A look back at how well Vegas selected players in the 2017 expansion draft

The Seattle Kraken will officially join the NHL in the 2021–22 season. The expansion draft—which will have the same rules as those used in 2017 when the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league—takes place in just five weeks time on July 21, 2021.

There has been considerable debate in many fanbases as to whether teams should make deals with Seattle to protect additional players, or just let the Kraken pick from their list of exposed players.

We took a look back at the Vegas expansion draft to see how well they chose in the actual draft to see which path might make more sense.

Anaheim Ducks

Player selected: Clayton Stoner

A well documented one, the Ducks traded Shea Theodore to Vegas to ensure they selected Stoner in the expansion draft. This was to allow the Ducks to retain Josh Manson, but obviously looking back this was a terrible decision. Losing any of Manson or Vatanen would have been much, much better for the Ducks than losing Theodore, who turned into a top tier offensive defenceman that fits Vegas’ style of hockey.

Arizona Coyotes

Player selected: Teemu Pulkkinen

The Coyotes had a very shallow exposure list in 2017. Pulkkinen was a worthy selection, and the Golden Knights could have only upgraded to a potential fourth-line player like Jamie McGinn, Josh Jooris, or Brad Richardson. However, Pulkinnen spent departed for the KHL in the 2018–19 season and has been there since.

Boston Bruins

Player selected: Colin Miller

Miller played quite well for Vegas during his time there, and wasn’t a bad pick by the Golden Knights. In his two seasons with Vegas, he played 147 games and put up 70 points. Looking back, they likely should have taken Anton Khudobin.

Buffalo Sabres

Player selected: William Carrier

This was a decent pick as Carrier has been a serviceable fourth-liner for the Golden Knights. The Sabres gave up a sixth-round pick to ensure he was taken, but there was really nobody of note available on the Sabres’ exposure list. They probably could have just kept their sixth and had a similar outcome.

Calgary Flames

Player selected: Deryk Engelland

Another shockingly shallow list, Engelland was a decent pick here despite him being a pending UFA who could have signed in Vegas anyway. Vegas should have selected Brett Kulak, a much better defenseman and someone who could have stayed in the lineup on a nightly basis. However, there was the Engelland homecoming storyline, where he played a big role in forming the team’s identity where he was an alternate captain in every season he played before he retired. He’s still with the organization serving as the Special Assistant to the Owner (Bill Foley).

Carolina Hurricanes

Player selected: Connor Brickley

The Canes gave up a fifth-rounder to ensure the Knights took Brickley. Looking back, nobody on their exposed list was anything special, and Carolina would probably have been as well off just holding onto their pick and letting Vegas choose.

Chicago Blackhawks

Player selected: Trevor van Riemsdyk

Van Riemsdyk was traded before he played any games for the Golden Knights, but this was surprisingly the right pick for Vegas. Nobody else of interest was available from the Blackhawks.

Colorado Avalanche

Player selected: Calvin Pickard

It’s amazing to see how far the Avs have come in just four years. Their exposure list in 2017 was extremely underwhelming, and there really isn’t a strong case to take anyone over Pickard even in retrospect. Gabriel Bourque is the closest second on the list.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Player selected: William Karlsson

The Jackets traded first- and second-round picks and David Clarkson to ensure Vegas took Karlsson. Karlsson scored 43 goals in his first season with the Golden Knights, and has become an excelled top-six center for them. However, his ascent was not predicted by anyone, and the Golden Knights had Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo to choose from on the exposure list. Despite Karlsson’s success, it was more a gamble that paid off rather than being the right decision at the time.

Dallas Stars

Player selected: Cody Eakin

This one is fairly easy. Instead of Eakin, the Golden Knights should have taken Jamie Oleksiak. Though they were overflowing with defensemen in their first year, Oleksiak had a would have had a much higher chance of staying in the lineup than Eakin.

Detroit Red Wings

Player selected: Tomas Nosek

Nosek has been a valuable player in the Golden Knights’ bottom line, but there is a bit of debate here. Petr Mrazek was also left available by the Red Wings, and he could have been a decent option in net for Vegas. Other than him, there really wasn’t a better option available.

Edmonton Oilers

Player selected: Griffin Reinhart

Reinhart was not worthy of being the return for Edmonton’s 2015 first- and second-round picks (what the Oilers gave to acquire him from the Islanders), and he wasn’t worthy of being taken in expansion. The Golden Knights would have been better off taking someone like Jujhar Khaira or Laurent Brossoit instead. Still, the Oilers had a very weak exposure list so there was no home run to be had here.

Florida Panthers

Player selected: Jonathan Marchessault

This was an awful move for the Panthers, and many have gone over it in detail. To protect Alex Petrovic, Florida went with a 4F-4D-1G protection combination. The Panthers opted not to protect Marchessault and Reilly Smith and instead ended up losing both to Vegas. Safe to say the Panthers overthought this one and should have just let the Knights pick. MacKenzie Weegar is the best player that would have been exposed but Vegas could have picked him anyway.

Los Angeles Kings

Player selected: Brayden McNabb

The Golden Knights had a huge opportunity with the Kings, but they didn’t know it. McNabb has been a wonderful player for Vegas, but with Dustin Brown and Jack Campbell available, there were potentially much better options. Brown specifically could have done some serious damage playing for the Golden Knights, and would have driven Kings fans crazy to boot.

Minnesota Wild

Player selected: Erik Haula

The Wild traded Alex Tuch to ensure Vegas selected Erik Haula in the expansion draft. These were two pieces that were very important parts of the Golden Knights that the Wild didn’t need to give up. The Wild did have several good options on their exposure list though, including Eric Staal, Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella, and Darcy Kuemper. Looking back, losing just one of those players might have been a better call.

