NHL Writers Pick the Vegas Golden Knights: Eastern Conference

nhl writers pick

The first article of a three-part series, NHL writers at LWOH pick the
Vegas Golden Knights. This series gets the opinion of 30 writers on who will be a Golden Knight after the Expansion Draft. Today, we break down the Eastern Conference and who those teams can lose come the June Expansion Draft.

NHL Writers Pick the Vegas Golden Knights, The East

Boston Bruins

Catherine Dore (@LWOSCatherine)

Kevan Miller – Defense

Despite initial speculation before this season, it is doubtful that Vegas will choose goalie Malcolm Subban. The netminder has yet to show much of any potential at the NHL level, losing confidence easily.

The most likely choice would be defenseman Kevan Miller. He is a strong, physical player who plays the enforcer role when necessary, but has also been known to score goals when he can. Add that to the fact that he is a California native, and it looks like he might be Vegas’s choice.

Buffalo Sabres

John Malloy (@JMall95)

Zemgus Girgensons – Center

Vegas doesn’t have a lot to choose from here. There’s a wildcard in the gifted, but troubled, winger Evander Kane. Though if assumed that the Sabres protect him, or neglected by Vegas regardless, Zemgus Girgensons is the most probable selection. The young, bottom-six center provides shot suppression depth and still has room to grow as a player at the unripe age of 22.

Carolina Hurricanes

Mitchell Jones (@canesfanMI)

Ryan Murphy – Defense

Ryan Murphy is a great candidate for the Vegas expansion team because a fresh start would be good for him. He was a first round pick who has never lived up to the hype. There is no future for him in Carolina and a new team would suit him well.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Nic Hendrickson (@RedArmyNic)

William Karlsson – Center

The player that Las Vegas is likely to select from the Columbus Blue Jackets is going to come down to preference in playing style. The two best options would be William Karlsson and Boone Jenner.

Karlsson is the more likely option of the two to be selected by Las Vegas. He’s a silky skater and can handle the puck with the best of them. Karlsson offers more consistency offensively than Jenner. And that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s better when Jenner is on his game.

Who Las Vegas selects will come mainly down to what style of hockey they’re going to want to play. If they opt to build the offensive side of the puck first, Karlsson would be a great fit, and could likely fill the shoes as a bottom-six player quite well for just about anyone. There’s also a high likelihood that Clarkson waives his NMC, meaning Jenner will be protected. The smart money is that they’ll likely go with Karlsson as their selection.

Detroit Red Wings

Griffin Schroeder (@gSchroedes16)

Jimmy Howard – Goalie

The Detroit Red Wings will lose goaltender Jimmy Howard to Las Vegas. He has come into his own under new goaltending coach Jeff Salajko, posting career numbers that have him in the top six among all netminders in save percentage (.934), and goals-against average (1.96) in 15 starts.

His record is 5-7-1, but he’s been given the lowest amount of goal support in the league at just over 1.5 goals per game. He will be one of the more highly coveted goalies in the draft despite his age (32) and cap hit (two years, $5.3-million AAV). The Golden Knights will take a flyer, allowing Petr Mrazek to officially take the reigns as the number one in Detroit.

Florida Panthers

Aaron Hamilton (@aaham17)

Alex Petrovic – Defense

Expect Vegas to take Alex Petrovic away from the Florida Panthers. The 24-year-old defenseman is continuing to improve the more games he plays. His 6’4″, 215-pound frame will make it difficult for his opponents on the physical end, not to mention he’s a useful option on the penalty kill. If George McPhee wants his team to be seen as tough, Petrovic is his guy.

Montreal Canadiens

Ben Kerr (@LastWordBKerr)

Alexei Emelin – Defense

Montreal’s decision will come down to protecting either Alexei Emelin or Nathan Beaulieu on defense. At this point Beaulieu is younger, cheaper, and signed for more term. Up front, the decision will be between Torrey Mitchell, Charles Hudon, or Tomas Plekanec.

Emelin will be the player the Habs lose in the draft. He’s a physical, defensive defender whose worth isn’t always seen on the stat sheet.  He’s still relatively young, and has proven to be capable of playing top 4 minutes, being on the top pairing with Shea Weber all season.

New Jersey Devils

Robert Hazou (@TheMelkman68)

Jacob Josefson – Center

The New Jersey Devils will leave Jacob Josefson vulnerable in the upcoming expansion draft. Beau Bennett will be a better player down the road for New Jersey, and while both are restricted free agents this summer, Josefson is having a worse season than Bennett  so far. There won’t be many centers available, and Josefson could be a fit for the Golden Knights.

New York Islanders

Gabriel Foley (@GabrielFoley20)

Thomas Hickey – Defense

This could be an interesting pick for the Vegas Golden Knights. GM McPhee worked in the New York Islanders organization during the 2015-2016 season, so he knows their players well.

