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Vegas Golden Knights load up on scoring in expansion draft

Expansion teams traditionally struggle to put the puck in the net.

That might not be the case for the Golden Knights.

Vegas emerged from the NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena with several skilled forwards, a development that even head coach Gerard Gallant didn’t see coming.

“It’s more talent than I thought it was going to be, but I wasn’t in the war room every day with those guys,” Gallant said. “They were working hard, and they did a good job, and they made a lot of good deals. I’m really pleased looking at that tonight.”

The Knights drafted 14 forwards among their 30 selections, led by diminutive center Jonathan Marchessault.

The speedy 26-year-old had a breakout year for the Florida Panthers this past season with 30 goals and 21 assists and projects as a first-line player.

Right wing James Neal produced 23 goals and 18 assists in 2016-17 to help the Nashville Predators reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time. The veteran has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons in the league.

Left wing David Perron gives Vegas another potential veteran 20-goal scorer. The 29-year-old had 18 goals and 46 points for the St. Louis Blues this past season.

“That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get some scoring,” Gallant said. “We’re going to play a game, and it’s going to be an offensive game. You’ve got to play good defense to win, so with that talent it’s going to help out a lot.”

Vegas acquired forward Riley Smith (15 goals, 37 points) from Florida for a fourth-round pick in Friday’s entry draft and selected center Cody Eakin from the Dallas Stars.

Eakin struggled this past season with three goals and 12 points, but he averaged 17 goals and 37 points the previous three seasons.

“From what I’ve seen on that board, there’s six guys that are going to be top-six-line players, and that’s what everybody wants,” Gallant said. “I was pretty happy to look at that board.”

The Knights traded with Tampa Bay for the rights to Russian forward Nikita Gusev and dealt for the Minnesota Wild’s Alex Tuch, a 6-foot-4-inch right wing who was the 18th pick in the 2014 draft.

And after a bevy of trades, Vegas owns three of the top 15 picks in this weekend’s entry draft in Chicago.

“You look up at that board, there’s a lot of veteran players, a lot of talent up there,” Gallant said. “You look at the other side, and you heard about some of the trades tonight, and we’ve got a lot of draft picks for the weekend, too, so it was a great, successful evening.”

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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