With the NHL Expansion Draft coming up, the protected lists from all 30 teams were released. While most selections were expected, there were some players left exposed that present intriguing options for the Vegas Golden Knights. The big caveat in all of this is the side deals teams may make with Vegas to protect their players, so while all the players on this list are players Vegas can take, they may not select them, opting rather to select a different player, potentially along with whatever assets they can get from the opposing team.
Without further ado, let us go through the 20 intriguing exposed players Vegas may want to take (in alphabetical order, by team).
1. Anaheim Ducks: Josh Manson/Sami Vatanen
Both Josh Manson, 25, and Sami Vatanen, 26, present good options for Vegas should Anaheim not work out a deal (and there are reports that this is already the case). Manson had 5 goals and 17 points in 82 games this season, with a 53.79 CF% at 5v5, and was one of the best shot-suppressing defensemen in the NHL this year. Vatanen had a down season this year, with 3 goals and 24 points this season, down from his 9 goals and 38 points in 2016. His advanced stats aren’t as favorable as Manson’s, with a 48.87 CF% at 5v5, but his 2.85 CF60 Rel shows that he was a good driver of offense for his team. Should Anaheim fail to make a deal with Vegas to “protect” these players, both defensemen offer top pairing potential for the new Vegas franchise.
2. Boston Bruins: Colin Miller
Colin Miller, 24, is a right shot defenseman for the Boston Bruins, and had 6 goals and 13 points in 61 games this season. His 60.04 CF% is insane, though that could likely be due to some favorable match-ups, but he still was solid defenseman relative to his team, as his 6.83 CF% Rel (at 5v5) indicates. His $1 million salary for 1 more year offers Vegas a cheap, competent defenseman from a team with not a lot more to offer in terms of exposed players. It makes you think, maybe the Bruins meant to protect him over the older, more expensive, worse Miller (Kevin), but mixed up the names.
3. Colorado Avalanche: Mikhail Grigorenko
While Mikhail Grigorenko, 23, hasn’t exactly lived up to his draft position of 12th overall, he still offers Vegas a solid player who scored 10 goals and 23 points in 75 games last season. His underlying numbers aren’t exactly dazzling either, with a 46.92 CF% at 5v5, -2.07 relative to his team, but who knows, maybe third time’s the charm and he finally breaks out on his third team.
4. Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard
Calvin Pickard, 25, offers a much more enticing player to Vegas, and although there will be a lot of goalies available at the expansion draft, they’d be wise to select Pickard. He is signed for 1 more year at $1 million, and although he had a down year with only a .904 save percentage, he’s been good historically, with save percentages of .922 in 2016 (20 games), and 0.932 in 2015 (16 games). This year may well be an anomaly, and considering how bad the Colorado Avalanche were this year, maybe all Pickard needs is a competent defense in front of him to flourish, and maybe that place could be Vegas.
5. Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek
Petr Mrazek, 25, is very similar to Pickard, in that he had a rough season (0.901 save percentage in 50 games) on a bad team. In his limited time in the NHL before this season he’s performed well, with a 0.921 save percentage through 54 games in 2016, and a 0.918 save percentage in 2015. Though his contract isn’t as favorable as Pickard’s $1 million, he won’t break the bank with a 1 year, $4 million contract. Also like Pickard, Mrazek offers long term upside for the Knights, and maybe all he needs is a competent defense in front of him as well, and he could potentially flourish with Vegas as well.
6. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault/Reilly Smith
Both Jonathan Marchessault, 26, and Reilly Smith, 26, offer Vegas some enticing options as proven scorers at a young age. Marchessault, in his first full season, scored 30 goals and 51 points, with a steal of a contract at $750,000 for 1 more season, while Reilly Smith offers a history of scoring rather than recent success, after a down year in which he only scored 15 goals and 37 points. Smith however is a 2 time 20-goal scorer in his last 4 years, and offer Vegas a longer commitment than Marchessault, as Smith is signed for 5 more years at $5 million a season. Both players were positive possession players at 5v5, with Marchessault’s CF% sitting at 51.70, and Smith’s at 52.57. Should Vegas be after an established scorer, it would be a good idea to go after one of these 2.