Thomas Hickey is the most likely to be taken by the Golden Knights and McPhee. Hickey is an improving bottom-four defenseman for the Islanders, but only has nine points in 34 games so far. But he has been one of their best players defensively, and could add a lot of depth to a new team’s defense.

New York Rangers

Alexander Hernandez (@svnchxz)

Antti Raanta – Goalie

The Vegas Golden Knights should select Antti Raanta in the expansion draft from the New York Rangers. His career record is 41-19-7 in 66 games with a save percentage of 0.916. This year he is an impressive 10-4-0 with a .921 save percentage. Also, Raanta’s salary cap hit in 2017-2018 is $1 million and he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. Vegas will have the opportunity to see if they have a true number one in Raanta, and if that fails then they don’t need to re-sign him.

Ottawa Senators

Colton Praill (@ColtonPraill)

Marc Methot – Defense

Ottawa will lose one of Cody Ceci or Marc Methot. Unless Dion Phaneuf agrees to waive his NTC, the Sens will be forced to expose one of the two. With the minutes Ceci has been receiving this season, and the way the organization values him, it’s likely he will be protected.

For that reason, it’s possible that Methot is spending his last season in Ottawa Senators red. He’s a steady, reliable top-four defenseman who can chew up valuable top-pairing minutes on a relatively young team. His contract isn’t cheap, but it’s good value for a strong veteran presence that can contribute on ice.

Philadelphia Flyers

Ariel Melendez

Matt Read – Right Wing

With the youth movement taking over in Philadelphia, the team will be leaving some veteran players exposed. Michael Raffl and Matt Read are the two likely candidates. With Raffl’s ability to drive the play and play up and down the lineup, he will likely be protected over Read.

Read will be the player the Flyers lose come expansion time. While he is on the older side at 30, he has shown flashes of his ability to still put up points. He only has one year left on his contract after this season and would be a good presence on a second or third line.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Hunter Hodies (@HunterHodies)

Bryan Rust – Right Wing

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a very interesting situation because as it stands now, Matt Murray would be exposed to the expansion draft since Marc-Andre Fleury would need to be protected because of his no movement clause. There’s no doubt that the Golden Knights would pick Murray if available. That will likely not happen because Fleury will be most likely traded Bryan Rust could end up in Nevada.

Rust brings a lot of speed to Las Vegas as he’s one of the fastest players in the NHL and he’s also very cheap and cost-controlled. He’s also a good depth forward and can bring around 10-15 goals a season for Las Vegas. That’ll go a long way in making sure Las Vegas is a deep team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Trevor Toczydlowski (@BigT724)

Alex Killorn – Left Wing

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it comes down to protecting either Ondrej Palat or Alex KillornSteve Yzerman and Jon Cooper would value Palat more. Killorn is two years older and is currently signed to a 7-year, $31.1-million contract, which has a full no-movement clause starting next season. Those reasons will lead the Lightning to not protect him, and make him Vegas’ selection in the Expansion Draft.

Killorn is a valuable young forward, who has 20-goal ability, which will be crucial on a Vegas team that could struggle to score.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Charlie O’Connor (@charliejclarke)

Martin Marincin – Defense

The Leafs won’t have much to offer Vegas, with most of their truly valuable assets ineligible for the draft. Martin Marincin is the likely candidate for selection; he’s 24, and on a cheap deal expiring in 2018. Marincin hasn’t exactly won over Leafs fans with his play, but he puts up decent possession numbers. He can also play the penalty kill in a shutdown role. Marincin is a solid, low-risk choice for Vegas. Toronto is fortunate; they aren’t a team who will be losing an important piece.

Washington Capitals

Nicholas Di Giovanni (@LWOSNick)

Matt Niskanen – Defense

The Washington Capitals will have to part ways with one of two very good defensemen in the Expansion Draft. The Golden Knights will have the luxurious choice between Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, two players who could potentially play on their top pairing.

It would make sense for the Golden Knights to take Niskanen over Alzner, despite the former being two years older. At 30 years old, Niskanen still has the ability to move the puck and generate offence. His two goals and 13 assists this season ranks him second on the team for points by a defenseman.

Alzner, with his big size at 6’3″, 219 lbs, is also a good choice if Vegas needs a shutdown defenceman. He has 53 hits and 77 blocked shots, but his 46.2 Fenwick-for percentage is worrisome.

The deciding factor between the two players could be their contracts. Niskanen is signed through the 2020-2021 season with a cap hit of $5.75 million, while Alzner’s $2.8-million-cap-hit contract expires after this season. The Knights could sign Alzner in their exclusive free agent window prior to the draft, but this would be very expensive. The Golden Knights could be getting a strong puck-moving defenseman for a few years in Niskanen.

Look for part two of this series tomorrow on the Western Conference teams.

Main Photo.