NHL expansion mock draft: James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas Golden Knights

In less than a week's time, the Vegas Golden Knights will have a complete team.

The NHL's latest expansion franchise will have from June 18-20 to select unprotected players from the league's other 30 teams. And while selection rules prevent Vegas from claiming the rights of any young superstars like Connor McDavid or Jake Guentzel, the crop of potential veteran acquisitions isn't lacking in name recognition.

An expansion mock draft by the Washington Post in advance of the June 21 NHL awards show, when Vegas' picks will be announced, proves just that.

Working from projected lists of protected players from beat writers across the league, it offers a forecast of an inaugural Golden Knights roster -- one headlined by a pair of Stanley Cup Final competitors in James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury is perhaps the biggest name up for grabs after he was touted as a potential trade-deadline target in March. And his reported decision to waive a no-movement clause in his contract, by request of the repeat champion Pittsburgh Penguins, all but confirms his time as a Pens goalie, starter or not, has come to a close.

The Post sees the veteran Fleury as a near-lock to land in Vegas through the expansion draft.

With Fleury reportedly agreeing to waive his no-move clause so Pittsburgh can protect 23-year-old (Matt) Murray, Fleury is the obvious choice to be the Golden Knights' top goaltender for at least the next two seasons. Now a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Fleury can help mentor the team's other young netminder while he returns to being the undisputed No. 1 option, which was no longer the case in Pittsburgh.  

Enough said. Fleury makes too much sense for Vegas general manager George McPhee, not only as a surefire No. 1 goalie but as a big-name draw to an upstart hockey market. The fresh scenery would seem to do Fleury well, too, after he took a back seat to Murray in the Final but still offered some top-notch postseason starts.

As for Neal, the Post projects the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators will simply have too many top defensemen to protect, leaving the former Penguins sniper open to Vegas' grasp.

The Predators' strength is their blue line, so protecting eight skaters makes sense for Nashville because it can save more blue-liners. But that leaves more forwards exposed, and the most difficult choice was between center Jarnkrok and Neal, who scored 23 goals this season. Jarnkrok is younger, and his team-friendly $2 million cap hit through 2022 is too good to leave exposed.   

Jason Zucker, Vladislav Namestnikov, Sami Vatanen and Nate Schmidt are among others projected to be on the move to the Golden Knights in the mock.

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