The Vegas Golden Knights are scheduled to hold their third mock expansion draft around Jan. 23. It will be another round of what, as expected, has been a comprehensive and valuable exercise each time out.
They held one in October and then again in December. Now comes Round 3.
As the Vegas brass continues to collect more intel on how it believes the 30 NHL teams are likely to proceed with player exposure -- as well as also with their own NHL player evaluation -- now more than three months into the season, each mock draft has a different look, to be sure.
One internal question remains unanswered: What will the philosophical approach be? Will it be to draft a team that’s as competitive as possible out of the gates in order to win over a nontraditional market right away? Or will they think long-term from Day 1 and draft as young a team as possible in June? Or will it be it a mix of both?
GM George McPhee and his staff continue to debate those strategies. But I would hedge on the long-term youth aspect eventually winning out -- if not outright, then certainly to some important degree. There's no question they want to do as well as they can in terms of getting good prospects/assets, regardless of their final approach.
The collection of prospects certainly might come in the form of contending teams offering that up as a compromise in exchange for not taking a certain player in the June expansion draft. I think the idea for Vegas is to sit back and wait to hear from those teams in terms of the direction they want to take. Those conversations have not happened yet -- it's way too early -- but they will after the season.
In the meantime, the work continues, including the courting of potential U.S. college free agents. Vegas can’t make any contract offers yet but the Golden Knights can certainly talk to those players and they absolutely have, according to sources.
They’ve got a carrot that few other NHL teams have: fit and opportunity immediately next season. I mean, what other team can guarantee a job more than an expansion team? So I think you’ll see the Golden Knights be a player in the college free-agent market.
The Golden Knights have also been keeping an eye on the KHL for potential free agents bolting Russia. Again, opportunity beckons in Vegas.
But I also think you won’t see them get carried away with signing too many players. I believe McPhee is wary of staying well below the 50-player NHL contract limit as a means to take advantage of others teams needing to park bad contracts in Vegas and maximize that cap/contract space and turn that into draft picks/assets.
So I think, whether it’s a college free agent or a KHL free agent, the Golden Knights still want to be judicious in terms of numbers.
As for the coaching search, I think the spring remains a target for McPhee to get serious on that front. There has only been one coach fired so far this season -- Gerard Gallant, who I think is on Vegas' radar -- so the Golden Knights want to see who else might pop up on the market before June.