7. Florida Panthers: Jason Demers
The Panthers also offer a solid right shot defenseman in Jason Demers, 29, as they elected to protect Alex Petrovic rather than Demers. (The more questionable move was why did they protect 4 defensemen? Doing that left Demers, Marchessault, and Smith exposed, and rather than exposing a third pairing guy in Petrovic, they are likely to lose one of these solid players.) Demers had a career high 9 goals and 28 points this season, his first with the Panthers, in 81 games. He has 4 years at $4.5 million a year left on his contract, and historically has been a solid possession player, (although his numbers dipped this year with a CF% of 49.00 at 5v5), with a 5v5 CF% of 54.83 in his 3 years before joining the Panthers. If Vegas is looking for a good top 4 defenseman, Demers would be an excellent pick for the new franchise.
8. Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal
After a disappointing season in Carolina/New York, Eric Staal, 32, rebounded nicely with 28 goals and 65 points in 82 games this season with the Wild. While he is up there in age, he is signed for 2 more seasons at $3.5 million, a steal of a contract for a potential top line centre. Staal put up solid possession numbers this year, with a 5v5 CF% of 51.17, and a 2.56 CF% Rel. If Vegas is looking to contend in the near future, Staal would be a great choice for them as their potential #1 centre, as he has shown this year that he is not done yet, and could add lots of value to the Vegas team.
9. Minnesota Wild: Matt Dumba
Matt Dumba, 22, offers Vegas a long term defensive asset, as he was only drafted 5 years ago, and is only 22. He scored a career high 11 goals and 34 points, and proved to be a solid contributor on a stacked Wild defense. While he wasn’t a strong possession player, with a 48.37 5v5 CF%, he has shown in the past that he can be a solid defensive presence, with a 5v5 CF% of 52.23 in 2015, and again he is only 22. With a very affordable $2.55 million cap hit for 1 more year, Dumba could be a solid future asset for Vegas should they elect to take him.
10. Nashville Predators: James Neal
Due to the Predators stacked blueline, they opted to protect 4 defensemen and 4 forwards, leaving James Neal, 29, on the exposed list. Although he’s only got 1 more season on his contract with a $5 million cap hit, Neal offers Vegas a legitimate scoring threat, as in his 9 NHL seasons, Neal’s lowest goal total was 21 goals, and that was in the lockout shortened season. Neal is also a former 40 goal scorer, with another 30-goal season in addition to that in his pocket. He also had a respectable 52.15 5v5 CF% this season, and was a solid player both offensively and defensively this season for the Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators. Though his 1 year contract may be of concern for Vegas, as he could leave after that year is over, Neal is likely one of the best players available for Vegas to pick, and 20-30 goal scorers aren’t usually available for any team, especially in an expansion draft, so the Predators would be wise to select him.
11. New York Islanders: Josh Bailey/Brock Nelson/Ryan Strome
The Islanders’ decision to protect 5 defensemen was puzzling, to say the least, as that left three key forwards unprotected: Josh Bailey, 27, Brock Nelson, 25, and Ryan Strome, 23. All 3 players are centre/wingers with upside, Bailey was a 9th overall selection in 2008, Nelson a 30th overall selection in 2010, and Strome a 5th overall selection in 2011. Bailey had a career year this season, with 13 goals and 56 points (a career high) in 82 games. While he hasn’t lived up to the pedigree of a Top 10 pick, he was still a solid possession player at 5v5, with a CF% of 50.68, 4.18 relative to his team. Nelson scored 20 goals for the third straight season, along with his third straight 40-point season. His possession stats were less favorable to Bailey’s, with a 45.03 5v5 CF%, -3.59 relative to his team. Still, a 20-goal scoring centre could be an enticing option for Vegas. Strome had a down season this year, scoring only 13 goals and 30 points in 69 games, along with a 45.41 5v5 CF%. However, he does have a 17 goal, 50-point season (2014/2015) under his belt already, and maybe all he needs is a change of scenery to really get going again. All 3 players have 1 year left on their contracts, with Bailey making $3.3 million, and Nelson and Strome making $2.5 million each. Any of these 3 forwards would make an enticing pick for Vegas, as they all offer long term upside, and are all still young.
