Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights didn’t play any hockey last season, but they were busier than any of their competitors. Las Vegas was finally getting an NHL team, and they had to make sure the stage was set. Yes the Vegas Wranglers played in the ECHL for 12 years, but this was a much bigger deal.
Drive to Get a Team
On October 24, 2014 we heard that Bill Foley, the chariman of multiple financial institutes, was working to bring the NHL to Las Vegas. The talks continued, and by the end of the year Foley was preparing to launch a season ticket drive to see the level of interest. The drive launched in January of 2015, and reached it goal before the end of March. The drive didn’t stop, though, and kept attracting interest. People wanted to see Vegas hockey.
After a very succesful ticket drive, and a likely spot for a rink, Foley submitted an expansion application on June 20, 2015. Las Vegas Arena officially became T-Mobile Arena on January 7, 2016. A month later Vegas’ ticket drive sold out, and T-Mobile Arena opened that spring. The Killers and Wayne Newton both performed at the opening. After a couple more bumps in the road, it was officially announced that the NHL is coming to Vegas on June 26, 2016.
Making the Team
This leads into the events of last season. The team unveiled that George McPhee as their general manager in the summer, and it kicked off their year. They laid their first sheet of ice on July 30th, in preparation for the rink’s first NHL games in October. In November they announced their team name, and they signed Reid Duke as the first ever Vegas Golden Knight. They had a winter without many big announcements.
The Golden Knights made up for it, though, by announcing a lot of other firsts. Gerard Gallant became the first coach in April. They also stared pursuing top KHL player Vadim Shipachyov in April. He signed the first one-way deal in Vegas in May. They finalized their roster with the expansion draft on June 20, and the NHL Entry Level Draft three days later. There they picked up three first rounders, included the highly sought after Cody Glass and Erik Brannstrom. They’ll get a chance to use their fleshed out lineup on October 6, 2017; adding yet another significant date to their timeline.
Jonathan Marchessault – Vadim Shipachyov – James Neal
Seventh Defenseman: Clayton Stoner
Players to Watch
It’s clear that everyone’s excited to see Shipachyov play. He was a top player in the KHL, recording 76 points in 50 games last season. While the KHL is slightly below the NHL’s skill level, that’s still very impressive. Most players are usually able to stay fairly consistent in the jump between Russia and North America, and Vegas is really hoping Shipachyov can. He will easily play top line minutes, and will have to be a leader on the ice.
This doesn’t seem like it’ll be a problem for Shipachyov, though. He’s on the rise, still, despite being 30. Last season was his highest scoring season, trumping his previous record which he set two seasons ago. His production level is continously growing. While the NHL can be daunting and hard to find your groove in, Shipachyov is a world class player. He’ll likely find his footing quickly. If he’s able to, he could very well be an elite player in the league for a short time. It’ll be exciting to see him make his NHL debut this year.
Players On the Rise
In previous Puck Drop Previews, this category has been saved for young players who are starting to sprout up. We think Perron deserves one here, though. He had a fall out in his career after he left the St. Louis Blues for the first time. He bounced from team to team, and wasn’t a reliable forward. Last year, all of that changed. He was a second or third liner, depending on the day, in St. Louis. He was looked at as one of the most reliable players in the ‘Lou’, and became a popular player among fans.
For some odd reason, he wasn’t protected in the expansion draft. Instead, Ryan Reaves got safety and Perron was shipped off to Vegas. This isn’t all bad news, though. Vegas is getting a solid second line player in Perron. He still has a lot of hockey in him, and he finally showed a bit of heart last year. This will hopefully carry into this season. He’ll want to be a presence on the ice, and he’s not easily deterred when he sets his mind to things. On the second line, with Eakin and Smith, he might put up 48 points like last year, or he may even go further.
Players on the Decline
Teemu Pulkkinen had a fun 2016-17 season. That is, if your definition of fun is consistently bouncing from team to team and from the NHL and AHL. It was a rough year for the 25-year-old. Rightfully so, though. He was originally expected to be a half decent NHL player, but as he’s aged he’s proved that wrong. In his career he’s only players 83 games. In those he has a mere 22 points. It’s clear he hasn’t grown into anything other than maybe being a consistent bottom six guy. To put his worth into perspective, he was acquired by the Arizona Coyotes, form the Minnesota Wild, for “future considerations”. The Wild didn’t even get a for-sure pick out of the deal.
He’s a very iffy player for Vegas. He was a questionable pickup to begin with, but he was a cheap signing. His contract only has one year on it, which means he only has one year to prove himself. Like with Shipachyov and Perron, Vegas might be the perfect chance to grow and become a better player. Pulkkinen will get a lot more responsibility than he’s used to, even if he is just a fourth line winger. The Knights will likely give Pulkkinen the benefit of the doubt, and give him a fairly decent amount of time to prove his worth. He’ll have to produce with the ice time he gets, though. If he isn’t able to, or if he can’t simply look good, he’ll get replaced quickly. Tyler Wong, for example, has looked good in the preseason and will likely be the first to replace Pulkkinen if needed.
There is zero chance the Golden Knights will be a playoff team this year. They have a weak bottom six, and their defense could use some work. While their defense does have a fair amount of mediocre players, most playoff teams have a clear top pairing. Vegas doesn’t. On the bright side, Brannstrom will likely be NHL ready within a few years and could be that elite defenseman the team needs. They also have a decent amount of young talent in their system. So, no, Vegas won’t be a playoff team this year. But they could become one fairly soon. They have strong goaltending and a strong top six group of forwards. This is a year of trial-and-error in Las Vegas, not a year of a Stanley Cup run.