Vegas Golden Knights


William Karlsson and the most unexpected goal scoring performance ever


One of the biggest factors — among many — in the Vegas Golden Knights’ rapid ascent to the top of the NHL standings in their first year of existence has been the play and development of William Karlsson.

The Golden Knights acquired Karlsson, along with a first-round draft pick, in one of their many expansion draft deals. This particular deal saw them get Karlsson and the pick in exchange for taking on David Clarkson‘s contract and not taking Josh Anderson and a small handful of other players off of the Blue Jackets’ unprotected list.

As we wrote a couple of months ago in looking at the trades that built Vegas’ top line, it is going to be fascinating to watch the careers of players like Karlsson and Anderson progress from here to truly evaluate that decision by the Blue Jackets.

With Karlsson currently sixth in the league in goals (35), and Anderson currently sitting at 29 total points, it is looking like a steal for the Golden Knights.

But in Columbus’ defense, nobody should have seen this coming. Literally. No one. Because there was nothing in Karlsson’s background or in NHL history to suggest that a season like this was coming. Not that it should excuse sending him and a first-round pick away to protect Anderson or a backup goalie, just nobody could have imagined this sort of season from Karlsson.

Prior to this season Karlsson had played 183 games in the NHL and had scored just 18 goals as a member of the Anaheim Ducks and Blue Jackets.

Let’s just take a look to consider how improbable it is for a player with that sort track record and start to their career to have a season quite like this.

Using the database I searched for forwards, going back to 1967 (the post-Original Six era), that fit the following criteria that matched Karlsson’s career prior to this season.

  • Played in at least 160 NHL games before turning 25
  • Had scored fewer than 20 total goals
  • Had a career shooting percentage lower than 8 percent

There were only 52 players that matched that (including Karlsson).

It was predominantly a collection fourth-liners, a few enforcers, and players that had washed out of the NHL shortly after their age 24 season.

None of the players on that list other than Karlsson ever went on to have a 30-goal season in the NHL (Karlsson already has 35 with 15 games to play. He has a real shot at 40 goals).

Only three of them went on to have even one 20 goal season.

  • Walt McKechnie, a former No. 6 overall pick that went on to play in nearly 1,000 games, had four 20-goal seasons in his career. He topped out at 26 goals in 1975-76.
  • Kelly Buchberger in his age 25 season scored a career high 20 goals for the Edmonton Oilers. He never scored more than 12 in any season after that, though he did carve out a pretty successful career as a fourth-liner and played in more than 1,000 games.
  • Steve Ott scored 22 in his age 27 season and was a pretty consistently worth 10-12 goals over his career.

When you look at players that have performed like Karlsson did throughout his career they just don’t typically tend to develop into anything more than what they had shown to that point.

By the time you turn 25 and have played two full season’s worth of games in the NHL that is usually a good indication of what type of player you are going to be. After all, most players tend to hit their peak production around the ages of 24 or 25, and if you haven’t played a ton of games to that point it is difficult to really break into the league as a regular (it happens from time to time, but those are exceptions — not the rules).

But here is Karlsson, emerging as one of the best goal scorers in the league, at least for one season.

It has been a perfect storm for him and Vegas. He immediately clicked on a line with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, a trio that has been as good as any other line in the league.

He is also riding a 23.8 shooting percentage that is tops in the league and one of the best individual shooting seasons in recent NHL history.

Again using the Hockey Reference database you can find that there have only been 74 instances in the history of the league where a player shot higher than 23 percent on a minimum of 125 shots on goal in a season. The overwhelming majority of them happened between the firewagon hockey days of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Only four of them (including the one Karlsson is currently) on have happened since 1995.

Alex Tanguay scored 29 goals while shooting 23.2 percent in 2005-06. He followed that up with a 22-goal season in 2006-07.

Petr Prucha scored 30 goals as a rookie in 2005-06 on a 23.1 percent mark. He scored 22 the next season then slowly faded out of the league after that, scoring just 26 goals over the next four years.

T.J. Oshie scored on 23.1 percent of his shots a year ago for the Washington Capitals and signed a massive eight-year contract extension after the season. This season he has 12 goals, with only four coming at even-strength.

No matter how you look at it, Karlsson’s production this season is one of the most unbelievable and unexpected individual performances in the league. It has also helped drive one of the most unbelievable and unexpected team performances in the history of the league.

Maybe even in the history of professional sports.

Maybe he is better than he showed in Anaheim and Columbus and simply needed a bigger opportunity with the right linemates to truly shine as an offensive player. Everything we have to evaluate players suggests he is not going to score on 23 percent of his shots again next season or throughout his career.

