The Golden Knights have had good teams in their four years in the NHL.
They’ve been to one Stanley Cup Final, two conference finals and won two division titles. This year’s club still has an argument for being the most talented the franchise has iced.
The Knights, top to bottom, are one of the league’s best teams. They have high-end players at forward, defense and in goal, plus enough depth to come at teams in waves.
“We really are comfortable with the makeup of our roster, the personnel that we have,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said after the trade deadline. “I like the chemistry of our team. I like the leadership of our team.”
It took four years of planning and building for the Knights to get to this point. Here’s how this season’s team was built:
The event that started it all is still paying dividends for the Knights.
The expansion draft’s influence on the team has waned through the years as more and more original misfits have left via free agency and trade. But nine players the Knights acquired June 21, 2017, remain, and they’re some of the team’s most important pieces.
The second line of left wing Jonathan Marchessault, center William Karlsson and right wing Reilly Smith has been with the organization all four seasons. So has high-scoring defenseman Shea Theodore and key forward Alex Tuch.
Expansion draft players still account for three of the Knights’ top five scorers, as well as five of their top nine and six of their top 11.
Then there’s the largest addition of all: Marc-Andre Fleury. The 36-year-old goaltender remains one of the faces of the franchise and just completed one of the best seasons of his career.
The expansion draft set up the Knights for immediate success. And its impact is still being felt.
A key element of the expansion draft was that the Knights left with a war chest full of draft picks and prospects.
They’ve added to it by dealing players such as forward Nikita Gusev and defenseman Colin Miller. They’ve also been unafraid to use it.
President of hockey operations George McPhee and McCrimmon have used the extra capital they acquired to beef up the talent on the roster.
Some of the Knights’ best players — including captain Mark Stone, left wing Max Pacioretty and goaltender Robin Lehner — were acquired via trade.
The team has shown a particular knack for identifying players who can raise their games in its system. Top-line center Chandler Stephenson, who set career highs in goals, assists and points this season, cost a fifth-round pick. Defenseman Alec Martinez, who led the NHL in blocked shots, cost two second-round picks.
Most of the players the Knights received in trades have justified their asking price. Many — such as Stone, Pacioretty, Lehner, Stephenson and right wing Ryan Reaves — also signed extensions to become part of the team’s core.
The Knights’ success in the expansion draft and with trades means they haven’t had to use too many other methods to add players.
The team hasn’t added many outside free agents. One of the few exceptions was defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million deal last offseason. McCrimmon made clear Pietrangelo was a special case because of his talent and pedigree.
The Knights’ tight salary cap situation means any future free agent acquisitions probably will be limited, too.
Those financial restrictions mean the amount of homegrown players on the NHL roster is likely to grow. Defenseman Nic Hague, a 2017 second-round pick, will be the first Knights’ draft pick to appear in a playoff game.
He could have company in the coming years. The prospects the organization added in its first four drafts have had time to develop, and several should compete for opportunities.
Forward Peyton Krebs, a 2019 first-round pick, had a chance to contribute in this postseason, but he fractured his jaw May 8. He could be in the mix next year, as could several players who spent their seasons with the American Hockey League’s Silver Knights.
Golden Knights roster breakdown
How each player was acquired:
Expansion draft (9): William Carrier, Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb, Tomas Nosek, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch
Trade (9): Mattias Janmark, Keegan Kolesar, Robin Lehner, Alec Martinez, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, Nicolas Roy, Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone
NHL free agency (1): Alex Pietrangelo
NHL draft (1): Nic Hague
College free agency (1): Zach Whitecloud