Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.
51-24-7, 109 pts. (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in five games to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final
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The list of superlatives to explain the Vegas Golden Knights first season of existence in the NHL has been exhausted. In reality, the words to describe it simply don’t exist.
[Under Pressure: Tatar | Breakthrough: Karlsson | 3 Questions]
For a team that a year ago was put together with spare parts from other teams, misfits who either didn’t need to be kept or couldn’t be kept due to the framework set out in the expansion draft rule set.
The Golden Knights weren’t getting the team’s best players. They weren’t getting their second or third best either. But what they did get, and what they were able to do with the so-called scraps they selected, proved to be a concoction no one could have seen coming.
Predictions for this team never ended in a trip to the Stanley Cup. They rarely, if at all, mentioned the playoffs. These were all supposed to be foreign concepts to an expansion team. The Golden Knights were supposed to struggle. They were supposed to loiter in the depths of the NHL’s basement. They were expected to fail.
None of that happened.
In the course of a calendar year, Vegas rewrote the book on what an expansion team can achieve, beginning with the expansion draft and all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Every step between June of 2017 and June of this year is riddled with history.
The Golden Knights are simply the best expansion team of all-time, and it’s not even close.
Tragedy struck on the eve of the season when 58 people were gunned down and hundreds more were injured on the Las Vegas Strip. Out of the horror of that night on Oct. 1 grew a bond between a city and a team.
The Golden Knights began their first season in the NHL a few days later, giving a city a chance to forget about life for a while. Hockey seemed to help Las Vegas heal, and the team’s magical run began.
Career-years seemed to be the norm in Vegas, whether it was William Karlsson’s 43 goals and 78 points, Jonathan Marchessault‘s 27 goals and 75 points or Marc-Andre Fleury’s .927 save percentage.
And there were many more — Erik Haula, Reilly Smith, Nate Schmidt and on and on and on.
Vegas also handled adversity well. Their incredible start to the season could have been derailed quickly with injuries to Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk. This left the crease with Maxime Legace and an unlikely start for Dylan Ferguson, a seventh-round pick who was called up on an emergency basis from the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.
Nothing would stop the Golden Knights in the regular season, however. Not injuries. Not other teams.
They racked up an uncanny 51 wins, and sailed through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to Fleury, who was operating at a .950 heading into the Cup Final.
Only then, against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, would the Golden Knights finally be stymied.
Their cake had all the icing, but the cherry on top wouldn’t come as the Capitals took the series and the Stanley Cup in five games.
The wildest ride in NHL history came to an end, but my goodness was it fun to witness.
This offseason has been quiet by comparison. Paul Stastny is a big addition to the team after losing James Neal and David Perron to free agency.
Karlsson, the breakout king of 2017-18, signed a one-year contract, betting on himself to reproduce his heroics last season and cash in next year.
The only question left now is if the Golden Knights can do it again, or if last season and its magical mystery ride was a one-hit wonder.
• Cody Glass, C, 19, Portland (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick
The first pick Vegas ever made in the NHL Draft is their best prospect at the moment. Glass built upon his 94-point sophomore season, putting up 102 points last year in five fewer games. He’s big, his two-way game is his strong suit, and he drives offense.
“Obviously, I have that mindset of making [the Golden Knights] this year,” Glass told NHL.com in July. “I feel with this [upcoming] training camp, it’s more of a development curb for me. You obviously want to make a good first impression. I feel like I’ve improved over the year.”
Even if he is fit to make the jump, allowing him one more season in junior wouldn’t hurt. He’d be able to play in the world juniors that way and then get some time with the team down the stretch if it makes sense.
• Erik Brannstrom, D, 18, HV71 (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick
The third first-round pick that Vegas made last year, Brannstrom finished as the playoff MVP in J20 SuperElit after winning the junior league title. Before that, he had 15 points in 44 games playing with men in the Swedish Elite League.
Brannstrom likely begins the year in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, although the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League own his junior rights after he was taken in the CHL’s Import Draft and he could also end up there (Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon owns the Wheat Kings). A good camp with the Golden Knights could bring the temptation, too, of letting him stick around in the Show.
• Nick Suzuki, C, 19, Owen Sound (OHL) – 2017 first-round pick
Taken 13th overall in 2017, Suzuki had a second consecutive impressive season in the Ontario Hockey League, posting 42 goals and 100 points and is likely to return to junior and get a chance to play with Team Canada at the world Juniors.
“In his mind the game is in slow motion,” said Owen Sound general manager Dale DeGray. “They see it, they compute it, and they react . . . Nick Suzuki has an uncanny ability to slow the game down.”
There’s plenty for Vegas fans to get excited about if they read the entirety of that article.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck