A mighty ovation during Marc-Andre Fleury’s introduction nearly raised the roof of the T-Mobile Arena.
It was not the final punctuation mark to a historic night. That came shortly after the conclusion of NHL Awards show and expansion draft when Nashville Predators general manager David Poile boldly wrapped up the night.
“I think this is, by far, the best expansion team ever,” said Poile, who was honored as the NHL’s general manager of the year at the awards show.
He gave George McPhee, the general manager of the Golden Knights, high marks for building a team with the possibility of more potential than any expansion team in NHL history.
“Maybe George will win executive of the year next year. He’s off to a great start,” said Poile, the architect behind the Predators’ inspired 2016-2017 season. After going 41-29-12 and finishing with 94 points, they barely made it into the postseason as the second wild-card team in the West.
They got hot at the right time, sweeping No. 1-seeded Chicago before knocking out the St. Louis Blues in six games. Nashville made it to its first Stanley Cup final by advancing past the Anaheim Ducks in six games in the Western Conference finals. The magical run ended with a controversial Game 6 loss to the Penguins.
Poile said McPhee, who built the Washington Capitals into a power, “has done a masterful job of getting a competitive team right off the get-go and also getting a lot of things for the future of this franchise, things we weren’t able to do 20 years ago for the Nashville Predators.
“A lot of the deals,” said Poile, “haven’t come out. I know some of them, not all of them.”
The Predators lost one of their prized forwards, James Neal, who recorded his ninth NHL season with at least 20 goals.
“The National Hockey League did it right this time,” added Poile. “This model, this year, these guys will be competitive. Good for them. Maybe they got too good.”
Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, went to the Golden Knights with the second-to-last pick among the 30 selections. When he made a surprise appearance on stage, the jammed arena erupted.
Fleury, 32, holds Penguins franchise records for wins (375) and shutouts (44). Pittsburgh made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Before entering the interview room, Fleury stopped for a celebratory hug from a former teammate, Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
Tipped off that the Golden Knights kept Fleury hidden most of the day to build the evening’s suspense, I asked him if he wore anything to keep from being recognized upon arriving Wednesday.
“They gave me a hat,” he said, adding that he spent most of the day in his room at Bellagio.
He’ll be reunited with Deryk Engelland, a tough defenseman who was plucked from Calgary’s roster. They played together from 2009 to 2014 in Pittsburgh.
“It’s great to be reunited with him,” said Engelland, who played a season (2004-2005) for the Las Vegas Wranglers starting at age 21. He still lives here with his wife, Melissa, whom he met in Las Vegas.
“He’s amazing, top notch in every aspect,” said Engelland. “Never too high, never too low, great in the community, great around the ice. I could never say anything bad about that guy.”
Engelland fondly remembered the Wranglers’ fan support, especially the big crowds for the midnight game promotion. He recalled taking a 5 p.m. pregame nap for that one.
His leadership qualities earned him the role as alternate captain this past season when Troy Brouwer was sidelined.
The Knights’ other selections and acquisitions:
Anaheim Ducks: Defenseman Clayton Stoner. Also acquired: defenseman prospect Shea Theodore.
Arizona Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen.
Boston Bruins: Defenseman Colin Miller.
Buffalo Sabres: Forward William Carrier, along with a sixth-round pick.
Carolina Hurricanes: Forward Connor Brickley, along with a fifth-round pick.
Chicago Blackhawks: Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Colorado Avalanche: Goaltender Calvin Pickard, a solid No. 2 backup behind Semyon Varlamov.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Forward William Karlsson, along with a 2017 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, and the contract of David Clarkson.
Dallas Stars: Forward Cody Eakin.
Detroit Red Wings: Forward Tom Nosek.
Edmonton Oilers: Defenseman Griffin Reinhart.
Florida Panthers: Forward Jonathan Marchessault, along with forward Reilly Smith for a 2018 fourth-round pick.
Los Angeles Kings: Defenseman Brayden McNabb.
Minnesota Wild: Forward Erik Haula (RFA), along with forward prospect Alex Tuch for a third-round pick.
Montreal Canadiens: Defenseman Alexei Emelin.
New Jersey Devils: Defenseman Jon Merrill.
New York Islanders: Goaltender Jean-Francois Berube. The Knights also acquired forward Mikhail Grabovski, defenseman Jake Bischoff, a 2017 first-round pick (No. 15 overall), and a 2019 second-round pick.
New York Rangers: Forward Oscar Lindberg.
Ottawa Senators: Defenseman Marc Methot.
Philadelphia Flyers: Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Pittsburgh Penguins: In addition to Fleury, the Knights will receive a 2020 second-round pick.
San Jose Sharks: Defenseman David Schlemko.
St. Louis Blues: Winger David Perron.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Defenseman Jason Garrison. The Knights also receive rights to forward Nikita Gusev, a 2017 second-round pick, and a 2018 fourth-round pick. Toronto Maple Leafs: Forward Brendan Leipsic.
Vancouver Canucks: Defenseman Luca Sbisa.
Washington Capitals: Defenseman Nate Schmidt.
Winnipeg Jets: Forward Chris Thorburn (UFA). The Knights also switched draft positions with the Jets, sending Columbus’ first-round pick (No. 24 overall) to Winnipeg for No. 13 overall and a third-round pick.