In the 10 months since Las Vegas was awarded an NHL franchise last June, the organization has experienced several important milestones.
Perhaps none of these milestones were more significant than the two that the Golden Knights checked off, back to back, in the first week of March.
First, on March 1, the team's expansion process was completed, solidifying the Golden Knights as the NHL's 31st team.
In addition to allowing general manager George McPhee to attend the NHL's annual GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., later that month, the Golden Knights becoming "official" also allowed the team to begin acquiring players.
Although the bulk of those acquisitions will occur in this June's Expansion Draft, Vegas' finished its busy first week of March by signing Reid Duke as the first player in team history.
Duke, 21, was at the time in the process of completing his final junior season as a member of the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings. He'd eventually finish the 2016-17 season with a team-best 37 goals and 71 points in 59 games, and three goals in four playoff games.
While Duke has yet to play professionally, the Golden Knights are confident in his ability to develop into an important part of the franchise.
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Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon coached Duke the past two seasons with Brandon.
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"When we project Reid, we think his game will evolve as he becomes a pro," McCrimmon said. "I think what's impressive with Reid is a real high skill level and yet a guy that's able to play a big, strong, heavy game.
"We believe he's going to be an NHL player."
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With his junior season now complete, the immediate plans for Duke are for him to join the team for prospect development camp this summer (date TBD). From there, he's expected to participate in the team's primary training camp this September, where he will have a chance to compete for a roster spot.
By that point, the Golden Knights will have several other players under contract.
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Below is a guide of what dates Vegas can begin acquiring different categories of players.
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Current: The Golden Knights are currently able to sign any junior players whose rights are not owned by another NHL team. These include Canadian, American and European junior leagues.
Current: Vegas is allowed to sign any collegiate player whose rights are not owned by another NHL team, provided that player's collegiate season has been completed. Although it must be noted that the NCAA Championship Game is April 8.
After April 8, Vegas can attempt to sign any collegiate player in the country whose rights aren't owned by another NHL team.
This includes seniors, who are graduating this spring, and underclassmen, who have the ability to leave school and turn pro.
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Current: Throughout Europe, there are several prominent professional hockey leagues ranging in caliber from a shade beneath the NHL to equivalent to North American minor leagues. Teams in these leagues are primarily made up of European players, although several Americans and Canadians also ply their trades in these leagues as well. The Golden Knights have the opportunity to come to terms with any players in these leagues, provided another NHL team doesn't already own their North American rights.
June: Following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL teams are able to again begin making trades. Prior to acquiring more players, the Golden Knights may be limited to exclusively making trades including draft picks and future considerations. Although when the Stanley Cup Final concludes, Vegas can begin to make trades as any team would, with the realistic ability to do so expanding after the team acquires more players via other means. The team's ability to make trades will continue until next season's NHL Trade Deadline, which normally occurs in early March.
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June 21: The NHL Expansion Draft will be held from June 18-20, with the players the Golden Knights select expected to be announced on June 21. The Golden Knights have the opportunity to select 30 established NHL players in the Expansion Draft (one from every other team).
Other teams have two options of what amount of players to protect.
Option 1: Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender.
Option 2: Eight skaters of any position and one goaltender.
Just note that this excludes players on entry-level contracts, and teams are automatically required to protect players with No-Movement Clauses in their contracts.
July 1: This is the date that NHL free agency begins every year, meaning that on July 1, 2017, the Golden Knights will be able to begin competing with other teams to sign established NHL free agents.
There remains the possibility that the Golden Knights will be the only team allowed to participate in what's being termed "exclusive free agency." In exclusive free agency, Vegas would be granted an exclusive window to negotiate with free agents in June prior to the Expansion Draft. The way it would work would be that if the Golden Knights sign a free agent during this time period, it would negate that player's prior team from losing a player in the Expansion Draft.
More details on exclusive free agency would be provided as they become available.