But you can not take away the pucks that have found the back of the net this season, and it has been a ton of fun to watch to unfold.


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

Golden Knights sign Zach Whitecloud, one of college hockey’s best free agents

Bemidji State University

The Vegas Golden Knights have won the race to sign one of college hockey’s most highly-sought after free agents.

The NHL’s newest team — and its most surprising given their first-place ranking in the Pacific Division — signed undrafted defenseman Zach Whitecloud, from Bemidji State, to a three-year, entry-level deal on Thursday, beating the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Los Angeles Kings.

“He’s a very well-rounded player, a highly sought-after defenseman by a lot of clubs and we are delighted to acquire him as our first college signing,” Golden Knights general manager said on Thursday. “It should be a very good fit for the Vegas Golden Knights. He’ll join us in the next couple of days as soon as we can get him on a plane.”

Whitecloud, 22, just finished his sophomore season in college hockey, recording four goals and 18 points in 36 games with the Beavers. He’s expected to link up with the Golden Knights on Friday, but is not expected to play.

“He could (play for us this season),” McPhee said of the Brandon, Manitoba product. “The benefit of having him here is he can really learn a lot being around our team and our coaches.

“He’s a mobile defenseman. He moves the puck real well and he’s a safe player right now. We think he plays conservatively and we believe he can give us a lot more offensively. He has lots of room for growth. He’s good and safe and conservative. He’ll build the offensive end of his game.”

This move has assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon’s name all over it. McCrimmon owned the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings before joining the Golden Knights and would have had extensive knowledge of Whitecloud.

Whitecloud, 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, was in the running to play for Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.

“Our scouts identified him. Kelly McCrimmon knew him from his time in Manitoba. We’ve looked at him for a few years,” McPhee said. “He’s really developed well and he wants to be a pro now. We’re really delighted to have him.”

Whitecloud joins a defensive prospect pool that includes Erik Brannstrom, Jake Bischoff and Nicolas Hague.

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

Why the Golden Knights got involved in Derick Brassard deal

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If Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is to be believed, getting forward Ryan Reaves and a draft pick while not having to give up anything but some cap space was the meal ticket.

McPhee, who spoke to the media in Las Vegas during the first intermission of their game against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, said they added grit to their lineup with Reaves after the Golden Knights were one of three teams involved in a wild trade that ultimately sent Derick Brassard from Ottawa to Pittsburgh.

Reaves, McPhee said, is a tough guy who can do more than just dole out physical punishment.

“Ryan is a big strong guy that brings some grit, some strong depth to our hockey club,” McPhee said. “He’s a unique player. These players, tough guys in this league, many of them have been rendered obsolete because they can’t play. (Reaves) can play.

The deal was convoluted, McPhee admitted, saying that it’s something that happens with three teams involved. He said it took four transactions to make it work.

“We gave up some cap space, we have a lot of cap space and a minor league player to do this, so we picked up two assets,” McPhee said. “I thought it was a good deal for our club.”

McPhee said he spoke with Pittsburgh a couple days ago, and the deal for Reaves came together quite quickly. He said the issues with the deal were more on the side of Ottawa and Pittsburgh and once those were worked out, the deal was made.

McPhee said he doesn’t necessarily believe the club needs to make moves.

“But if there are opportunities to make the club a little bit better, one percent, two percent, three percent, you do it if it’s not going to affect chemistry,” he said.

This may only be part of the story here for the Golden Knights.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that Vegas may have got involved in the deal to block the Winnipeg Jets from getting Brassard.

Even though the Jets and Golden Knights wouldn’t meet until the third round of the playoffs — a lot would have to go right for that to happen — Vegas essentially made sure that if the scenario ever came to fruition, they wouldn’t have to deal with Brassard in the series.

If true, that’s some next level stuff by McPhee and Co.

McPhee played down those reports in his presser, saying it wasn’t a “material” part of the deal.

“We saw an opportunity to pick up Ryan Reaves and a draft pick in what was a simple transaction for us,” he said.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Jets were disappointed not to land Brassard after going “hard” after him. The move would have solidified Winnipeg’s spine, with Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Brassard and Adam Lowry down the middle. Winnipeg’s already a scary team without Brassard’s services. The fear factor would only have improved with him.

The Jets, reportedly, offered three pieces for Brassard, in what was a “solid” package. Given what Pittsburgh sent Ottawa’s way, that likely means a first-round pick, a roster player and a high-level prospect.

The Jets are now forced to look elsewhere, and perhaps they have the league’s newest team to blame for it.

