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NHL Draft

Golden Knights have to nail NHL Draft

Vegas has 13 picks, including six in first two rounds, can't afford to waste them

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @Cotsonika / Columnist

CHICAGO -- The Vegas Golden Knights took advantage of the NHL Expansion Draft to put themselves in a great position for the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas.

Now they must take advantage of that to put themselves in a great position to contend for the Stanley Cup someday.

They have three top-15 picks in the first round at United Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN): their own No. 6 pick, plus the Winnipeg Jets' No. 13 pick and the New York Islanders' No. 15 pick acquired in trades.

They have 10 more picks in Rounds 2-7 on Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN), including three in the second round.

After working so hard over the past year to prepare for the expansion draft and accumulate all these assets, general manager George McPhee and his staff can't afford to waste them. They have got to find impactful players.

It won't be easy.

"It's not a clearly defined draft," McPhee said Thursday. "It's harder categorizing players and ranking the players. Sometimes things just really fall into place. This is one that is just hard. I don't know how else to describe it."

Video: Will it be Nolan or Nico taken first overall?

The Golden Knights made two trades Thursday. They got a 2017 second-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2018 seventh-round pick and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who had been selected from the Chicago Blackhawks in the expansion draft. They received a 2019 fifth-round pick from the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman David Schlemko, who had been selected from the San Jose Sharks.

In each case, McPhee actually completed a three-way trade lined up during the expansion draft, and he said it represented the best return he could get for that selection.

He continued to talk to GMs about defensemen Thursday. The Golden Knights still have 12.

"We have to move a few contracts," McPhee said.

Which could lead to more picks.

Veterans are most likely to go. McPhee said assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon had spoken to Marc Methot about his future, a hint that he could be traded, but shot down the idea of parting with Nate Schmidt. Methot is 32, Schmidt 25.

"Yeah, we're not trading any young players," McPhee said.

McPhee said he would speak with the GMs ahead of him in the draft order Thursday or Friday. He did not rule out moving up but said the Golden Knights were focused on drafting three players in the first round. They already moved up once when they acquired the No. 13 pick, sending the Jets the No. 24 pick they had acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a trade.

"I think we're in the right place in this draft," McPhee said. "To have three picks in the top 15, which is why we moved up with Winnipeg's pick, we've got a chance to get three real good players here."

McPhee said he spent about the same amount of time on amateur scouting that he usually did as GM of the Washington Capitals from 1997-2014. Though he had to prepare for the expansion draft, he didn't have a team to manage and could watch players.

That said, he will rely on his staff as usual, starting with assistant director of player personnel Bob Lowes and director of amateur scouting Scott Luce.

The expansion draft took some attention away from the draft this week. It also added two first-round picks. McPhee said he and his staff still were finalizing their list and identifying who they wanted to draft.

"When you have three picks, it's a lot to manage, and you really have to focus," he said. "When you've got one pick in the first round, you've got one guy, and how do we get him? When you've got three, it's harder. But …"

He laughed.

"It's a good problem to have," he said.

The first player Vegas drafts will be known forever as the first player Vegas drafted. McPhee said he and his staff had thought about that for a bit. What will it mean to that player? Will it add anything to the challenges ahead of him?

"Don't know," McPhee said. "I guess it'll depend on the player."

But from the first pick onward, the focus will be on selecting the best player available. If the Golden Knights take a forward, they won't feel compelled to take a defenseman next. If they take a speedy player, they won't weigh speed any less afterward.

"That's not the way to approach it," McPhee said. "The way to approach it is, get the best player here, and whoever the next best player is, take that player, and whoever the next best player is, take that player."

As of now, the Golden Knights will do that 13 times over two days. How well they do it will have a lot to do with how well they do on the ice in the future.

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