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McPhee: "They Get An A-Plus"

The Golden Knights GM spoke glowingly of his staff after the team's Draft weekend

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights /

There will be bigger weeks in Vegas Golden Knights history. We just don't know when or how.

Maybe if Bill Foley's organization finds itself in position to hold a parade on Las Vegas

Boulevard someday. But until that time, this past week was it. Everything was happening. More importantly for Golden Knights fans - it was a resounding success.

GM George McPhee and his people knocked it out of the proverbial park.

The substance of what they've achieved will be evaluated going forward but it's evident as of now they nailed the process.

McPhee was asked about the work of his pro and amateur personnel staffs and the normally measured GM was quick to respond.

Video: Breaking down the Vegas Golden Knights' selections


"They get an A-plus," said McPhee, moments after he had made is final selection at the entry draft in Chicago. "We could not have worked harder at this and been better prepared, and I think there's been a calmness about in the way we've gone through everything because we were ready for everything. We were ready for what transpired in the expansion draft, and our strategy seemed to work really well. And we were ready for this draft. We predicted what guys would be available, and we drafted a bunch of really good players and this could not have gone better in my mind. I mean, I just mentioned to the guys 'Boy, I guess this week's over, and it's been quite a week.' But, I don't think it could have gone better, and as a manager, you know when you've done a good job and you know when you haven't. And we did a good job here."

Later, Golden Knights top amateur scout Bobby Lowes was told of McPhee's compliment.

"Well, I'd say he gets an A-plus himself. Him and Kelly (assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon) have done a brilliant job," said Lowes. "The work they've put in has been incredible. Their plan was excellent and they gave us the resources and the opportunity to execute."

The expansion draft was a triumph of organization and strategy. McPhee and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon developed a blueprint with an aim toward controlling the process while putting together a competitive team as well as stockpiling draft picks. And it worked.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, sniper James Neal, two-way centre Cody Eakin as well as young defensemen Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt are pieces the Golden Knights can build around. David Perron, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Vadim Shipachyov and Erik Haula bring skill and speed to the forward group. Coach Gerard Gallant can win games with the lineup assembled and there is still free agency to come.

Vegas used the expansion draft to add bullets to its amateur draft arsenal and came in with 13 picks including three in the first round.

GMs often talk about building a team down the middle and Vegas acquired two centers in the first round.

There were no clear-cut No. 1 centers in this draft. Lots of scouts referred to centres such as Cody Glass, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier as 1.5s. On the surface - they appear closer to No. 2s but that's where the art of drafting comes in - it's about projecting where a player may end rather than where he begins.

Glass is long if not yet big. He's got scoring pedigree and he thinks the game well. If his skating catches up to the rest of his game - he could very well mature into a No. 1 center.

The Golden Knights were also able to draft center Nick Suzuki, who some believe to be the smartest forward in the draft. Suzuki understands offence at a superior level and found his sense for the net at the major level this season popping 45 goals in 65 games.

Vegas switched their attention to the blue line with its next two picks taking Erik Brannstrom before the first was out and then grabbing 6-6 Nic Hague early in the second round.


Video: McPhee speaks after the first round at the draft


Brannstrom is an elite skater with vision and offensive skills. He's listed at 5-9 which prevented him from being a top-10 pick. Vegas grabbed him at 15.

"The biggest mistakes which get made at the draft are always over size," said a draft analyst.

"Some teams over-value big players and others under-value smaller players. Today's game is about skating and thinking and Brannstrom is the best D in this draft in those areas.

A rival GM said McPhees plethora of first round picks made Brannstrom a perfect selection for Vegas.

"Our scouts absolutely loved him. It would be hard to take a 5-9 D with your only first round pick. But when you have three - well - Vegas may have gotten the steal of the draft in Brannstrom," he said. "If he turns out to be Ryan Ellis, that's a helluva player at the 15 spot."

Hague is a monster with the wingspan of a condor and high IQ. Named the OHL's scholastic player of the year, Hague is on track to make Canada's world junior team and if his skating catched up to his frame could project to be a top pairing D in the NHL.

McPhee and his staff will take a breath on Sunday and then begin their development camp in Vegas on Monday while prepping for the opening of free agency on July 1.

There is an excess of contracts on the blue line and McPhee will look to peddle for veterans for prospects and picks over the next few weeks and into the summer.

There is meat on the bone in Vegas now - jerseys, players and a schedule. Training camp isn't far off and then the beginning of the inaugural season beckons.

The cleanest sheet of ice in pro hockey has had some traffic. Soon it will have passion and the highs and lows of a season.

Foley's dream has become a reality.

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