A Jets-Golden Knights series would have a little more on the line if it comes to be this spring.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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

Penguins land Derick Brassard in three-team deal

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Be sure to visit and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

There likely won’t be a more wild trade before the deadline than the one that took the better part of Friday to finally be completed.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had Ottawa Senators forward Derick Brassard in their grasp, then lost him, and then snatched him up again.

Penguins defenseman Ian Cole was headed to a bad team, then he wasn’t, and then he was again.

And somehow Ryan Reaves is now with the Vegas Golden Knights and the NHL’s newest team is retaining a bunch of salary.

The first trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson.

This deal was rejected by the NHL for “improper use of salary retention,” so it was back to the drawing board for all involved.

The second (and actual) trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson. This didn’t change.

Penguins also acquire a 2018 third round draft pick and prospect forward Vincent Dunn from the Senators; and they also get prospect forward Tobias Lindberg from the Golden Knights.

Vegas receives Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-rounder (Vancouver’s) from the Penguins and also retains 40 percent of Brassard’s salary.

Why the Penguins made the trade: It’s been no secret that the Penguins have been looking for center help since losing Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino. Brassard fits that bill, and honestly, stands as a nice upgrade.

At 30, Brassard is still at or near his prime. The Penguins get Brassard for two playoff runs, as his $5 million cap hit runs through 2018-19.

Brassard’s quietly enjoyed a strong season in Ottawa, as he has 18 goals and 38 points in 58 games. He’s just one point shy of tying his 2016-17 total, even though that came in 81 contests. The former Rangers forward is battle-tested in the postseason, too.

No doubt about it, this is a contending team being aggressive to try to win a third straight Stanley Cup. Brassard makes an already-impressive offense that much deeper.

The inclusion of Cole helps make the money work for the Penguins, even if it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh still has some questions on defense.

Why the Senators made the trade: The Senators are in liquidation mode, and to start, this trade helps Ottawa get a first-rounder back after giving one up in the Matt Duchene trade. Granted, the Penguins’ first-rounder could be very low – they’d love it to be the 31st selection – but it’s a key return for the rebuilding Sens.

Gustavsson, 19, isn’t just a throw-in, either. He was a second-round pick (55th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. With Craig Anderson already 36, the Senators need to look to the future, and Gustavsson has a chance to be a part of the picture in net.

You can argue that Ottawa’s returns aren’t fully documented yet, as they might move Cole for even more futures:

This is also worth noting from a Senators perspective:

Why the Golden Knights made this trade: 

This one deserves a¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Vegas gets some grit in Reaves and a pick, but get roped into 40 percent of Brassard’s salary for some reason or another.

Who won the trade?

Senators fans are unlikely to be happy with the team cleaning house, particularly with players who helped them make a deep playoff run remarkably recently. Still, they’re diving in with a reset, if not a rebuild, and this is a decent return. Getting a bit more for Cole could help, and Gustavsson’s development will play a significant role in how this move is viewed in hindsight.

The Penguins are going for it, as they have been for some time. Brassard fills a serious need, and while defense is an issue for Pittsburgh, Cole found himself as a healthy scratch and obviously on the way out at times.

This is all about the present for Pittsburgh, and it’s easy to justify such a thought process. Let’s not forget that Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are 30 while Evgeni Malkin is 31. You never know when the championship window might slam shut.

Your excitement regarding the Penguins’ side hinges on how much you like Brassard. Not everyone is blown away by what he brings to the table.

This is an obvious case of two teams going in different directions, and thus looking for very different returns. Which team got the best value out of the deal, though?

It’s worth noting that the Penguins gave up a first-round pick and a prospect last summer to get Reaves.

With files from Scott Billeck

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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

Striking Gold: How Vegas became NHL’s best expansion team

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Before Gerard Gallant embarked on his journey to coach the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, he and former boss Doug MacLean sat down for breakfast and wondered what was ahead.

”He didn’t know what the situation was,” MacLean said. ”He thought it was going to be tough.”

No one saw this coming – not Gallant, general manager George McPhee, their players, Vegas odds makers or anyone in hockey. Thanks to a never-before-seen combination of speed, motivation, confidence and goaltending, the Golden Knights already set the NHL record for victories by a first-year expansion team, sit comfortably atop the Pacific Division and are a near-lock to make the playoffs.

Vegas stockpiled draft picks and young talent with the long-term future in mind. It also got franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 50-point producer Jonathan Marchessault and 27-goal-scorer William Karlsson and went from the league’s most pleasant surprise to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

”Didn’t think we’d be in first place at this time of the year, but the way they played and the confidence they got over the first 10 games, it grew with the team,” Gallant said. ”We’re a good hockey team, and we know it and when we play our game we’ve got a chance to beat anybody.”

With Bill Foley paying $500 million to get a team, commissioner Gary Bettman sought to ensure Vegas would be competitive, so McPhee got to pick from the best player pool of any expansion franchise thus far. Even with that advantage, the Golden Knights on paper looked like a team lacking top-end scorers and defensemen that would need Fleury to steal games.

”Everybody wanted them to be competitive, but they wanted them to be competitive enough but miss the playoffs by seven or eight points,” said MacLean, whose expansion 2000-01 Columbus Blue Jackets won just 28 games. ”This has caught them off-guard.”

The Westgate sports book opened the Golden Knights 200-1 to win the Cup and sold a handful tickets when they fell to 500-1 over the summer. After Westgate vice president Jay Kornegay said ”no one cared to bet them early,” he and his colleagues around Las Vegas risk losing a ton of money on futures wagers for them to win the Pacific Division, Western Conference and the Cup.

Off the ice, the Golden Knights became a rallying point for the community before they even played a game after the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. They won their first three and nine of their first 10, and Bettman said ”the bonding that has gone on is something that’s extraordinary.”

The bond between these players is multilayered, notably because All-Star winger James Neal pointed out everyone had something to prove after being left unprotected in the expansion draft or getting traded to Vegas. Gallant was even literally left at the curb by the Florida Panthers when they fired him on the road last season, and each night a different player is motivated to perform against his old team.

”You see a Tuesday night versus Columbus, Will Karlsson is really excited to play and he goes out there and has a terrific game and guys look towards that each and every night,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. ”You look towards that guy to give you a little extra spark no matter what city you’re in.”

Previous expansion teams have had the same drive but couldn’t dream of this type of success. The Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim shared the old record with 33 victories in 1993-94, and Vegas is fast approaching Florida’s record 83 points with almost 30 games remaining.

”Their fourth line was my first line,” said veteran coach Barry Trotz, who added he met most of his players on the 1998-99 expansion Nashville Predators in the press box when they were healthy scratches the previous year. ”We didn’t get a 30- and a 40-goal scorer. We didn’t have that. We didn’t have a No. 1 goaltender.”

Analyst Ray Ferraro, who played for the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-2000, credited McPhee for putting the team together with an eye on the modern NHL and the way the game is headed.

”They didn’t even consider a player that couldn’t skate, that wasn’t fast, because that is the premier element of the game today,” Ferraro said. ”They went fast, fast, fast and fast. So when you play Vegas, if you can’t keep up, eventually they just wear you down.”

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said Vegas doesn’t just skate fast but makes it hard on teams by moving the puck fast and making quick, smart decisions all over the ice. Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano said teams around the league are now using the Golden Knights as a measuring stick.

Even though it would take a historic fall for the Golden Knights not to make the playoffs, they’re trying to keep the expectations down internally.

”If the season ended tomorrow, then we’d be happy, but it doesn’t,” McPhee said. ”We all realize that it doesn’t mean anything until the season’s over and you know where you sit.”

There has been a noticeable evolution from the start of the season when players expected to make mistakes to now when they expect to win. Gallant has instilled enough belief in all his players that they’ve returned it tenfold.

”We are a group of guys that has come in Vegas with maybe not so much trust from all around the hockey world but a group of coaches that give us trust every night,” forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. ”When you play the right way, you create a little bit your bounces and you create your luck a bit and that gives you confidence.”

Confidence has been a constant for Vegas even after it lost Fleury, backup goaltender Malcolm Subban and No. 3 option Oscar Dansk to injury at the same time, staying afloat with fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace. Trotz said the Golden Knights have been ”playing with house money” all season, a feeling MacLean remembers from coaching the third-year Panthers in 1995-96 when they were in first place at Christmas.

”You get to a point where you don’t think you can lose,” MacLean said.

Long gone are the days of bare-bones expansion, and the Golden Knights’ success means Seattle is in line to get the same set of rules upon paying $650 million to become the 32nd team in a few years. With its three 2017 first-round picks all looking like top prospects and 12 selections in the top three rounds over the next three drafts, Vegas is already the blueprint for sustained success.

Everyone’s just waiting to see how this Cinderella season ends up.

”Before we crown them playoff champions here, there’s a lot of road to go,” Ferraro said. ”This is not a one-year flash. A lot of things are going right for them and that’s good planning and good fortune, but I think they’ve set themselves up for a real nice start to their franchise.”