David Perron

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William Karlsson has been the Golden Knights’ best find

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The debut season for the Vegas Golden Knights has been, to this point, an incredible success.

They are off to one of the best starts ever for an NHL expansion team and they have done it while being decimated by injury in goal, already using four different players at the position, including a 19-year-old junior goalie on an emergency recall.

Even with the injuries they still find themselves in playoff contention more than a quarter of the way through the season and have been by far the biggest surprise in the NHL.

The key to their success has been a surprisingly potent attack offensively that currently has them sitting sixth in the NHL in goals scored. We looked earlier this season that the expansion draft rules, along with an amazing trade with the Florida Panthers that netted them Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, gave the Golden Knights more talent than just about any other expansion team in league history.

But for as good as the bigger name players like Marchessault, James Neal and David Perron have been, their best — and perhaps most surprising — find to this point has been forward William Karlsson.

Karlsson’s arrival in Vegas came by way of trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that also netted them a first-round pick, a second-round pick and the contract belonging to David Clarkson. In return, all Vegas had to do was allow Columbus to retain players like forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in the expansion draft.

It’s turned out to be an amazing trade for Vegas because it not only received two draft picks (that ended up resulting in Nick Suzuki as well as the 2019 pick) but also the player that is currently their leading scorer and top offensive player.

Entering play on Sunday, Karlsson has already shattered his previous career high goals and is just one point away from matching his career high in that area. Prior to this season he had never scored more than nine goals in a season and never topped 25 points. In his first 25 games this season he is already up to 14 goals and 24 points.

A lot of that offensive success is being driven by a 25 percent shooting percentage that represents a significant spike over his previous career averages and one that is probably not going to be a long-term thing. But it’s not just the goal-scoring that has been huge for the Golden Knights.

He is also driving possession with a 53 percent shot attempts share and is one of just two players (Alex DeBrincat being the other) to play in at least 25 games this season and not commit a single penalty. Even if his shooting percentage takes a dive in the second half of the season (and it almost certainly will because almost nobody maintains a 25 percent shooting percentage) he is still bringing a ton of value with his ability to help control the pace of the game while also completely staying out of the penalty box.

He has always been a talented player that had flashed some potential in the NHL, but he never really had an opportunity to get a significant role to really show what he can do.

He has had that opportunity this season in Vegas centering the top line between Marchessault and Smith and it has resulted in a breakout season on an individual level while also helping to drive one of the biggest surprises in the league on a team level.

Vegas Golden Knights hand out rare lengthy contract

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Early in the Vegas Golden Knights’ ongoing, still-surprising hot start as a franchise, PHT noted one thing that’s unlikely to change this season: motivation.

NHL players are already generally a motivated lot, but when you put financial futures on the line, you’ll often see a surge in results. Take a look at the Golden Knights’ Cap Friendly page and you’ll see a ton of players with one or two years remaining on their current contracts. Greed can be good, at least in the short term, for a sports team’s fortunes.

While the franchise would likely draw the most attention for high-scoring, pending UFAs like James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault, there’s a particularly noticeable glut of defensemen on one-year deals.

That group got a little smaller on Wednesday, as the Golden Knights announced a four-year, $10 million extension for former Kings blueliner Brayden McNabb.

From here, it seems like a fairly benign move.

It’s worth noting that the move draws at least a little bit of mockery on Hockey Twitter.

McNabb, 26, is averaging 19:30 TOI per night through his first 20 regular-season games with the Golden Knights. Peeking at his Hockey Reference page’s quick possession stats, it’s interesting to note an unusual disparity in his Corsi Relative (-.5) versus Fenwick Relative (+3.6) rates compared to his teammates.

It turns out that he’s been blocking buckets of shots so far this season, leading the Golden Knights in that category. Fenwick is a Corsi-like measure except with blocked shots removed from the equation, so perhaps some of a person’s view of McNabb comes down to subtle preferences.

(He’s tied for 12th overall in the NHL in blocked shots, despite missing a few games, by the way.)

Really, if the Golden Knights’ rationale is “well, this makes Gerard Gallant happy,” then it seems like a reasonable move.

Beyond McNabb, Vegas only has Nate Schmidt and Brad Hunt under contracts beyond this season, and both of their deals expire after 2018-19. If you want to be cute about it, you could call McNabb “the defenseman of the future” in Vegas, at least right now.

Discounting David Clarkson‘s dead cap money (which expires after 2019-20), the Golden Knights also have these forwards and goalies locked up for at least two seasons, ignoring players in their farm system for the sake of simplicity:

Forwards

Goalies

You can look at that list a number of ways, including from two very different perspectives. Optimists will note how clean that cap is, with few deals threatening “albatross” status (beyond Clarkson’s, which the Golden Knights are essentially laundering for a fee). On the other hand, anxious types will worry about all the potential mistakes that could be made, including letting the wrong players go and/or retaining players who are playing over their heads.

