The Golden Knights finally had players they could put into uniform. Thirty-seven in all, who always will be remembered as the original faces of Las Vegas’ first major league sports franchise.
They will be known as the first ones picked by general manager George McPhee and welcomed by majority owner Bill Foley, who paid a record $500 million a year ago to join the NHL as the league’s 31st team.
“I’m thrilled,” Foley said after his team was announced during the NHL Awards Show on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“I thought we did a great job of balancing veterans and young players and we negotiated for some extra players and draft picks.”
The Knights’ expansion draft included much wheeling and dealing. In addition to the 30 selections, one from each NHL team, the Golden Knights picked up two additional first-round draft picks for this weekend’s entry draft in Chicago and will have a total of 12 picks for the seven rounds.
In all, the Knights selected three goalies, 13 defensemen and 14 forwards while gaining an additional seven players, including five forwards.
“It’s a pretty impressive group,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “There’s more skill than I anticipated and there’s more than enough character guys. I’m excited about what we have. George and the guys did a great job.”
To top it off, the team selected a three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender in Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury, who Foley predicts will be a fan favorite.
“He’s a terrific guy and I predict he will retire in Las Vegas,” Foley said of Fleury, 32, who was at T-Mobile Arena and greeted with a standing ovation from a crowd of just over 10,000.
“We had two objectives going in,” McPhee said. “One was to put a team on the ice that would entertain and compete, one the NHL and Las Vegas would be proud of. The other was to acquire additional draft picks to help us achieve long-term success. I thought we were successful in doing both.”
‘We’ll be competitive’
Colorado goaltender Calvin Pickard was the first pick as the names were announced in segments during the show. Nine players were announced in the first segment, including Florida forward Jonathan Marchessault, who scored 30 goals for the Panthers last year and is 26 years old.
The Knights also traded for Marchessault’s teammate, forward Reilly Smith, who had 15 goals and 37 points last season. The first group also had Los Angeles defenseman Brayden McNabb, Dallas center Cody Eakin and Vancouver defenseman Luca Sbisa.
“I think we’ll be competitive,” McNabb said. “There’s some good young players and some great veterans.
“I found out (Monday) night when (Kings GM) Rob Blake called me. It was mixed emotions. You’ve built a lot of relationships. But it’s a fresh start and I’m excited.”
The next wave created a stir. The Knights got Nashville forward James Neal, who had 23 goals and 41 points to help lead the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final. They also picked up a first-round pick from the New York Islanders (No. 15) for not taking any of the team’s forwards or defensemen (they took third-string goalie J.F. Berube).
Nashville general manager David Poile regretted losing Neal.
“We wanted to keep (Neal), but the price (Vegas wanted) was too high,” he said.
It was also a night for homecomings as Deryk Engelland, who played for the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers, was taken by the Knights from the Calgary Flames.
“It’s great to be coming back,” said Engelland, who still owns a home in Las Vegas. “It’s an exciting point in my career to be part of something special.”
The third wave was highlighted by the selection of St. Louis Blues forward David Perron, who scored 18 goals and played all 82 games last year. Oscar Lindberg, one of the New York Rangers’ rising stars, also was taken.
Chicago defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk also became a Knight. With the next-to-last selection, the Knights took Fleury, who will be the starting goalie. It ended with McPhee reuniting with Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who McPhee had signed as a free agent when he was the Caps’ general manager.
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.