Montreal Canadiens

Player selected: Alexei Emelin

Instead of Emelin, who never played a game for the Golden Knights anyway, Vegas should have taken Alexander Radulov. This one is a very clear miss for Vegas, as Radulov has continued to be a prolific scorer in the NHL.

Nashville Predators

Player selected: James Neal

Neal did very well in Vegas scoring 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games, so it’s hard to say this wasn’t the right selection. Craig Smith was also available though, and it’s possible he would have stayed on the team for longer than Neal did. It may have been the better pick, but at the end of the day this pick is probably a draw.

New Jersey Devils

Player selected: Jon Merrill

Merrill was an okay selection here, but there really wasn’t a clearly better option for the Golden Knights. They could have taken Devante Smith-Pelly, but other than that there isn’t anyone of note.

New York Islanders

Player selected: Jean-Francois Berube

The Islanders traded a 2017 first (15th overall that became Erik Brannstrom), and four other pieces to ensure Vegas took Berube. This was a massive haul for the Golden Knights, and a very important one as Brannstrom ended up being a big part of the Mark Stone trade. However, the Islanders forced Vegas to take a goalie which was oging to be expensive, and had a number of good players exposed: Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Scott Mayfield, and Jaroslav Halak among others. We might see a lot more huge deals like this from deep teams this summer.

Interestingly, the Islanders were the only team to protect five defensemen.

New York Rangers

Player selected: Oscar Lindberg

Lindberg was useful for Vegas, and despite a decent team at the time, the options outside of Lindberg were very limited. Perhaps players like Brandon Pirri, Jesper Fast, and Antti Raanta were better options, but this one is also probably a draw.

Ottawa Senators

Player selected: Marc Methot

Methot was traded to the Stars before he played for the Golden Knights, which was likely a win for Vegas . The only other players that might have been worth selecting were Bobby Ryan and Chris Driedger. However, with Ryan’s high cap hit and Driedger being an unproven goalie, picking Methot and flipping him for a pick was a good move.

Philadelphia Flyers

Player selected: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Bellemare has also been a decent fourth-liner for the Golden Knights, and looking back there wasn’t a much better option for Vegas. Maybe taking Michael Del Zotto would have been better but not by much at all.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Player selected: Marc-Andre Fleury

The Penguins gave up a second-rounder to ensure Vegas took Fleury. This was the wrong call. Fleury is a Vezina finalist this season and has been a face of the franchise in Vegas since day one. The Penguins would have been better off protecting Fleury and exposing Matt Murray, but even if they had simply allowed Vegas to choose a player, the best player available was Bryan Rust and unlikely to have been the selection.

San Jose Sharks

Player selected: David Schlemko

Schlemko wasn’t the best pick for Vegas here. They would not have gotten away with selecting Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton, but Barclay Goodrow and Dylan DeMelo would have been much better selections than Schlemko. The way the trade deadline has gone in recent years, these players might have tipped the scales for Vegas in the playoffs as well.

St. Louis Blues

Player selected: David Perron

This was a good pick for Vegas, despite Perron’s tenure in Sin City being a short one. In reality, the Blues really should have protected Perron over players like Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund. However, there is one clearly more valuable name that was exposed by the Blues, though nobody knew he would be anything special at the time: Jordan Binnington. If Binnington gets taken by Vegas instead of Perron, the Blues probably don’t win the Cup in 2019.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Player selected: Jason Garrison

The Lightning gave Vegas second- and fourth-round picks and Nikita Gusev to ensure Vegas took Garrison. With how star-studded the Lightning were even in 2017, this was a decent trade. Vegas had several good players available to them, including J.T. Brown, Yanni Gourde, and Cedric Paquette. It was a steep cost, as Vegas eventually flipped Gusev for two more draft picks.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Player selected: Brendan Leipsic

The Leafs have come a long way since 2017. Leipsic was a fine pick at the time, and the only other name that might have been worthy of selection by Vegas was Brian Boyle. It really was slim picking from the Maple Leafs.

Vancouver Canucks

Player selected: Luca Sbisa

Ditto for the Canucks. With an incredible underwhelming team and a downright terrible exposure list, the Golden nights didn’t have much to work with. Sbisa never played for Vegas, so this was really just a throwaway pick for them. Maybe someone like Brendan Gaunce or Drew Shore could have made a bigger impact, but it likely wouldn’t have moved the needle at all.

Washington Capitals

Player selected: Nate Schmidt

The Capitals probably had the most impressively talented exposure list out of every team in the NHL. Schmidt was a great selection by Vegas and he provided great value to the team when he was there, but there were a number of other names that would have been excellent picks for the Golden Knights. T.J. Oshie, Chandler Stephenson (who was traded to Vegas in 2019 anyway), Kevin Shattenkirk, and Philipp Grubauer were all up for grabs as well.

Winnipeg Jets

Player selected: Chris Thorburn

The Jets traded a first-rounder (13th overall that turned into Nick Suzuki) plus a third-rounder to ensure Vegas too Thorburn. The Jets got a first-rounder back (24th overall that turned into Kristian Vesalainen). Looking back, this was a pretty terrible decision. Ben Chiarot was available, but the Jets made this move to protect Toby Enstrom, something they absolutely could have done without.

In retrospect

Of course, everyone remembers the shock and awe of watching a team built from literal scraps go straight to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season. Truth be told, they had a lot of unintentional help in the form of awful decision making by other teams.

Which teams learned from the mistakes made during the Vegas draft? We’ll find out soon enough as protection lists are due on July 17, and the latest set of expansion draft deals involving the Kraken will start coming to light soon after.

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