Now that Las Vegas’ new NHL team has a name and a logo, hockey fans everywhere have begun speculating what their expansion roster will look like.
Historically, initial NHL expansion rosters have not been much to look at. They are usually pieces off the scrap heap that the rest of the league doesn’t want. However, there is usually a player that fans can gravitate to and be the “man” in that city, at least for a short time.
With that in mind, here’s an objective look at the best player from each modern-day expansion-team roster.
Pat Falloon, 1991-92 San Jose Sharks
Pat Falloon is most known as the answer to the trivia question: Who was drafted after Eric Lindros in the 1991 NHL draft? In that context, Falloon didn’t amount to much when you compare him to Hall of Famers Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, and Peter Forsberg who were all taken in the top six in that draft.
However, at the time, Falloon was the symbol of promise for the brand new Sharks. Coming right out of junior to the NHL, Falloon played in 79 games leading San Jose in goals (25) and points (59). At 19, everyone expected him to only get better. That didn’t happen as both those totals ended up being career highs.
Brian Bradley, 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lighting
Tampa Bay owner/GM Phil Esposito had no illusions about the quality of players he would be getting in the expansion draft. When he was asked if there are any superstars on the board he responded, “Are you blind?"
That’s what makes Brian Bradley’s first season as a member of the Lightning so surprising. Prior to being the 36th player drafted in the 1992 expansion draft, the 28-year-old center had been in the NHL for six years, splitting time with the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Toronto Maple Leafs, and never scoring more than 19 goals and 48 points.
In the Lightning’s inaugural season, Bradley took the NHL by storm by scoring 42 goals and 86 points. The following season, he scored 24 goals and 64 points, a step back but still better than anything he had done previous to getting to Tampa Bay.
Sylvain Turgeon, 1992-93 Ottawa Senators
It’s hard to find the best player on a 10 win team, but Turgeon was the closest to it in Ottawa’s return to the NHL. Turgeon had spent nine years in the league as a promising player with the Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils, and Montreal Canadiens.
Turgeon was a known commodity in Ottawa having come over from the Habs, he was third in Calder Trophy voting in his first year in Hartford, and had all-star team votes in 1986 and 1990. In what wound up being the twilight of his career, Turgeon led the Senators with 25 goals and 104 penalty minutes in that first year and played two more seasons before retiring in 1995.
John Vanbiesbrouck, 1993-94 Florida Panthers
Prior to being drafted first overall in the 1993 NHL expansion draft, Vanbiesbrouck had already established himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL. Within his nine full seasons with the New York Rangers, he had a record of 200-177-47, with a Vezina Trophy and a first-team all-star nod in 1986.
When he was exposed to the Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, he was easily the best player available. In the inaugural Panthers season, Vanbiesbrouck posted a 21-25-11 record with .924 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average. That was good enough for him to be named a second-team all-star and was one of the Panthers representatives in the 1994 All-Star Game.
Guy Hebert, 1993-94 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
The Ducks, who were “mighty” at the time, were competitive in their first NHL season due to in large part to goalie Guy Hebert. Hebert, an eighth round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1987, only played in a handful of games in St. Louis behind Curtis Joseph before he was exposed in the expansion draft.
When the Panthers took Vanbiesbrouck, Hebert was snapped up by the Mighty Ducks with the second pick. It was thanks to his play in the inaugural season that the Ducks finished just out of the playoffs, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers. He set career highs in wins with 20 and GAA at 2.83.
Hebert became Anaheim’s first franchise goalie stayed there for eight of his 10 years in the NHL.
Sergei Krivokrasov, 1998-99 Nashville Predators
There were other players on Nashville who had more points that Krivokrasov that season, but this 24-year-old right winger was someone they were hoping to build around. Drafted 12th overall by the Blackhawks in the 1992 NHL draft, Krivokrasov never scored more than 13 goals.
With the Predators thinking maybe a change of scenery could help, they made a deal with the Blackhawks to acquire him for future considerations. In that first year in Nashville, the Predators looked like geniuses. Krivokrasov led the team in goals with 25 in 67 games and was the team’s representative at the 1999 All-Star Game. However, he reverted back to his old ways the following season only scoring nine goals in 63 games before the Predators traded him to the Flames.
Andrew Brunette, 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers
In Atlanta’s second coming in the NHL, everyone was excited about first overall draft pick Patrik Stefan. However, as the 19-year-old was still getting his feet wet in the NHL, it was Andrew Brunette who took the scoring mantle for the Thrashers. Brunette led the team in both goals (23) and points (50).
Brunette’s development into an everyday NHL regular was one of the lone bright spots in Atlanta as they went onto a league worst 14-61-7 record with 39 points. They finished 15 points behind the next worst Lightning.
Manny Fernandez, 2000-01 Minnesota Wild
Just like it was in Atlanta the year before, Minnesota was looking forward to an 18-year-old Marian Gaborik to develop. While he put up 18 goals to tie for team lead, the key cog in Minnesota’s return to the NHL was goaltender Manny Fernandez.
Fernandez made the Wild respectable, making sure they were in most games they played. He posted a 19-17-4 record with a decent 2.24 GAA and .924 save percentage in the 42 games that he played that season. He helped the Wild finish ahead of established teams like Anaheim, Florida, Tampa Bay, and the New York Islanders that season with 68 points.
Geoff Sanderson, 2000-01 Columbus Blue Jackets
Sanderson was already a known goal scorer through his 10 years in the NHL prior to being taken in the 2000 expansion draft by Columbus. He had reached the 40-goal plateau twice 1993 and 1994 in his time in Hartford and helped the Buffalo Sabres reach the Stanley Cup final in 1999.
So when Sanderson came to the Blue Jackets, he was easily their top goal scoring option. With that he scored 30 goals and 56 points in that first year and was veteran voice on the team until he was given a chance to play in the playoffs again by being dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in 2004.