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Development Camp Day One Interviews And Observations

The fist day of Development Camp is in the books and there were certainly some standouts. Here are our observations from the afternoon at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

  • Two players really stood out, one in each session. In the first session it was Alex Tuch. He looked like a man among boys on the ice. The other was Keegan Kolesar, the player acquired in the draft day trade with Columbus.
  • Reid Duke seemed to take on somewhat of a leadership role on the ice. It’s possible we made this up, but Jason and I both recognized it separately, so we are going with it.
  • None of the goalies really stood out. One in particular had a rough day, but I’m choosing not to say who it was because it was the first day of camp and that’s just mean.
  • Gallant’s role was somewhat secondary. Dave Prior did most of the coaching with the goalies, and Gallant stayed to the side until it was time to address the team in huddles.
  • The main focus from the management team, and specifically Wil Nichol, Director of Player Development, who said it in a media scrum, was to teach the players the culture of the Golden Knights. That mainly meant, take care of your business on the ice and get out in the community and be great people off the ice.
  • The Creator was present in the rink for the first half of the day before he took off for Montana. He was having a great time watching his players, talking to the media, and even taking some pictures with fans.
  • We spoke to a ton of players after the practice and there was a majorly positive attitude accross the board. All seemed to be pumped to be in Vegas, but even more so understood the expansion team likely offers them the most opporunity, and you could tell many expect to seize it.

Here’s our recap of a few players we were able to interview including Tuch, Kolesar, Duke, Nick Suzuki, and Jack Dugan.

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Deryk Engelland, The Lone UFA Signed During Expansion

Sometimes in sports, things just make too much sense to not happen. That was the case with Las Vegas native and pending UFA Deryk Engelland.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year $1M contract with the Golden Knights during the Expansion Draft making him the selection from the Calgary Flames.

Was it more of a priority to sign Deryk Engelland or was it more based off Calgary’s protected list?

It was a little of both. We had interest in him and he was there and there’s some things we didn’t like about what else is available and we just thought this would be a good fit for us. Leadership, some grit, some size, and he’s from Vegas. –George McPhee

One has to wonder how important physically being at the Expansion Draft was as well.

We aren’t going to sign someone just because they’re from Vegas but we liked him. It didn’t matter where he’s from, it just happens to be really nice that he is from Vegas. -McPhee

Read More Entry Draft Live Blog

The Golden Knights have three picks in the top 15 in their first ever NHL Entry Draft. Ken is in Chicago at the Draft, Jason is at T-Mobile Arena at the Draft Party, and we’d like to officially announce our SinBin.chicago reporter, Brian Idziak, who is with Ken at the Draft. We’ll be covering the event all night tonight for Round 1, and will fire it back up tomorrow for Rounds 2 through 7.

Expansion Flip Trades Are Coming, Believe Me

We’re coming up to 24 hours since the beginning of the Expansion Draft, and at this point, there are still 28 picks still on the roster. They also added seven players at the Expansion Draft via trade. Today, the Golden Knights flipped Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Schlemko for 2nd and a 5th round pick. But that’s it… for now.

So let’s break down the numbers. The key number is the total number of NHL contracts currently under Vegas control. That number 29, including Vadim Shapachov. 14 forwards, 12 defensemen, and three goalies.

Realistically, those numbers need to come down to about 11-12 forwards, seven to eight defensemen, and either two or three goalies. That’s a total of between six and nine players that have to go.

This is even before you consider the possibility of opening up roster spots for Erik Tuch, and maybe Brendan Leipsic, Tomas Nosek, and/or Jake Bischoff.

So let’s just go player by player, and break it down.

Virtual Locks to Stay (in order of probability of sticking with Vegas)

Marc-Andre Fleury (G) – It feels like he’s already the face of the franchise. Weird how quick that happened, but if they wanted to trade him, he would have been gone already. This was a long time coming, he’s not going anywhere.

Deryk Engelland (D) – The defensemen signed a one year deal to play for his adopted hometown team. He’ll likely be towards the bottom in time on ice, but he’ll probably be in a Golden Knights jersey for the rest of his career, definitely come October.

Vadim Shipachyov (F) – Wouldn’t have signed him to move him. He’s probably taking the face off in Dallas on October 6th.

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The Detroit Pick; Why, Who, What’s Next?

