The NHL offseason was a little grander than usual. This was all due to the expansion draft for the 31st NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights. It appears Vegas’ strategy is to grow during the draft. They opted to get future picks instead of taking the best available player from each team. They could have had Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen, or a plethora of good goalies (Mrazek, Raanta, or Grubauer). Instead, the Golden Knights have 27 draft picks in the next 3 drafts just from all the side-deals they made with teams to not take certain players. They also had 12 picks in this year’s draft, including three picks in the first round, as well as some questionable picks (Deryk Engelland? Alexi Emelin?) and taking on contracts that other teams didn’t want (David Clarkson and Mikhail Grabovski). It’ll take time to see if Vegas is even a viable hockey city, but they do seem focused on the future. The Knights won’t be good this year, but they could be competitive if things go their way. I would guess they’ll be in the 65-75 point range. However, that doesn’t mean Vegas won’t have any fantasy-relevant players this season.
Perhaps, the most fantasy-relevant player on the team has never played an NHL game before. Vadim Shipachyov is a 30-year-old center who has played his entire career in the KHL. Spanning 10 seasons, Shipachyov has 412 points in 445 KHL games. This year, he had 76 points in 50 games. Shipachyov also has been good in international play. He had 13 points in 10 games in the 2017 World Championships and 47 points in 37 World Championship games. Every year, there is at least one player who has crossed over to have immediate NHL success like Artemi Panarin or Alexander Radulov. Judging by his international play and KHL career, Shipachyov could be that guy this season. Panarin had 77 points his first NHL season with Patrick Kane on his line. Radulov had 54 points in his first NHL season back. I could see Shipachyov getting somewhere in the middle with 65 points.
As for the other forwards, there are a lot of players that could benefit from extra playing time. Like Shipachyov, we really don’t know what any of these players are capable of, but they should get a lot of ice-time. Jonathan Marchessault had a breakout year with 30 goals and 51 points in 75 games for Florida. He was the leading goal-scorer for the Panthers this season. David Perron is another interesting player, who had an average of 17 minutes of ice time for the St Louis Blues. He had 18 goals and 28 assists for 46 points last season. James Neal had 41 points for the Nashville Predators last season, who should see top line minutes that he didn’t get on the Predators. Due to uncertainty, all three of these players will be taken in the mid-rounds, along with Shipachyov,
Then we get into players that have a lot of potential but could be good depth players. These players will be taken in the last two rounds in a deep draft, if at all. The 25-year-old Oscar Lindberg had 20 points in 65 games for the Rangers. The 24-year-old William Karlsson had 25 points with 13 minutes average of ice time for the Blue Jackets. They both could be good centers for them. Reilly Smith had 50 points his first season with the Panthers but then had a down year last season with 37 points. He could bounce back now that he is reunited with his former coach, Gerard Gallant. Lastly, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alex Tuch, and Thomas Nosek all had really good AHL seasons and that could translate to the pros but maybe next season. Keep all these players in the back of your mind. They could be even better next season.
The Vegas defensemen are even more unclear as to what’s going to happen. All of these defensemen have been given very little ice time from their former teams but should get enough chances to see how good they can be on their new team. There are three defensemen that stand out. Shea Theodore, who Vegas selected instead of taking Sami Vatanen, is a 21-year-old. Theodore had 17 points in 53 games in two NHL seasons. That puts him at .32 career points per game. His AHL stats are even better with 68 points in 80 games. Theodore will likely get precious power-play time by showing he can excel at the NHL level. He should be the first Vegas defensemen taken in fantasy hockey drafts.
Nate Schmidt is a little bit older than Theodore at 25-years-old. He was the Capitals pick. Schmidt didn’t get a ton of ice-time with an average of 15 minutes. But he performed really well in the playoffs with 4 points in 11 games when given more ice-time. The 17 points in 60 games is a bit concerning though. The other defensemen who should be given a lot of NHL time this season is Colin Miller. Miller is 24-years-old and was the Bruins selection. Like Schmidt, Miller had 13 points in 61 games and had 15 minutes of ice time on average. He has a rocket of a slapshot and could take advantage of this opportunity for his new team. All three of these defensemen come with risk, which is why they’ll be late round picks but they should get every opportunity to succeed that they wouldn’t get on their former team. That’s why they are worth that risk.
As for goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury should get most of the starts. He won’t have the two-time champions, Pittsburgh Penguins, in front of him. Fleury had .909 save percentage and 3.02 goals against average on a very good Penguins team. Fleury played out of the starting position. Fleury will be one of the last goalies taken in a deep draft. If Fleury fails, then Calvin Pickard will take over in net. Pickard was one of the few bright spots for Colorado last season and might be able to take the starter role from Fleury eventually. Pickard will likely not be drafted but could be a good stash in the waiver wire.
Vegas will be filled with uncertainty, but there are at least 30 players who will want to prove their former teams made a mistake. If their grudge-dueled plans don’t work, then they can hope that the three 2016 1st round picks, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstorm, and all the other draft picks can make Knights better eventually. Either way, the Vegas Golden Knights should be a fascinating team to watch for the next couple of years.