Overall, this is another reminder that GM George McPhee has generally done a great job of accumulating assets while avoiding the sort of attachments that can submarine a franchise. Even if McNabb ends up being a bland bottom-pairing guy, this deal really isn’t that bad; the term would be the main issue if he really flops.

Of course, this is a mere appetizer for future decisions. Will GMGM ultimately keep or sell guys like Neal, Marchessault, David Perron, and William Karlsson? Finding out those answers should be almost as fun as observing this Cinderella story in action.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Golden Knights

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So let’s talk about the Vegas Golden Knights for a little bit.

At this point they are no longer just a fun story at the start of the season. They might actually be a legitimately good hockey team that is getting better.

They enter the week riding their second five-game winning streak of the season and what makes this one so impressive is the fact they are starting to carry the play in games. It is not just a matter of of them winning games with some percentage based success. During their current winning streak the Golden Knights have attempted 54 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in its games and has outshot every single team during the streak by a a 180-120 margin. That includes two absolutely dominating performances against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the fact they are still doing it with their third, fourth and fifth string goalies.

The driving force behind Vegas’ success has clearly been the play of their forwards, with James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron and William Karlsson all putting up huge numbers.

The Golden Knights are already off to the best start of any expansion team in NHL history, so now we really have to start asking if this team is a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.

Recent history suggests they just might be.

As of Monday they have 31 points in their first 22 games. Over the past five seasons there have been 23 teams that had a similar start. Twenty-one of those teams went on to make the playoffs.

Early on Vegas’ success seemed to be more of an unsustainable, percentage driven run of good luck producing unexpected results.

Now the process is starting to match the results.

We have them among the elites in this week’s edition of the power rankings, as well as new teams at the top and bottom of the rankings.

The best of the best

1. St. Louis Blues — We have a new team in the top spot, and it is still incredible what this team has accomplished this season given the injury situation it has dealt with at times.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still a terrifying team, but it was only a matter of time until they hit a little bit of a cold snap. That has happened this past week with two regulation losses in a row. The first time all season that has happened.

3. New Jersey Devils — Simply one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and it is a lot of young players (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher) making a big impact. Taylor Hall is also having what could be a career year.

4. Vegas Golden Knights — If the Devils are one of the biggest surprises, then Vegas is most definitely the biggest surprise.

5. Nashville Predators — Kyle Turris has already made a huge impact since his arrival in Nashville. With that center depth this is going to be a fierce team to contend with.

The second tier

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are not scoring goals at the same pace they did a season ago but Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he is putting together yet another Vezina Trophy caliber season in net.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Connor Hellebuyck has been quite a pleasant surprise this season. His play in net is a big reason the Jets have climbed to the top of the standings.

8. New York Islanders — Goaltending could be a concern, but this is an offense that is clicking on all cylinders right now. For as great as John Tavares has been the team’s leading scorer as of Monday is … Josh Bailey.

9. New York Rangers — The overall record is not great but since starting the season 2-6-2 the Rangers have won 11 of their past 14 games including four in a row entering the week.

10. Washington Capitals — They may not win the Presidents’ Trophy for a third consecutive season but this is still a dangerous team. Alex Ovechkin is currently on pace for close to 60 goals this season.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — They tend to run really hot and cold, which is probably what should be expected of a young team with a ton of talent but still a couple of weaknesses that need to be addressed.

The middle ground

12. San Jose Sharks — The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has been tremendous in net this season and has helped the Sharks become one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

13. Los Angeles Kings — After an incredible start the Kings have won just two of their past nine games and are back to having trouble finding the back of the net. This looks familiar.

14. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau has taken the leap from “good young player” to “one of the most dominant offensive players in the NHL.”

15. Chicago Blackhawks — More than a quarter of the way through the season and I am still not sure what to make of the Blackhawks. Sometimes they look like a contender again. Sometimes they look like the top-heavy team that lacks depth on paper.

16. Boston Bruins — When they are healthy they can be an extremely dangerous team. Still need a little more depth. But the top of the lineup is strong.

17. Carolina Hurricanes — Teuvo Teravainen is starting to put it together. This has the makings of a breakout season for him.

18. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser has been everything the Canucks have needed in a young player. Currently leading all NHL rookies (and the Canucks as a team) in scoring.

19. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is proving that last season’s bounce back year in Minnesota was not a fluke.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins — Great showing against Tampa Bay, but still a team that has a lot of holes that need to be addressed before it can make another Stanley Cup run.

21. Dallas Stars — They won the offseason again, but the results still are not what they should be on the ice given all of the roster movement and preseason hype.

22. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries, particularly to centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, have absolutely devastated this team’s ability to score goals.

23. Ottawa Senators — Okay maybe we had them a little too high in recent editions of the power rankings. They enter the week with six losses in a row and have won just eight of their first 22 games. This is starting to become a concern.

24. Montreal Canadiens — Just when it looked like Montreal was starting to turn it around they go and drop six of their next eight games.