It’s the one that jumped off the page the most of the 30 Expansion Draft selections. The Detroit Red Wings surprised the hockey world when they opted to protect Jimmy Howard over Petr Mrazek. They also had players like Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and prospect Xavier Ouellet that appeared to make sense.

But all along, at least since Sunday morning when we saw the lists, the pick that made sense, whether Vegas was to keep the player or not was Mrazek. The 25-year old goalie who is an RFA at the end of this season appeared to be the perfect Expansion Draft pick, or flip. But then, the pick came, and McPhee says…

From the Detroit Red Wings, the Vegas Golden Knights select Tomas Nosek, Forward.

Undrafted, on an entry level contract that falls off at the end of the season, and has only played 17 games in his NHL career. So the question is, throw away pick, or superstar in the making?

Nosek, 24, has only 17 games of NHL experience but impressed the Red Wings during an 11-game stint this season. He had just one point (a goal), but he used his big body (6-3, 210) to drive to the net and go the hard areas of the ice. He also is strong defensively and a good penalty killer. -Ansar Khan,

But before you even start to consider what Nosek may or may not become, we have to figure out what was wrong with Mrazek. He was clearly outplayed all season by Howard, and there was a growing thought that he has an “attitude problem.” Obviously, McPhee did not want him, and the dwindling goalie market (which ended up being completely non-existent) made it so that he couldn’t be used as a trade chip.

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Second Golden Knight Could Be On The Ice At Thursday’s Frozen Four

It’s been about a month now since Vegas signed first ever player Reid Duke. Not much more was expected but I was hoping Vegas would be in the mix for some college free agents. Well, maybe they still are. Thursday the semi-finals of the Frozen Four take place and one name in particular will be closely watched by Vegas scouts. Defenseman Neal Pionk of the University Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is quite highly sought after.

Pionk is a new hybrid style defenseman. At 5’10, 170lbs the Minnesota native was passed over a few times because of his small stature. His talent, however, is tough to overlook. Scouts rave about his experience, skating ability, offensive zone presence and physicality. Pionk scored 33 points in 40 games and is a legitimate two-way defenseman. Of course Pionk can turn the puck over but has smart recovery instincts. He’s developed into a major threat on special teams as well. The former Sioux City Musketeer might be small but his speed and skill make up for it. Plus, the UMD Bulldog shoots right-handed. Yep, a right-handed defenseman, one of Don Cherry’s most coveted prospect.

ESPN’s Craig Custance spoke with GM George McPhee earlier this month about the Golden Knights interest in Pionk. McPhee implied Vegas will be in the market for NHL caliber prospects not AHL depth players. We can assume the 21 year-old defenseman is projected for the T-Mobile Arena or McPhee wouldn’t be interested. Nor would 20 other clubs.

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First Golden Knight Ever! Reid Duke Signs With Vegas

Told you we wouldn’t have to wait until the Expansion Draft to learn the identity of the first player in Golden Knights history. The organization announced via press release they have signed 21-year-old Reid Duke to a three year entry level contract.

Reid Duke with AGM Kelly McCrimmon (Courtesy of Vegas Golden Knights)

Duke is currently playing on the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team still owned and formerly managed and coached by Vegas Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon.

Duke is a goal scorer racking up 35 goals this season in the WHL to lead the Wheaties. He’s also tallied 32 assists to lead the team as well. Last year he scored 33 goals which was good enough for third on the Wheat Kings behind Nolan Patrick (likely the first pick in this year’s draft) and Jace Hawryluk (drafted #32 by Florida in 2014).

He’s a highly skilled kid, and he always has been. He just has to play the game the right way in order to earn some of those opportunities. -Brad Bombardir, Minnesota Wild Director of Player Development

He’s 6’0″ 190 pounds and has been described as sound in all areas.

Duke is quickly developing into an ‘all-round’, responsible player in all three zones. The forward is responsible in the defensive end while still showing some creativity in the opponent’s end. He continues to show flashes of an elite skill set but hasn’t been able to display them consistently. –

Duke spends quite a bit of time in the box. 71 PIM in 54 games this season with the Wheat Kings, with a career high of 91 in 62 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2013-14.

He’ll finish out the season up in Brandon before heading to Vegas to take part in the team’s first Development Camp this Summer.

A joint press phone call with Duke and McPhee is scheduled for this afternoon, we’ll have more after the call. But for now, I’ll leave you with this…

Oh, and this.

