Looking for an unsung hero in the Golden Knights’ wildly successful first half of their inaugural NHL season?
Look no further than Vaughn Karpan.
The team’s director of player personnel played a vital role in the building of the roster and continues to do so along with his group of pro scouts. He has been described by his peers as one of the smartest people in hockey, and having come over from the Montreal Canadiens in 2016 as one of general manager George McPhee’s early hires, Karpan has quietly put his stamp on the Knights.
“I was fortunate to have spent my life scouting, 30 years overall, 26 in the NHL,” said Karpan, who is in town to attend the team’s midseason organizational meetings. “I don’t know that I’m that smart. I had mentors who were brilliant people and I’ve stolen their best ideas.
“It started with Wayne Fleming who taught me how to deal with people. Bill Lesuk and Marshall Johnston taught me what to look for in a player, and then I got to the NHL and Pierre Gautier gave me a chance to do pro scouting, so I kind of pulled it all together.”
Like everyone connected to the organization, Karpan was hopeful the Knights could achieve a modicum of success in their inaugural season. But 29 wins in 41 games, first place in the division and the best record in the Western Conference?
“I wouldn’t have predicted we would be this high in the standings,” Karpan said. “I really never thought about the finish line when we were putting this team together last June. I didn’t know what to expect.
“If you asked me if I thought we’d be second in the entire NHL, I’d be lying my ass off.”
McPhee wanted to bring the best available people into the organization after accepting the general manager’s post in July 2016. He moved quickly to hire McCrimmon and shortly afterward lured Karpan away from Montreal, where he was director of professional scouting, spending 11 years with the Canadiens.
“He has a way of making everyone in the room feel comfortable and drawing the best out of them in addition to having a well-organized, structured department,” McPhee said.
McCrimmon said: “I’ve known Vaughn a long, long time. He’s a detailed, organized person. He’s got a real analytical mind and he’s been a great addition to our organization and with the challenge we had in year one of preparing for an expansion draft, he was invaluable in that process.”
Karpan, who was a disciple of Canadian hockey coaching legend Dave King and played for Canada in two Olympics (1984 and ’88), said the plan was to identify players who understood their role and were good in the locker room.
“We had a template for our scouts to use,” Karpan said. “It was to understand who was who and who might be available and then we really dialed in on what those players were like.
“You learn that night after night watching. Our scouts did a marvelous job of that.”
Those scouts — Vince Williams, Kelly Kisio, Vaclav Nedomansky, Alex Godynyuk, Jim McKenzie and Mike Rosati — convinced Karpan to take a hard look at William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Erik Haula, all of who have made large contributions so far.
When asked how much credit Karpan and his scouts deserve for the Knights’ first half, McPhee didn’t hesitate.
“A ton,” he said. “He did a great job.
“We all know we’re a team that works together. One person shouldn’t get any more credit than anyone else.”
“Our scouts did all the heavy lifting,” Karpan said. “But this is the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done in hockey.”