2017-18 team-by-team NHL season outlook: Previewing the Vegas Golden Knights
Unlike expansion teams before them, the Knights have enough talent to entertain right away
Phil Kessel, , is making sure the NHL knows full well who won the Stanley Cup (again) in 2016-17. But another hockey season -- and another shot for the rest of the league to dethrone Pittsburgh -- is right around the corner.
In the second of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
Vegas Golden Knights
How do you review a team that wasn't in existence at this time in 2016? You don't. And that's the beauty of the NHL's newest expansion franchise, not to mention the first major professional sports venture in Las Vegas.
Everything is brand new, from the coaching staff to the depths of the roster, and thanks to an expansion setup that handed ex-Washington Capitals and current Golden Knights general manager George McPhee ultimate leverage, Vegas enters its inaugural campaign with more proven talent than upstart teams of the past. The Pacific Division touts some hot contenders, including 2016-17 title candidates in the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks, so the road to success won't necessarily be easy for Vegas.
The road to prominence, however? That's a different story. Golden Knights owner Bill Foley says the team, and even a hint of competitiveness in 2017-18 should build momentum.
Key additions: G Marc-Andre Fleury (Penguins), F James Neal (Predators), F David Perron (Blues), F Jonathan Marchessault (Panthers), D Nate Schmidt (Capitals), F Cody Eakin (Stars), F Oscar Lindberg (Rangers)
Vegas' losses don't even fully count as losses considering the team opened up shop in March without a single player to its name. In fact, unloading veteran blue-liners in Methot and Emelin helped the Golden Knights gain ammunition for the long term. And "long term" is pretty much the most important theme when analyzing the roster McPhee has assembled for former Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. Regardless of how much the bigger names contribute early on, the big-picture focus for an expansion team is always going to be on down the road, and with a plethora of draft capital, most of which was reeled in during pre-expansion draft bargaining, Vegas is about as well stocked as they come.
That being said, their activity this summer wasn't without some splash. Fleury is older, but what he lacks in long-term promise he more than makes up for in leadership. The Golden Knights couldn't have offered a better opportunity for the Stanley Cup champ to resume No. 1 goalie duties, and Fleury's presence helps give Vegas what figures to be a respectable defense -- one bolstered by an excess of depth even after the quick departures of Methot and Emelin. Neal and Perron, meanwhile, give the other side of the ice enough veteran pizzazz to be watchable, and Marchessault could prove to be the steal of the summer after his 30-goal 2016-17.
Outside of bringing to life the pure spectacle of pro hockey in Vegas, the Golden Knights can't be counted on for a whole lot in 2017-18. There is simply too much talent in the Pacific Division, not to mention every other division that boasts players who have, you know, had more than a few months to gel, to think otherwise. Vegas isn't exactly built to go head-to-head with some of the league's top -- or even decent -- scoring attacks, either. Gallant will be best suited banking on low-scoring defensive affairs for early success, and that means enduring quite a few growing pains on nights Fleury is out of the net or when Vegas is unable to also showcase the type of offensive prowess he witnessed from his ex-teammates in Pittsburgh.
The Golden Knights can, however, be considered a potential surprise team -- as in one that could very well find itself above the Colorado Avalanche and another couple of franchises by season's end. They might not scare any serious contenders any time soon, but they have a lot more solid, if unspectacular, pieces than you would think. They certainly have a better stocked core than any other expansion team in recent memory. Vegas' real impact should come in a few years' time, when McPhee and Co. will have exhausted at least some of the many draft picks they raked in this summer, but early on, this unit could have the defensive depth and front-end grittiness to play spoiler.
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