Here’s a pretty nice highlight package courtesy of the Brandon Wheat Kings.

A Look At The Best Available College Free Agents

It’s rare that a top prospect goes undrafted in the amateur draft. There are seven rounds, 30 players selected (31 now) which is plenty to restock all of the NHL rosters and their AHL and ECHL affiliates.  However, many college free agent players have become impactful NHL’ers over the past. Adam Oates, Ed Belfour, Dan Boyle, Tyler Bozak, Conor Sheary and Torey Krug were all NCAA free agents. You can call it great or poor scouting but either way there’s value with some NCAA’s nomads.

March 1st is the date teams can dive into the college free agent market and sign any player that has gone undrafted after three years of eligibility. Vegas will be able to join the party whenever that final payment clears, which appears now to be closer to the 6th than the 1st. It shouldn’t make a big difference in the case of college free agents because every one of the Original 30 have passed on these players at least once, probably two or three times.

The other way players can become free agents is if they fail to come to terms with a team that selected them. Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes were both players that were drafted but couldn’t come to terms with their original teams. Both players signed with the Rangers and are a major part of their core. Can GM George McPhee sign a March prospect that others passed on? Here are this year’s top prospects who remain free agents.

Josh Healey

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote about the Ohio State Buckeye a few weeks back that contained one of the coolest scouting reports.

Hits too hard for college hockey. His game will be better suited to pro. -NHL Scout

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Columbus Is In Serious Expansion Trouble With All-Star Cam Atkinson

Last week I was asked if I thought any of the 2017 NHL All-Stars would be left unprotected. At first glance, I thought no way, however, I thought there could be a few All Star snubs available to Vegas. It all worked out as my answer Cam Atkinson, was a late addition to the Metropolitan roster. The first time All-Star took that opportunity and went HAM. He scored twice in the 3-on-3 final and was narrowly edged out by Metro teammate Wayne Simmonds for tournament MVP.

The 27 year-old Blue Jacket is enjoying a career year to go along with the unimaginable Columbus run. Atkinson is finally breaking out in his fourth full season as a BJ. However, he struggled to get ice time early on which resulted in two seasons split in the AHL and NHL. The Connecticut forward was drafted very low, although he played at hockey factories Avon Old Farms and Boston College. In fact, he went on a torrid streak in 2010 leading the NCAA in goals (30) and scoring three hatties in ten games. Six years later he set his NHL career high in goals and points with 27 and 53, and he’s well ahead of that pace this season with 22 and 46, with 33 games to go. Every season, Atkinson has gotten better which is a good attribute to any team willing to invest. Like Vegas.

The Blue Jackets have a bunch of great young players they’ll want to protect. But they also have a lot of older players they’ll be forced to protect. It wouldn’t be surprising if GM Jarmo Kekalainen approached Hartnell, Clarkson or Tyutin with a Vince Vaughn-esque pitch to waive their no-movement clause for an expansion draft. If he can’t entice them into a possible move to Sin City, Columbus risks exposing Johnson and Atkinson – the top point-scorer on last year’s team – or up-and-comers such as Wennberg, Jenner or Murray. — Mike Hume, Washington Post

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Golden Knights Likely To Sign First Player Well Before Expansion Draft

It’s been long considered that the first players to ever become Golden Knights will do so during the Expansion Draft in late June. The team will then participate in the Entry Draft on June 24th and 25th and in free agency on July 1st. However, the organization doesn’t appear is if they want to wait all the way until June to begin crafting their roster.

College free agents, 20 year old Canadian Junior Hockey (CHL) players, and even unsigned players from professional leagues in Russia (KHL), Sweden (SEL), Finland (Liiga), and many other leagues around the world, will be available to the Vegas Golden Knights months before the NHL allows them to raid the Original 30 rosters.

For the Golden Knights we can’t sign free agents yet, we are hopeful that we’ll be able to that March 1st when the final payments are made. We’re hoping that we can begin to sign players at that time. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM

And once that pesky “final payment” is made, McCrimmon doesn’t expect his staff to be hesitant.

It’s going to be a real high priority for our franchise and I think in turn it’s going to provide great opportunity for those players that we are able to sign. We’ve got two people dedicated entirely to scouting free agent players. We are not the only team in that market, but for us with an obvious need for young players and for prospects it’s going to be a real important time for us in terms of that process. -McCrimmon

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