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Golden Knights in 'pretty good place' after busy year ends at NHL Draft

Vegas GM George McPhee happy with plan, results following hectic 12 months launching new NHL franchise

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

CHICAGO -- It was over. Not just the busy week, but the busy year launching the Vegas Golden Knights -- hiring the staff, scouting professionals and amateurs, preparing for the NHL Expansion Draft and the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas, and finally executing the plan.

George McPhee said as a general manager, you know when you've done a good job and when you haven't. When he stood up from the Vegas table on the floor of United Center on Saturday, he told his staff members they had done an excellent job.

"I think they deserve an A-plus," McPhee said. "We could not have worked harder at this and been better prepared. I think there's been a calmness about the way we have 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. This could not have gone better in my mind."

 

[RELATED: Glass first pick made by Golden Knights | Glass, Suzuki, Brannstrom part of Golden Knights' future]

 

The Golden Knights still have work to do. McPhee said they would fly back to Las Vegas on Saturday night and return to the office Sunday morning. They have surplus defensemen left over from the expansion draft that they need to trade. Will Marc Methot stay or go? Alexei Emelin? Others? Free agency begins July 1.

But McPhee made it sound like he didn't need to make major moves at this point. His roster is off to a good start with players like center Vadim Shipachyov, signed as a free agent, as well as forwards James Neal and Erik Haula; defensemen Deryk Engelland, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore; and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, all acquired in the expansion draft.

"We like our team right now," McPhee said. "We've got that speed down the middle and we've got scoring on the wings, and we have veterans and young guys on the blue line and real good goaltending. So we're in a pretty good place."

Video: George McPhee reviews the Golden Knights' roster

For all the excitement surrounding the expansion draft and the importance of being competitive in the inaugural 2017-18 season, the NHL Draft will be critical to the Golden Knights' chances of competing for the Stanley Cup someday.

Thanks to their maneuvering in the expansion draft, they had 13 picks in the draft, including three in the top 15 and three in the second round. They turned them into five centers, four wings, two defensemen and two goaltenders with a mix of skill and size.

The Golden Knights had center Cody Glass rated in their top five and got him at No. 6. They had center Nick Suzuki rated in their top 10 and got him at No. 13. They took defenseman Erik Brannstrom at No. 15, and though he is listed at 5-feet-9, 179 pounds, they think he could be another Ryan Ellis, a 5-10, 180-pound impact player the Nashville Predators took at No. 11 in the 2009 draft.

"I've always felt if you're good enough, you're big enough," McPhee said. "Brannstrom's a smaller guy, but he might be the best defenseman in the draft."

Video: Glass reacts to being chosen 6th overall

They had defenseman Nicolas Hague rated as a first-rounder; he fell to them in the second round at No. 34. They didn't plan to go big after going small, but that's how it worked out. He is 6-5, 207, makes good reads and has a good stick, and patterns himself after 6-6 defensemen Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues.

"That's where I wanted to go for myself," Hague said of the first round. "That didn't happen, but I'm fortunate now. I think I ended up in a real good spot, a team with lots of opportunity. I'm going to make the most of it. I'll take those emotions that I had last night and just use it as motivation."

Video: Hague was drafted in the second round, 34th overall

McPhee traded the No. 45 pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Keegan Kolesar. Columbus selected Kolesar in the third round (No. 69) in 2015 and flipped him for a second-rounder. Vegas added a 6-2, 227-pound player with muscle and scoring ability. He averaged more than a point per game during the past two seasons with Seattle of the Western Hockey League. Also, he's 20, giving the Golden Knights an older prospect who can play for Chicago of the American Hockey League.

"We don't have enough kids in that age group, understandably, because the expansion process gives us one level of player and the draft gives us another," McPhee said. "It helps us fill in the middle."

With the No. 62 pick, the Golden Knights took center Jake Leschyshyn, whose father, Curtis, played 1,033 NHL games as a defenseman. He was a member of the Colorado Avalanche when that franchise moved to a new market in 1995-96, the Carolina Hurricanes when that franchise moved to a new market in 1997-98 and the Minnesota Wild when that franchise joined the NHL as an expansion team in 2000-01; he was claimed in that expansion draft.

"I talked to him a bit about that," Jake Leschyshyn said. "I guess when Vegas came into the League, I knew that he went to Minnesota. He was really happy with the way things went. He talked about the support they had there. The fans were pretty crazy, and I'm pretty sure it'll be the same with Vegas."

Video: Jake Leschyshyn talks about being drafted by Vegas

Crazy as they might be, though, the fans need to be patient with all of the prospects.

"We're going to be really smart about how we do it," McPhee said. "We're not going to fast-track anyone. It never hurts a kid to play an extra year in junior, two years in junior. It's better to overcook them than throw them in there raw. It's like having a kid in eighth grade suddenly go to 11th or 12th grade. It's too much, not only on the ice but socially for some of these kids. So we'll be open-minded about if someone's ready to play, but there's a good chance all these kids are going back to amateur."

That's how a pro franchise operates.

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