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Vegas Connections in the NHL

A look at all the connections that the NHL and Las Vegas have shared

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

With an NHL team set to begin playing out of T-Mobile Arena in 2017-18, this is clearly a very exciting time for Las Vegas hockey.

It isn't, however, hockey's first foray into Southern Nevada.

Dating back to the Pacific Southwest Hockey League's Las Vegas Gamblers of the late 1960s, all the way to the ECHL's Wranglers whom played their final season in 2013-14, hockey isn't new in this city. Although with the NHL now here, the scale of hockey's presence in this city has become more substantial.

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There are still a handful of Las Vegas alumni currently in the NHL in various capacities. This group of alumni features everything from homegrown scorers to a pair with the Tampa Bay Lightning who started as Thunder, currently serving as coaches on the same NHL staff.

At the time Las Vegas entered the NHL on June 22, there were 15 individuals with connections to the city still in the NHL. That number grew when Las Vegas Thunder alumni Curtis Joseph was appointed Carolina Hurricanes goaltending consultant on July 1.

Depending on how their careers go in the next year, all 16 of these NHL figures with Las Vegas ties could return to this city, if even as visitors, during its inaugural NHL season.

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Natives

Jason Zucker: The only active NHL player raised in the area, the Minnesota Wild winger was born in California and moved to Las Vegas when he was two months old. Zucker remained in Las Vegas until leaving the area for good at age 15 to play junior hockey in Michigan. Zucker, a 24-year-old, is under contract with the Wild through the end of the 2017-18 season.

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Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL, 2003-15)

Adam Cracknell:  A physical winger that led the Wranglers in playoff scoring en route to a berth in the 2007-08 Kelly Cup Finals, Cracknell signed a contract with the Dallas Stars this summer. Before joining Dallas as a free agent, Cracknell played in 52 games in 2015-16 for the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. After that 2007-08 playoff run with the Wranglers, Cracknell eventually hooked on with the St. Louis Blues organization, with whom he was a member from 2010-14. He spent the 2014-15 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Deryk Engelland:  A sturdy defenseman for the Wranglers from 2003-05, Engelland is currently in his third season with the Calgary Flames. Before that, he played in 253 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2009-14. With 388 regular-season NHL games and 24 more in the postseason, Engelland entered the 2016-17 season having played in more NHL games than any Wranglers alumni. He continues to live in the Las Vegas area in the offseason.

Glen Gulutzan: The Wranglers' head coach for six straight years from 2003-09, Gulutzan currently serves as head coach for the Calgary Flames. Gulutzan also previous coached the Dallas Stars from 2011-13, and assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 2013-16.

Steve Oleksy:  Only a Wrangler for two games in 2008-09 immediately on the heels of his collegiate career at Lake Superior State, Oleksy currently plays in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Although he's only played for the team's minor league affiliate and never for Pittsburgh, he was on the ice to raise the Stanley Cup when the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in 2015-16. All of Oleksy's NHL experience came with the Washington Capitals, with whom he appeared in 62 games between 2012-13 and 2014-15.

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Las Vegas Thunder (IHL, 1993-99)

Brad Lauer: The forward who helped lead the Thunder to a Pacific Division title in 1993-94 by scoring 42 points in 32 games is now an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Todd Richards, his former Thunder teammate, joined him on Tampa Bay's staff in June 2016.

Butch Goring: The inaugural Las Vegas Thunder head coach in 1993-94, Goring now serves as the color commentator for New York Islanders broadcasts on MSG Network.

Curtis Joseph: He only played 15 games for the Thunder in 1995-96, while he was immersed in a contract dispute with his NHL club, the St. Louis Blues. Although his stay was short (until the Blues traded him to the Edmonton Oilers), Joseph, the fourth winningest goalie in NHL history, is arguably the biggest hockey star to play for one of this city's teams. As of July 1 of this year, Joseph will be a goaltending coach for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Louie Debrusk: He wasn't a Thunder for long, but Debrusk made his presence felt by accumulating 160 penalty minutes in only 26 games in the team's final season, 1998-99. Debrusk now serves as a TV analyst for Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, mostly covering the Edmonton Oilers. His son, Jake Debrusk, is one of the Boston Bruins' top prospects, having been selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Todd Richards: A tough Thunder defenseman from 1993-95, Richards will join the Tampa Bay Lightning as an assistant coach in 2016-17. He's also previously served as head coach of both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. He is joined on the Lightning's coaching staff by assistant coach Brad Lauer, a former Thunder teammate.

Wes McCauley: He wasn't in Las Vegas long, having appeared in two games during the 1993-94 season. But McCauley remains one of the most active Thunder alumni in the NHL, having become an NHL referee after his four-year pro career ended in 1997 without a single NHL game played. McCauley is the son of the late John McCauley, the NHL's former Director of Officiating.

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Las Vegas Flash (RHI, 1993-94)

Ken Morrow: For many years, Ken Morrow was known as the only man to ever win an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup in the same year. He patrolled the blue line for the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that won gold medals in Lake Placid, and then for an Islanders team that won its first Stanley Cup that spring and three more before 1983. After retiring from the NHL in 1989, Morrow served as the Las Vegas Flash's head coach during their only season, 1993-94. Today, he's the Islanders' Director of Pro Scouting, where he reports to general manager Garth Snow, one of his former Flash players.

 

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