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AHL Choice, Off-Ice Hires Top George McPhee's Agenda

The Golden Knights' GM lists his top priorities for the next month

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights /

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If there was ever a theme for Golden Knights general manager George McPhee's schedule this December, this would be it. As the NHL's only GM whose team isn't playing any games this winter, McPhee's workload has largely been based on dispersing his staff to scout the world's top amateur and professional players, in preparation for the Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft next June.

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This varies greatly from McPhee's schedule in any other December, past or future, which is usually more geared towards attending his team's practices and games.

"Well, in terms of the model we use to scout this year, it might be a little bit different from what we've typically done in the past," McPhee said. "But the end result is the same. You have to know the players at the amateur level, and the players at the pro level.

"We would be watching practices and games with our own club, but now we're watching everybody else's."

When it comes to building a franchise from scratch, there are more tasks for McPhee to tackle than merely scouting for on-ice talent.

RELATED: Why are the upcoming World Juniors important for the Golden Knights?

There's also work that has to be done to get his off-ice personnel in place, which was mostly accomplished when he hired 28 hockey operations executives this past summer.

But as much as McPhee accomplished this summer, he still has additional off-ice tasks that have yet to be accomplished. He hopes to knock two of these off his list in the weeks just after the New Year, in January.

"We're going to be working on a couple of bigger items for our organization," McPhee said. "We'll be trying to get our physician group finalized, and working on an AHL affiliate opportunity."

The purpose of hiring a group of physicians largely speaks for itself. Hockey's a dangerous sport, injuries occur often and the team will need to have a world-class medical staff to tend to these injuries and keep a healthy team on the ice.

The importance of identifying the franchise's AHL affiliate might be not be as obvious, but is no less significant of a decision.

Where teams carry 23 players on their NHL rosters, organizations are allowed to have 49 players under contract. The majority of a franchise's 26 players that aren't on the NHL roster skate in the AHL (American Hockey Hockey), which is the NHL's primary minor league system.

Success at the minor league level in hockey is probably more closely correlated to major league success than in any other sport. So where and how McPhee chooses to develop players in the AHL will be one of the most important decisions he'll have to make leading into next summer.

This season, all 30 active NHL teams have their own AHL affiliates, scattered everywhere from San Diego to St. John's, NL.

In the months since Las Vegas was awarded an NHL franchise last June, rumors have persisted about where the Golden Knights' AHL franchise would be located. Would an agreement be struck for a new AHL franchise? Would Las Vegas put its players with an existing, independently-owned AHL team? Could the Golden Knights possibly even share an AHL team with another city?

In true Vegas fashion, McPhee has yet to tip his hand on the direction he's leaning, except he says that the decision will be one of the top items on his agenda after the New Year.

And, of course…more scouting.

"If we can get those items take care of, then it just frees us up to do more scouting and completely focus on players for the next three months," McPhee said.

"We're still scouting. A lot of scouting."

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