12. New York Rangers: Michael Grabner
After a rough season with the tanking Toronto Maple Leafs in which he scored only 9 goals and 18 points in 80 games, Michael Grabner, 29, rebounded to the tune of 27 goals and 40 points in 76 games. While his goal scoring surge isn’t likely to repeat, as he hasn’t scored more than 16 goals in a season since the 2011/2012 season (20 goals in 78 games), he is a quick forward who could offer the Knights a lot of value at a cheap cost, with a cap hit of only $1.65 million for 1 more season. His underlying numbers don’t paint him in a good light, with a 5v5 CF% of only 44.84, -4.21 relative to his team, he could provide the new Vegas team with a solid player should he continue to score at this pace (which is highly unlikely), and they may bank on the fact that maybe this season wasn’t a fluke for Grabner, even though it probably was.
13. New York Rangers: Antti Raanta
A backup his entire career up to this point, Antti Raanta, 28, could be the next backup to flourish as a starter, a new Martin Jones/Cam Talbot/Scott Darling/etc. Raanta played 29 games this season and posted a 0.922 save percentage, and has a 0.917 career save percentage in 92 games. A low risk pick, as he only has 1 year remaining on his contract for $1 million, Raanta could provide Vegas with a stable goaltender should they choose to select him. Raanta even briefly managed to steal the starting goaltender job from Henrik Lundqvist this season when Lundqvist was struggling, and he could provide some underrated value to the Knights.
14. Ottawa Senators: Clarke MacArthur/Bobby Ryan
The Senators opted to protect some of their other forwards, leaving question marks Clarke MacArthur, 32, and Bobby Ryan, 30, available. MacArthur has played 8 regular season games over the past 2 seasons due to concussion issues, but played 19 playoff games this past postseason, scoring 3 goals and 9 points. Prior to his concussions, he had 16 goals and 36 points in 62 games in 2015, and 24 goals and 55 points in 79 games in 2014. In his 4 games he had a CF% of 51.90, so the upside is there. Ryan also had a down year, with 13 goals and 25 points in 62 games this season. However, he turned it on in the playoffs this season, with 6 goals and 15 points in 19 games. His possession stats aren’t amazing, with a 49.64 5v5 CF%, but it was 1.01 relative to his team. However, his lack of production this past year along with his $7.25 million contract, which runs for 5 more years, may scare Vegas off. Both MacArthur and Ryan do have productive seasons under their belts, but questions remain about MacArthur’s concussion history and Ryan’s bloated contract and low production since joining Ottawa.
15. Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot
The Senators decided to protect the often-overvalued Cody Ceci, leaving defenseman Marc Methot, 31, exposed in the expansion draft. Methot’s a defense-first defenseman, often paired with Erik Karlsson as the guy who hangs back while Karlsson does his thing. His defensive style has him sitting at 21 goals and 120 points in 579 career games, including 0 goals and 12 points in 68 games this season. Methot didn’t have great possession numbers on a weak possession team, with a 5v5 CF% of 47.62, -1.13 relative to his team. Also, for a defensive defenseman, his 58.89 CA60 was 0.18 relative to his team, meaning that when he was on the ice, the Senators gave up 0.18 more shot attempts per 60 minutes. All that said, Methot could still add a veteran presence to the freshman franchise, and with only 2 years at $4.9 million a year, provide a nice trading chip for Vegas should they decide to flip him.
16. Philadelphia Flyers: Michal Neuvirth
Although he had a really rough season with the Flyers this year, Michal Neuvirth, 29, has shown over his career that he can be a competent NHL goalie, with a career save percentage of 0.911 through 228 games. His 0.891 save percentage in 28 games is likely an anomaly, considering the years before that he had a 0.924 save percentage in 32 games in 2016, a 0.918 in 27 games in 2015 (ignoring the 5 games he played with the Islanders that year), a 0.914 in 13 games (for the Capitals) in 2014, and a 0.910 in 13 games in 2013, again for the Capitals. At a very cheap $2.5 million for 2 years, Neuvirth could offer the Knights a solid backup/1B goalie for them, and with the Flyers likely not bringing back starter Steve Mason, they could really put them in a tough spot.
17. Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury
In probably the least surprising move made when the protection lists came out, Marc-Andre Fleury, 32, was left exposed by the Penguins. It’s been pretty much a given that Fleury will be picked by the Golden Knights since Matt Murray helped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2016, with Fleury on the bench. Although he had a rough year as a backup for the first time in a while (maybe ever) in his tenure with the Penguins, Fleury posted a 0.909 save percentage in 38 games. However, he redeemed himself winning 9 games in the playoffs this year on the back of a 0.924 save percentage. His $5.75 million cap hit for the next 2 years is pricey, but given Fleury is a full-fledged starting goalie with 384 career wins in 707 games, with a career 0.912 save percentage to go with it, there’s no question he’d be a great addition to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
18. Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt
Nate Schmidt, 25, has played 200 career NHL games, with 8 career goals and 43 career points. In 60 games last season, he had 3 goals and 17 points, both career highs. While he has struggled to really establish himself in the Capitals lineup, he had a coming out party when Karl Alzner went down with an injury in the playoffs and Schmidt came in and played well, so much so that once Alzner was healthy the Capitals elected to play with 7 defensemen just to keep Schmidt in the lineup. He’s been a solid possession player, with a 53.52 5v5 CF% this season, 2.74 relative to his team, and while he hasn’t exactly faced the toughest competition, with a 37.82 offensive zone starts percentage, compared to his 26.05 defensive zone start percentage, he could offer Vegas a diamond in the rough sort of player, one that may surprise and turn out to be pretty good. He’s an unsigned RFA, but at the young age of 25, it may be worth it to Vegas to throw a flier on him and take him.
19. Washington Capitals: Philipp Grubauer
Also an unsigned RFA, Philipp Grubauer, 25, offers Vegas a young, up and coming goaltender for the future. In 23 games this season Grubauer had a 0.926 save percentage, and has a career 0.922 save percentage in 66 games. His numbers in the AHL don’t disappoint either, with a 0.921 save percentage in 49 games in 2015, a 0.916 save percentage in 28 games in 2014, and a 0.919 save percentage in 28 games in 2013. In his 19 minutes of playoff action this season he was not great, allowing 2 goals on 9 shots, for a save percentage of 0.778, but obviously, that is not indicative of his play. He has the potential to be a starter in this league and, with a strong veteran goalie to run a tandem with, Grubauer could be a solid long-term addition to the Knights.
20. Winnipeg Jets: Marko Dano
Marko Dano, 22, is a former first round pick (27th overall, 2013), who despite being traded twice already in his young career, can add some upside to a new franchise. He’s only played 107 games in his career, with 17 goals and 42 points to his name, including 38 games this season, where he scored 4 goals and 11 points. Although his numbers don’t blow you away, he’s still a young player with potential, and could potentially end up as a solid middle-6 player of the future. With a cheap 1 year contract for $850,000, Dano is a low-risk, high-reward player, and with not much else on the Jets’ exposed list that’s a must-have, it may be a smart idea for the Knights to gamble on Dano, because they might just hit the jackpot.
Overall, there are definitely some solid players available for the Golden Knights to select, and they’ll be in probably the best position ever in terms of an NHL expansion team. The players listed above offer some solid players both for immediate help and for the future, as well as for use as trade chips. There are some solid forwards and defensemen, some good goalies, some young players with potential, and some players who, while they may not have the best underlying numbers, have potential value as a trading piece for other assets. The biggest thing of note though is that while all these players are available, they are likely not all “available”, as who knows what side-deals are in place with Vegas for teams to protect their players. While other expansion teams have struggled out the gate, like the Washington Capitals for example, who finished their first season with 8 wins and 21 points in 80 games, this round of expansion has the potential to give Vegas a somewhat-competitive team out of the gate.