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10 of best players available for Golden Knights

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With the NHL draft approaching, a few names have stood out as front runners for the No. 1 overall spot.
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With the protected lists now available, the Vegas Golden Knights have until 10 a.m. ET Wednesday to determine which player they will draft from the 30 other NHL teams.

Here are 10 players who are too good to be on the available list for the expansion draft:

1. Defenseman Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks: He’s a 26-year-old top-pairing puck mover. Vatanen is a power-play catalyst who can log 22-plus minutes per game. He can be a foundation player.

It is presumed that the Ducks already have completed a deal with the Golden Knights about who their expansion pick will, or won’t, be. The Ducks have a surplus on defense, and they may be trading Vatanen even if he doesn’t end up with the Golden Knights.

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2. Goalie Marc Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: Of the available goalies, he’s the most accomplished one.

Vegas general manager George McPhee knows him well because McPhee’s former team, the Washington Capitals, were in the same conference.

If he’s not the Golden Knights’ No. 1 next season, Fleury will be the No. 1 in Winnipeg, Philadelphia or even Buffalo.

3. Right wing James Neal, Nashville Predators: Neal has scored 40 goals in a season, and has tallied 20 or more goals nine times. He’s still only 29.

4. Defenseman Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild: GM Chuck Fletcher opted to place Jonas Brodin on the protected list and expose Dumba, who has more offensive potential.

Dumba scored 11 goals last season. He could mature into an offensive force capable of producing 40 or more points per season.

Some might argue that Marco Scandella, also available, may even be more desirable than Dumba.

5. Center Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers: The 26-year-old proved he can play in the NHL by scoring 30 goals last season.

He’s a smallish player with creative flair. In this era of limited scoring, his skill level is hard to ignore.

6. Forward Brock Nelson, New York Islanders: He’s 6-3, and can play center and wing. Nelson has averaged 22 goals over the past three seasons, and at 25, his best seasons are still in front of him. Nelson will still be in his prime when the Golden Knights start to become more competitive.

7. Goalie Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: His availability has to be considered one of the bigger surprises.

He’s 25, and has the potential to be a difference maker. The problem is that he’s coming off a poor season and Detroit’s other goalie, Jimmy Howard, played extremely well last season.

8. Defenseman Paul Martin, San Jose Sharks: He’s plus-123 in his career, and his smart, safe playing style could be just what an expansion team needs. The only cause for pause is Martin is 36. But he could be a leader on the Golden Knights.

9. Defenseman Nate Schmidt, Washington Capitals: Coach Barry Trotz would hate to lose Schmidt, who has developed into a dependable all-around defenseman. He was impressive when he received his chance to play in the postseason. Schmidt could become a mainstay on the Vegas blue line.

10. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks: At 25, he is just starting to find his game at the NHL level. He was plus-17 in 58 games last season, and has 158 games of NHL regular-season experience. Van Riemsdyk is still young enough to be part of the Golden Knights’ future.

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