There is a lot of excitement around the NHL regarding expansion and the Vegas Golden Knights. It will be the first professional sports team for Las Vegas. However, there are obstacles for Vegas regarding NHL free agency and the upcoming entry draft.
NHL Free Agency and Entry Draft Issues for Vegas
2017 Free Agency Issues
NHL free agency is a good opportunity for managers to improve their clubs. This year’s class is no different. The pending UFA’s one would call elite that hit the market on July 1st are, Ben Bishop, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Radulov, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
There has already been talk that both Oshie (Washington Capitals) and Radulov (Montreal Canadiens) could sign extensions with their clubs. The next tier of potential free agents include veterans Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp, Justin Williams and Martin Hanzal.
So how does this impact the incoming Vegas Golden Knights? The expansion draft rules for Las Vegas are as favorable as ever, but the Knights will need to do more work on their roster to be competitive in their inaugural season.
Filling out the Roster
That is where free agency can be a useful tool for Vegas. Even after selecting 30 players from the expansion draft, Vegas will most likely have a sizable amount of cap space to work with.
This sounds great on paper but given the players currently available via free agency, Vegas general manager George McPhee will have a limited amount of choices, and stiff competition for players.
PHT Morning Skate: Next summer’s top 30 unrestricted free agents https://t.co/O1rj9iTYuh
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) November 25, 2016
Entry Draft Issues
The 2017 NHL Amateur Draft this June will be held at the United Center in Chicago. The Vegas franchise will have the third-best odds in the draft lottery, this coming April. That means Vegas could pick anywhere between the first overall and the sixth overall in the first round. In rounds two through seven the Golden Knights own the third pick in each round.
How much stock does Las Vegas general manager McPhee put in building his franchise through the entry draft? These were McPhee’s comments over the summer when he appeared on the Vegas Hockey Podcast.
“Expansion will give us a foundation for the organization. The elite players, the difference makers, will come in the entry draft. That’s the lifeblood of any organization. If you want to win the Cup you have to be drafting well.”
McPhee’s philosophy on building his team is a sound one. He talked about Las Vegas using expansion draft selections and turning some of them into valuable draft picks. However, the early returns of the 2017 entry draft do not grade on the same level as the past two drafts. This will not impact the 2017-18 Golden Knights but rather have an impact on the franchise during their first few years.
Comparing to Previous Years
Comparing the top two picks in 2015 and 2016 to this upcoming class and there is a noticeable difference. There is a lot to be excited about the two current top prospects in 2017, Nolan Patrick (center) and Timothy Liljegran (defense), but they are not on the same level as the top two of the last two years. In 2015 the top two selections were Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. In 2016 the top two duo was Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
Building a Team
What does this mean for Vegas? Unlike the bottom two teams of the last couple of years, the Golden Knights will not be landing an all-but-guaranteed superstar in the upcoming draft. This is true even if they win the lottery and pick first overall. Another concern is the depth of this year’s draft when compared to that of recent years.
The depth in the first rounds of 2015 and 2016 was quite impressive. Rounds two through five received strong reviews from many NHL teams and draft experts.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 2, 2016
When you consider the talented prospects taken in the first round of the last two years, it is quite overwhelming. In 2015 there were: Noah Hanifin (5th overall), Zach Werenski (8th), Mikko Rantanen (10th), Lawson Crouse (11th), Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), and Travis Koenecny (24th) to name a few.
In 2016 the first round delivered Matthew Tkachuk (6th), Clayton Keller (7th), Mikhail Sergachev (9th), Tyson Jost (10th), Jake Bean (13th), Charlie McAvoy (14th) and Kiefer Bellows (19th) to name a few.
The 2017 draft is not on the same level as the two previous draft classes. It’s more likely Vegas lands a top six forward or a top four defensemen with their first round pick than a surefire franchise player.
In the past couple years, many draft projections have raved about the depth and quality of the players. Not just the depth of the first round but players chosen in rounds two, three, four and five.
This kind of depth would have been ideal for Vegas first entry draft. While there are players to be found in rounds two through five in 2017, there appears to be fewer draft nuggets in these rounds as there has been the last two years. Building a franchise starting in 2017 is a much more difficult task than if Vegas entered the league in either 2015 or 2016.
Bottom line, the current analysis does not have the 2017 grading as well as the past two drafts in terms of the top of the draft; the depth of the first-round; as well as the selections in rounds two and beyond.
Vegas has a lot to be excited about. However, the upcoming UFA class and the 2017 Draft make things harder for the Golden Knights. They will have to find a way to make the most of it to build a team that can compete during their first few years.