Beyond the Bison: Welcome to the League, Las Vegas

Bri Pomonis, Sports Co-Editor

Joining the NHL in its landmark 100th season, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will be the first major professional sports team to represent Las Vegas. Beginning in the 2017-2018 season, the team will join the Pacific Division of the Western Conference in the first league expansion since 1997.

Speculation of a Las Vegas expansion began in 2014 but remained unconfirmed until NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman officially welcomed the Golden Knights in June 2016. Rules for the 2017 expansion draft, as decided by the Board of Governors, were announced the same day.

Of the 30 presently active clubs, each is guaranteed to lose at least one player to Vegas. The Golden Knights will participate in the 2017 draft lottery with the same position as third lowest-scoring team in the season, giving them an 11.5 percent chance at the first pick of the year. The team’s expansion draft selections will be announced on June 21, 2017.

All teams will be allowed options for protecting certain players. They can choose a 7-3-1 plan that either protects seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. There are also restrictions in place that will allow the Golden Knights to draft some experienced players for their rosters.

Reid Duke became the first official member of the Golden Knights after signing on March 6, 2017. The 21-year-old Canadian center was originally drafted in 2014 by the Minnesota Wild. After not receiving an entry-level contract or being selected in the 2016 draft, Reid became available as a free agent. He has since played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he has totaled 35 goals and 67 points in 54 games this season. He has a deeply-rooted relationship with Las Vegas Assistant General Manager Kelly McCrimmon, who has served as the Wheat Kings’ coach, general manager, and owner in past years.

Speculation surrounding which current NHL members will trade in their jerseys to dawn Vegas’ gold and black uniforms has circulated as organizations prepare to take their respective losses. Recently, the Chicago Blackhawks agreed to one-year contracts with defenseman Michal Rozsíval and forward Jordin Tootoo. This move makes the two ineligible for the expansion draft, allowing the Blackhawks to keep higher-value players in Chicago.

Other clubs are expected to make similar moves as their seasons come to a close. Players rumored to be unprotected from Metropolitan Conference teams include Brandon Pirri and Nick Holden of the New York Rangers, Dale Weise of the Philadelphia Flyers, Carl Hagelin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals.

The draft is bound to result in a dynamic, talented team comprised of seasoned veterans and promising rookies alike, creating a team that will be “competitive more quickly than prior expansions,” Bettman said.

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