One of many challenges most NHL expansion teams face is one of scoring goals. No established club is going to make a "quality" goal scorer available in the expansion draft, nor is a team going to give away a masterly passer of the puck. However, the Vegas Golden Knights have done well for themselves this season in this area of the game, putting together a fine collection of talent that is lighting the lamp regularly.
On the way to a 12-6-1 record so far, the Golden Knights currently are fifth in the league for goals scored (68). Whether at home in T-Mobile Arena or on the road, like Vegas is tonight in Anaheim to face the Ducks, the Golden Knights have been scoring goals. Only once has the team been held to less than two goals in a game, and Vegas has not been shutout yet. That's pretty impressive for an expansion team.
A quick look back at the last four NHL expansions teams—1999 Nashville, 2000 Atlanta, 2001 Minnesota, 2001 Columbus—and it's easy to see those squads were some of the worst-scoring teams in the league:
• The Predators were shutout twice in the first 19 games on their way to scoring 190 goals for the season, finishing 24th of 27 teams on offense.
• The Thrashers were shutout twice in the first 17 games and finished dead last in scoring with just 170 goals for the full season.
• The Wild got blanked five times in its first 16 games and also finished at the bottom of the league in scoring with a mere 168 goals.
• The Blue Jackets made it to 20 games before getting shutout a second time, and they scored 190 goals before finishing 26th out of 30 teams.
With 68 goals through 19 games, the Golden Knights are on pace for 294 goals this season. So how has Vegas done so well where teams in the past have failed? Credit goes to General Manager George McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant for putting together a smooth-fitting roster of skaters, blending experience, talent and youth together nicely.
The team has eight players already who are posting at least a half point per game, on average, and that's impressive for any team—let alone an expansion team. Among those eight skaters are two defensemen, as well, and the average age for each of the eight is just 26.8 years. Only one player on the top scorers' list—left wing James Neal—is even 30 years old.
This bodes well for the team's future, too, as it continues to build its talent base around an already-strong lineup. LW David Perron is 29 years old, and he leads the team with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 19 games. That assists total is also the best on the Golden Knights right now. Neal leads the team in goals scored with ten, and he has added five assists to go with the goals.
Both center William Karlsson (9G, 7A) and right wing Reilly Smith (6G, 10A) have 16 points apiece, and they're doing it at a good age, too. Karlsson is just 25 while Smith is 26. Considering many hockey players can remain productive scorers into their mid-30s, this means Vegas is set up nicely if they want to re-sign these players down the line.
Neither 27-year-old C Jon Marchessault (5G, 7A) nor 26-year-old LW Erik Haula (6G, 5A) were big names jumping out at anyone in the preseason, but both players have stepped up nicely to contribute consistently to the Golden Knights' offensive charge this season. Very few "experts" probably saw that kind of production coming from relatively hitherto-anonymous skaters on this roster.
The two defensemen—25-year-old Colin Miller (2G, 8A) and 26-year-old Nate Schmidt (1G, 9A)—bring up the bottom of the Top 8 scorers on the team with ten points each, and that's great to see young blue liners scoring consistently for the team. It's a sign of balance and talent, in truth, which is what every NHL team is looking for when it puts together its roster in the offseason.
McPhee and Gallant did excellent work bringing this group of skaters together, and we know they've done an equally superb job with the goaltending corps. How else could this team be 12-6-1 right now, second place in the Pacific Division, after having started four different goalies in the first 19 games out of necessity?
Las Vegas is very lucky (no pun intended) to have such a fantastic expansion team, and the local—and visiting—fans seem to know it as the Golden Knights have the third-best attendance percentage right now (103 percent of capacity) in the NHL. Don't forget to get your tickets to Vegas NHL hockey sooner rather than later, or you might miss out on the most exciting expansion hockey team ever.
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