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Draft Preview: Vegas Golden Knights – Hard act to follow

Two years into their existence, the Vegas Golden Knights rank among NHL’s elite.

Vegas is the model for expansion franchises, especially since it followed up a storybook debut with another impressive campaign that had them among the NHL’s most consistent teams. It’s almost unfathomable that after two seasons the “Golden Misfits” have scored more goals than all but seven teams, allowed fewer goals than all but four and collected more points than all but six.

IMMEDIATE NEEDS: When the Golden Knights are pulling in the same direction – which is virtually all the time – there’s little they need. But what Vegas does lack compared to the other top five or six teams is an absolute game-breaker. Mark Stone hasn’t hit that level yet. When balance and intensity aren’t enough, the presence of a difference-maker often is.

LONG-TERM NEEDS: Marc-Andre Fleury’s new contract hasn’t even kicked in yet, so why is goaltending a long-term need? Because there’s a dearth of crease prospects in the system, and eventually Fleury, who turns 35 early next season, will see his game turn south or not be able to stay healthy for long stretches. He’s set to be paid $7 million in each of the next three seasons.

CAP SITUATION: Five regulars are set for a salary hike in 2019-20 due to deals they signed during this season. So Vegas has already spent too much and will have to move someone in order to keep RFA William Karlsson and his projected $1- or $2-million raise from $5.25 million. Look for the Knights to trade an asset in order to rid themselves of David Clarkson’s final albatross year at $5.25 million to get under the cap to start the season.

IN THE SYSTEM 2019-20: Cody Glass was ranked the No. 3 prospect in Future Watch and has game-breaking potential. He’s more of a playmaker than a scorer and would be a good fit for finishers like Stone and Max Pacioretty.

DID YOU KNOW: Reid Duke was the first player signed by Vegas, out of WHL Brandon back in March 2017. His first pro season was limited to 14 games due to injury, and he was held to 44 games with AHL Chicago this season, scoring just seven goals and 16 points.

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