How the NHL Expansion Draft Works

A quick, simple explanation of how the NHL expansion draft works, giving the Vegas Golden Knights an opportunity to fill their roster.


In 1967, the National Hockey League doubled in size from six to 12 teams with the addition of the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Francisco Seals. The NHL held an expansion draft to stock the new teams with players. In general, each of the 16 existing NHL clubs placed 11 unprotected skaters and two unprotected goaltenders on a reserve list from which the new clubs could select one player each.

What is the NHL Expansion Draft?

The NHL Expansion Draft is a draft consisting of unprotected players made available by the NHL’s 30 existing teams to the newly created Vegas Golden Knights, who began play in the 2017–18 season. The draft was announced on June 22, 2016, following the approval of the expansion franchise by the NHL’s Board of Governors.

Who is Eligible for the NHL Expansion Draft?

All NHL players who have completed two professional seasons are eligible, but first and last year pros (such as recent draft picks) are exempt. Players with expiring contracts who will become restricted or unrestricted free agents at the end of the season are also eligible to be drafted.

What is the NHL Expansion Draft Process?

The National Hockey League (NHL) held an expansion draft in 2000 to stock the new Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets franchises. In order to keep the playing fields level and maintain parity, the NHL imposes strict rules on how these expansion teams can build their rosters.

Each existing NHL team had the option of protecting either one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards, or two goaltenders, three defensemen and seven forwards. Players who had been realigned from other positions to goaltender, such as Detroit Red Wings’ legends Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek were also protected as goaltenders.

Players with rookie contracts or who were signed as free agents before the 1998-1999 season were exempt from the draft. First and second year pros were also available to be drafted, but teams could choose to protect them as well.

NHL teams submitted their lists of protected players by June 18, 2000, and the expansion draft was held three days later on June 21. In total, 72 players were drafted – 36 by each team.

The Minnesota Wild picked Marian Gaborik with their first selection, while the Columbus Blue Jackets chose Anders Hejduk as their first pick.

What Happens to the Players Who Are Drafted in the NHL Expansion Draft?

It is common for fans to question what happens to the players who are drafted in the NHL Expansion Draft. The majority of the time, the players are just happy to have been given an opportunity to play in the NHL and will report to their new team’s training camp.

However, there are a few notable exceptions where players have refused to report to their new team. In 1976, goalie Rogie Vachon was drafted by the Cleveland Barons in the NHL Expansion Draft. He had just won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens and had no desire to play for an expansion team. He was eventually traded back to Montreal.

In 1992, Stu Grimson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL Expansion Draft. He also refused to report to his new team and was subsequently traded to the Detroit Red Wings.

These are rare cases, however, and most players are happy to be given an opportunity to play in the NHL and will report to their new team’s training camp without issue.


Now that we know how the NHL expansion draft works, we can better appreciate all the excitement and suspense that leading up to it. We can also understand why some teams are more affected than others. There will be a lot of interesting decisions made by the Golden Knights in the coming days, and we can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

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