25. Detroit Red Wings — They have probably overachieved a bit to this point and it is kind of amazing they open the week in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Still, their points percentage is 24th in the NHL. This is not a good team.

26. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having a breakout season for the Avalanche, while Mikko Rantonen and Alexander Kerfoot look like they can be players to maybe build around. It is not much, but it is a little progress.

The Basement

27. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid‘s defense has been called into question. Why is it that when a team underachieves or fails to meet expectations the blame always shifts to the best players and not, say, the management team that put together a flawed roster around the game’s best player?

28. Philadelphia Flyers — With wins in just three of their past 15 games it is a big fall in the rankings for the Flyers. They enter Monday on a seven-game losing streak.

29. Florida Panthers — This team could really use a couple of forwards like Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at the moment.

30. Arizona Coyotes — With wins in four of their past six games the Coyotes are able to finally climb out of the bottom spot in the power rankings. This team was never as bad as its early record indicated. How good is it? Still a mystery. But it was never that bad.

31. Buffalo Sabres — Such a disappointing situation. This team should be so much better than it is at this point and it only seems to be taking steps backwards.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Golden Knights pad Pacific lead, even with Burns’ first goal

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Coming into Friday’s game, what was stranger: Brent Burns having zero goals on the season despite 84 shots on goal in 20 games, or the Vegas Golden Knights leading the Pacific Division?

Both points ended up being relevant to the discussion, as Burns finally scored his first goal of 2017-18 to help the San Jose Sharks rally for a “loser point,” but the Golden Knights ultimately won 5-4 in OT.

With that, the Golden Knights won their fourth game in a row and now have 29 standings points, making for at least a slight cushion for the Pacific Division lead (the Kings are in action, but at 26 points, they’ll trail Vegas even if they manage a comeback win).

Vegas probably wasn’t happy to see a three-goal lead dissolve, yet the Golden Knights just keep plugging away. They enjoyed a strong output from three forwards with plenty to prove in James Neal (one goal, one assist), William Karlsson (two goals), and Jonathan Marchessault (one goal and two assists). Both Neal and Karlsson are at 12 goals on the season now.

The Golden Knights do have a bit to be concerned with, though, and that’s not limited to giving up the lead. Maxime Lagace “wasn’t feeling good” so he left the game for Malcolm Subban, while David Perron suffered an upper-body injury and did not return thanks to this questionable check:

Even in defeat, Burns has to feel relief with this goal:

Heck, even the Sharks seemed to wipe a little sweat off of their brows as the beastly blueliner finally scored.

(Eh, Burns might need a few more goals to get people to stop complaining about his fantasy value. Sorry, Sharks.)

Joe Thornton‘s two assists helped the Sharks secure a standings point, and now he sits alone at 12th all-time in assists, passing Joe Sakic.

The Golden Knights continue to be one of the most heartening stories in the NHL, but even in grabbing the extra point, they’re only five ahead of the Sharks. Fighting off regression won’t be easy for the Golden Knights, yet they have incentive to push for some sort of home-ice advantage, as they improved to an impressive 9-1-0 in Vegas so far in their inaugural season.

You never know how far a good run might take you, so don’t blame the Golden Knights for letting it ride.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights can’t stop, won’t stop

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There may not be a more intriguing story in the NHL this year than what is going on in Sin City.

Defying all the odds, the Vegas Golden Knights — a team comprised of spare parts that general manager George McPhee picked out of a discard bin this past summer — sit on top of the Pacific Division at Thanksgiving after a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

The league-wide off day due to the holiday should give you enough time to come to the realization that yes, indeed, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Instead, the NHL has a brand new team that continues to re-write hockey history.

The Golden Knights matched an NHL record for most wins by a team through the first 20 games of its inaugural season on Wednesday, moving to 13-6-1 on the year.

They became the first expansion team to start a season 3-0-0 and first to win their first six of seven back in October. On Nov. 4, they tied a league record for shortest number of games played to achieve nine wins an inaugural season and continue to do things no other expansion team has done.

How a team full of players not good enough to be protected prior to the expansion draft is doing so well is anyone’s guess.

Chip on their collective shoulders? Perhaps. A little Las Vegas magic? Quite possible.

What is certain is that the Golden Knights have little trouble scoring. And scoring helps with winning.

James Neal, a former 40-goal man, leads the way with 11 goals. Only Filip Forsberg on the Nashville Predators, Neal’s former team, has as many. William Karlsson is second with 10. No one on his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, has reached double digits yet.

David Perron, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Erik Haula aren’t far behind with six goals apiece, and Vegas is eighth in expected goals for percentage.

The math adds up to show the Golden Knights tied for fourth in goals for with 72. They’re also in the top third when it comes to least goals against, a remarkable feat given that they’ve had to dig deep — really deep — into their stable of goaltenders thanks to injury.

Furthermore, If the playoffs were determined by possession metrics and began tomorrow, the Golden Knights would be one of the 16 headed to the promised land.

Maybe Vegas just likes to win. And really, what do they have to lose?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck