Take it from those who have been there -- expansion isn't the easiest road to travel

Tom Fitzgerald, an original Panther, was at a wedding rehearsal party in his soon-to-be-wife's backyard when he learned he had been taken in Florida's 1993 expansion draft. He and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup finals three years later. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If there is anyone who understands expansion, it's Nashville Predators GM David Poile.

You might well say that expansion is in his blood, part of his hockey DNA.

His father, Hall of Fame executive Bud Poile, helped build the expansion Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks. As a young man out of college, David Poile landed a job with the fledgling Atlanta Flames and was on hand for the team's expansion draft in Montreal in 1972.

He never forgot highly regarded hockey executive Wren Blair stopping by their table and clapping Flames GM Cliff Fletcher on the shoulder and praising him for their work at the expansion draft.

Fletcher asked Blair if he really thought it had gone well.

"And he says, 'Yeah, and as soon as you get rid of every one of those blanking guys, then you'll have a chance. Then you can start building your team," Poile recalled with a hearty laugh.

It's been more than a decade and a half since the NHL last opened its doors to a fledgling franchise. On Wednesday afternoon, the league is expected to formally welcome Las Vegas to the club as the 31st franchise, setting in motion the machinery that will ultimately lead to that first-ever Las Vegas roster, which is expected to begin play in 2017-18.

Talk to Poile or any of the players who have been selected in previous expansion drafts and they'll tell you that there is nothing quite like the process of being part of something that was, not so long ago, nothing.

"I don't know if it's ego or not, but when you can have your handprints on everything that's happening in the franchise ... I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity," Poile said.

It will be no different for the men and women who breathe life into the Vegas franchise.

No history, no baggage. An expansion team is the ultimate in fresh ice.

Heck, when Poile was first introduced to Craig Leipold, the original owner of the Predators, via another top NHL executive, Leipold wasn't exactly sure who Poile was or whether he was applying for a marketing job.

Once that got cleared up, and Poile was named the team's first general manager, he called other GMs who had been involved with earlier NHL expansions. The advice he received all touched on one consistent theme: hire a veteran staff because your team isn't going to be very good and you're going to go through a lot of players.

"It was unbelievable how close [the advice] was," Poile recalled. "And I did the exact opposite."

He hired Barry Trotz, who'd been to a couple of Washington Capitals training camps as a player but who'd been eased into the scouting and coaching ranks, as his first head coach.

"Because somebody had given me a chance way back, and I knew this was going to take some time, I wanted to give a lot of new people opportunities in a higher position than they'd ever had before," Poile said. "And that's exactly what I did."

During the summer of 1997 and throughout the 1997-98 season, Poile and his staff, including Trotz and assistant coach Paul Gardner, crisscrossed the hockey world, looking at how teams played but mostly searching for players who might be made available to them at the expansion draft.

In Poile's office at Bridgestone Arena, there's a framed piece of paper bearing the handwritten names of a host of players up for consideration at the '98 expansion draft in Buffalo.

"That's Paul Gardner's handwriting; it was done in the Buffalo hotel," Poile said.

The expansion draft was grand stew of deals and side deals for Poile and his staff. Teams would add incentive in the form of picks or other prospects to take a certain player and leave another.

Goalie Mikhail Schtalenkov, whose name gave Poile fits as he tried to practice saying it out loud before he did so in public, was selected and traded to the Edmonton Oilers before he ever played a game.

The Predators picked up forward Sergei Krivokrasov from the Chicago Blackhawks but also got Greg Johnson for making that specific pick.

One of the true gems of the expansion process was defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was traded by the Los Angeles Kings to Nashville, along with Jan Vopat, after the Preds agreed not to select Garry Galley in the expansion draft.

The Preds had to choose between Peter Zezel or Scott Walker from the Vancouver Canucks. Walker didn't play much at that point in his career and so had ended up chatting with Trotz, Poile or other Preds scouts in the press box during the season. "So we actually got to know him a bit," Poile recalled.

Walker would go on to be one of the most popular early Predators, thanks to his hard-nosed play.

"We weren't provided with many opportunities to get skilled [players], so we wanted to get the blue-collar, hard-working guys," Poile explained. "Veteran guys who we hoped would give us some credibility and who we could get something for to move along."

The team's first captain was Tom Fitzgerald, who signed as a free agent with the Predators in the summer of 1998 and who brought with him a unique perspective on the expansion experience.

Fitzgerald was a former first-round draft pick who'd made a mark with an emerging New York Islanders club. In the summer of 1993 Fitzgerald had been told by GM Don Maloney he needn't worry about being exposed in the expansion draft that would provide players for the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks.

But while he was at a wedding rehearsal party in his soon-to-be-wife's backyard, Fitzgerald started hearing rumblings and ultimately got a call from Florida GM Bob Clarke telling him he was now a member of the Florida Panthers.

"I thought, 'I just went through three years of this with the Islanders to get to this point of being on a good team. Now I've got to start over,'" Fitzgerald recalled.

But the real estate agent called and asked whether he was thinking golf course, oceanfront or intracoastal living, and with the Panthers competitive right from the get-go, Fitzgerald, now the assistant GM of the New Jersey Devils, embraced his role as an original Panther.

Fitzgerald recalled the first team meeting, where Clarke told the players assembled that if they thought they were going to be doormats like other expansion teams they could "get the [bleep] out of here."

In year three, the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Those first few years were, in many ways, a high-water mark for the Florida franchise -- and they left an indelible impression on Fitzgerald, not just as a player but now as a team-builder who hoped to someday to have his own team to build.

"When you talk expansion, you talk about opportunity for players," Fitzgerald said. "You talk about a new chapter in their careers."

Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear, in helping establish ground rules for a possible expansion draft next June, that he wants new teams to have a better opportunity than previous teams did.

Regardless, it will be an uphill battle -- not to mention the challenge of connecting with a market that has never known professional hockey. Such is the way of all expansion teams.

"I think one of the biggest things is to get the players involved with the community and get the community involved with the players," said goalie Mike Dunham, one of the first players to wear a Preds jersey. "It's very important to mesh the two together, especially from the beginning."

After all, you only get one chance to step on that unblemished piece of ice that is an expansion team.