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What Is The Importance Of Being A Team's 1st Player?

We look back at other expansion teams' first player acquisitions

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights /

Being the first player in the history of an NHL franchise seems like it's a pretty big deal.

Adding in that Reid Duke, the first player in Golden Knights history, is also the first athlete to be a member of a major league professional sports franchise in Las Vegas, Monday's signing seems to take on even higher meaning.

But what larger-picture ramifications are involved with being the first player in the history of a franchise?

If past NHL teams are any indication, the significance of being a franchise's first player is a bit of a mixed bag.

For every John Vanbiesbrouck (Florida Panthers), there's a Marian Cisar (Nashville Predators). For every Guy Hebert (Anaheim Mighty Ducks), there's a Shane Churla (Shane Churla), who was traded from his original team within hours.

Below we examine the history of first players in the history of recent NHL expansion teams, and what impact they ended up having on their franchises.

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Columbus Blue Jackets: Greg Gardner (Goalie): A standout at Niagara University, Gardner's game never quite translated to the pros, where his career maxed out with a couple of stints with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. Although he never played in the NHL, he was the first player in Columbus Blue Jackets history.


Tweet from @GoldenKnights: The Golden Knights have made the first player transaction in team history & signed forward Reid Duke. More:


Minnesota Wild: Steve Aronson: Weeks before the Expansion Draft, the Wild signed their first player in team history by nabbing Steve Aronson from nearby St. Thomas college. Aronson, however, never played an NHL game, rising to the AHL for a brief stint with the Houston Aeros in 2001-02. Aronson now coaches at his alma mater, St. Thomas.

Atlanta Thrashers: Damian Rhodes (Goalie): Originally a Toronto Maple Leaf, Rhodes moved on to the expansion Ottawa Senators in the mid-1990s, where he enjoyed his career's two crowning moments: becoming one of the few goalies in league history to ever be credited with scoring a goal, and leading Ottawa to its first-ever playoff series win over the New Jersey Devils in 1998. Rhodes never enjoyed the same success in Atlanta, winning only 14 games in three years after being acquired by the team in exchange for future considerations a few days before the Expansion Draft.

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Nashville Predators: Marian Cisar (Forward): In the late-90s, Slovakian forward Marian Cisar was considered a decent prospect of the Los Angeles Kings, who selected him in the second round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Days before the Expansion Draft, the Kings, who had lost faith in the selection, dealt Cisar to the Predators for future considerations. Cisar rewarded the Predators by reaching the NHL, but only tallied 13 goals in 73 career games.


Video: Watch highlights of the Golden Knights' Reid Duke


Florida Panthers: John Vanbiesbrouck (Goalie): In 1992-93, the New York Rangers had two elite goalies: Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck. Certain they would lose one to either the Florida Panthers or Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the Expansion Draft, the Rangers chose to keep Richter and traded Vanbiesbrouck to the Vancouver Canucks that spring, to get some value for their asset rather than losing him for nothing. The Florida Panthers then selected Vanbiesbrouck from Vancouver (a team he never played for) as the first player in team history.

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Anaheim Mighty Ducks: Guy Hebert (Goalie): Taken from the St. Louis Blues, rarely used goalie Guy Hebert was selected as the first player in Anaheim Mighty Ducks history in June 1993. Hebert became a popular member of his new squad, and now retired, is a television analyst for the club.

Ottawa Senators: Peter Sidorkiewicz (Goalie): After being selected as the first player in Ottawa Senators history, Sidorkiewicz went a woeful 8-46-3 in the team's first season. The good news was that he was still chosen to represent the team in the All-Star Game that winter, and was traded to the New Jersey Devils the following summer.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Wendell Young (Goalie): A journeyman goalie with a variety of teams in the late 1980s, Wendell Young was given a chance to be a starter for the inaugural Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992-93. Young, though, would only last 31 games in the Tampa Bay net, eventually moving on to establish a legacy for himself as the general manager of the AHL's Chicago Wolves.

San Jose Sharks: Shane Churla (Forward): When the Sharks entered the NHL in 1991, they participated in both the Expansion Draft and a dispersal draft. The latter allowed them to select a variety of players from the Minnesota North Stars, based on a complicated history between the team's ownership groups.

Long story short, there used to be a team called the California Golden Seals that played in the NHL that moved to become the Cleveland Barons in the late 1970s. The Barons then merged with the North Stars a few years later.

If this doesn't seem confusing enough already, when the Sharks came into the NHL as the next Bay Area franchise, the league arranged what was akin to a the unmerging of the franchises, allowing the Sharks to take several players from Minnesota.

The first player the Sharks took from Minnesota was enforcer Shane Churla.

For as complicated as the transaction was, Churla's stay as the first player in San Jose history lasted fewer than 24 hours, before being dealt back to Minnesota for Kelly Kisio.

Kisio was a popular Shark in the team's early years, and is now a scout for the Golden Knights.

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