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November 20, 2018

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Golden Knights sign Paul Stastny, others on first day of free agency

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AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File

In this May 10, 2018, file photo, Winnipeg Jets center Paul Stastny celebrates after teammate Tyler Myers scored a goal against the Nashville Predators during the first period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series in Nashville, Tenn. Stastny should be the next-best center available in free agency, after John Tavares, after putting up 15 points in 17 playoff games with Winnipeg.

Updated Sunday, July 1, 2018 | 4:42 p.m.

The Golden Knights made a splash on the opening day of NHL free agency Sunday morning, signing a class of 10 players headlined by coveted veteran center Paul Stastny.

Stastny registered 53 points last season (16 goals and 37 assists) with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. The second-line center averaged 18:41 of ice time with 63 games in St. Louis before the Blues dealt him to the Jets at the trade deadline.

In Winnipeg, Stastny added four goals and nine assists in 19 regular-season games and six goals and nine assists in the playoffs.

Vegas signed Stastny to a three-year deal worth $6.5 million per year.

“We had our eye on him for quite awhile,” general manager George McPhee said. “He’s really talented, skilled guy and he’s a playmaker. You always want playmakers. It’s hard for goal scorers to score if they don’t have playmakers and he does that.”

The 32-year-old from Quebec City, Canada, was originally drafted in the second round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2005. Over 12 seasons in the NHL, Stastny has amassed 220 goals and 426 assists.

“There are a lot of things that attracted me (to the Golden Knights),” Stastny said. “Playing against them in the playoffs and the regular season they play such a high-paced game that is aggressive and has everyone involved. I like playing on teams that play on their toes and aren’t afraid to make mistakes so that was big.”

Stastny’s success in the faceoff circle will be a welcome sight to the Golden Knights, who were not good in that area last season — particularly in the Stanley Cup Final against Washington.

Stastny won 54.9 percent of his draws last year with more than 800 faceoff wins, and has never finished a season below 50 percent in the circle.

The signing begs the question: Where will he fit in Vegas?

His natural fit is centering the second line, but Erik Haula emerged as a top-six forward last season. Haula’s 29 goals were second on the Golden Knights only to William Karlsson, and he led the team with 12 power play goals.

An obvious option is moving Haula to the wing, pairing him with Stastny and Alex Tuch on the second line to replace David Perron and possibly James Neal.

Perron signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Blues this morning and Neal still hasn’t found a landing spot but is garnering interest from multiple teams. McPhee said he is still in talks with Neal’s agent and him returning to Vegas is still a possibility.

The Golden Knights also inked former Rangers and Bruins defenseman Nick Holden to a two-year deal worth $4.4 million.

“It basically keeps the construction of our defense intact,” McPhee said. “Luca (Sbisa) has moved on and we thought (Holden) would fit really well in that spot.”

Holden had four goals and 13 assists last year, and has 112 points in seven seasons in the NHL.

“We liked him a lot and we got the deal done on the terms we liked so everything stays the same on our defense,” McPhee said. “We like our defense. It’s deep. We have our shutdown guys and our speed guys.

The Golden Knights also officially brought back Ryan Reaves on a two-year contract worth $2.775 million per season.

“Ryan is rare in that he is one of those big, physical guys that can play,” McPhee said. “It’s really nice to have that combination player. They’re hard to find.”

Reaves scored only two goals for Vegas last year, but they couldn’t have come at bigger moments. His first was the game-winner that sent the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, and his second came in game one of the final.

He said he was offered three years by at least one team, but ultimately took fewer years to come back to Vegas.

“It was different for me,” Reaves said. “That was the first time I’ve ever hit free agency. Obviously, I wanted to see what was out there. I had a couple of teams in a few days. I had some good offers on the table but I think, at the end of the day, I told management in Vegas during my year-end meeting that I wanted to be back. I like the culture of the team, I like where the team was headed — a young team that makes it to the Stanley Cup Final, that really excited me. I liked how the locker room was. I like my relationship with Turk and with management in just a short period of time. I made it clear to them that if there was an option to come back that that would be my first priority is coming back to Vegas.”

Two other players that will be returning to Vegas are goaltender Maxime Lagace and forward Brandon Pirri, who both signed one-year deals worth $650,000.

The Golden Knights also added some smaller signings on the opening day of free agency.

The Golden Knights added to their goaltending depth by signing 23-year-old Canadian prospect Zach Fucale. He played sparingly in the minors (American Hockey League and ECHL) last season with a 3.26 goals against average in 18 games with the Laval Rocket and 2.83 GAA in 11 games with the Brampton Beast.

They also added forwards Daniel Carr, Alex Gallant and Curtis McKenzie and defenseman Jimmy Oligny.

Carr, 26, joins Vegas after playing parts of three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He recorded 16 points in 38 games last season, and helped win the NCAA National Championship with Union College during the 2013-14 season, leading his team in scoring with 50 points.

Gallant, who despite also being from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, in Canada, has no relation to Golden Knights’ coach Gerard Gallant. He played 38 games last season with the Syracuse Crush of the American Hockey League.

McKenzie has had a lot of success in the minor leagues, captaining the AHL’s Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final while registering 48 points. Oligny collected 12 points in 66 games for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. All four will likely be headed to the Chicago Wolves.

This is a developing story, check back later for updates including general manager George McPhee’s thoughts on the first day of free agency.

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.