunday after protection lists and available players were released.
“This has worked out very well for the Vegas Golden Knights, and we expect to put a good, entertaining club on the ice.”
Mcphee will be challenged to find ready-made stars to shine on the Vegas strip, especially up front.
Not one all-star from last season is up for grabs, and only one player from the league’s top-30 scorers is available: 32-year-old Eric Staal, who resurrected his career with 65 points for Minnesota. Staal is one of only six available players who finished among the top-90 in scoring and one of only 12 to pot at least 20 goals — a group mostly comprised of veteran supporting types like James Neal, Patrick Eaves, T.J. Oshie, and Michael Grabner.
Nobody scored more among available players than the 33-year-old Eaves, who cracked the 20-goal plateau for only the second time with 32 last season.
Offensive upside is relatively limited with first and second year pros exempt from selection.
There are some intriguing talents like 26-year-old Jonathan Marchessault, a 30-goal-scorer last year, 25-year-old Brock Nelson, a three-time 20-goal-man, and Charles Hudon, a Canadiens prospect who scored 27 goals in 56 American Hockey League games last season.
With such a limited pool of top-flight offensive players — especially at centre — the Knights will likely have trouble scoring early just as their three most recent expansion counterparts did.
The first edition Minnesota Wild had zero 20-goal-scorers and were led in scoring by Scott Pellerin with 39 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets debut squad was fronted by Geoff Sanderson, who tallied just 56 points.
Both clubs had strong goaltending though — Manny Fernandez for Minnesota and Ron Tugnutt for Columbus — and started respectably in their first seasons — the Wild ranked 25th overall, the Jackets tied for 22nd.
Likewise, the Knights should be able to come up with a solid stable of netminders and defenders.
Among the goalies available to Vegas: long-time Penguin Marc-andre Fleury, promising German Philipp Grubauer and one-time Red Wings stud Petr Mrazek.
It’s widely expected that Fleury will be the first-time Knights starter, but someone like Grubauer offers real potential for the long-term. The 25-year-old has a .923 save percentage in his first 66 NHL games with numbers last season mirroring Vezina trophy nominee Braden Holtby — albeit as a backup with fewer starts.
Mcphee has made it known he won’t pick preferred available players if opposing clubs offer up valuable long-term assets. That suggests an understanding of the Knights’ mediocrity in the early going and the need for as many potential draft picks and prospects as possible.
The club could help itself further in that regard by selecting young players with untapped upside as opposed to veterans who offer immediate reliability.
The Knights, for example, could look to 30-year-old Adam Mcquaid when selecting from Boston or instead choose goaltender Malcolm Subban, a former first round pick coming off a decent year in the American Hockey League. They could select 27-year-old Marco Scandella as a vet for the backend from Minnesota or choose 22-year-old Matt Dumba, a hard-shooting (and hitting) defender with upside.
“We think we can accomplish two things,” Mcphee said. “We can put a good team on the ice and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation here in the next couple of years so that we can start with a real good team and then build it with these draft picks to a team that can win a Cup.”
If the Vegas Golden Knights are looking for a young, reasonably priced forward with offensive upside they might make former St. John’s Icecaps winger Charles Hudon their choice from the Montreal Canadiens in Wednesday’s expansion draft.
Three Newfoundlanders, including winger Teddy Purcell, shown playing with the AHL’S Ontario Reign last season, have been made available for the expansion draft, but since Purcell, Adam Pardy and Colin Greening are set to become unrestricted free agents in less than two weeks, it’s unlikely they will be taken by Vegas on Wednesday.
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George Mcphee speaks during a news conference Monday in Las Vegas.