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By Jesse Granger – Las Vegas Sun

Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee found the first real contributor for his team’s upcoming inaugural season last night, but he had to fight for him.

 Russian forward Vadim Shipachyov could be the first star player for the Golden Knights. He will certainly be paid like one, signing a 2-year, $9 million deal with the club last night.

McPhee said there was a bidding war between multiple NHL teams for the rights to Shipachyov.

“I don’t know who specifically was involved but there were many NHL teams trying to get him,” McPhee said today on a conference call. “We were comfortable with ($4.5 million per year) because the player was in demand and was going to get that or more elsewhere.”

The Montreal Canadiens were among Shipachyov’s suitors, according to tweets from Rogers Sportsnet reporter Eric Engels, but moved on when the offers got too high.

The Golden Knights were willing to pay a premium because they know it will be difficult to find premier offensive players like Shipachyov in the upcoming expansion draft.

“He’s a skilled center iceman and those are very, very hard to get,” McPhee said. “They are rare. They are hard to find. Now we have one and we expect that he’ll be a great fit for our hockey club.”

Shipachyov finished third in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia with 26 goals and 50 assists for SKA Saint Petersburg. The 30-year-old center led the team to league championships in two of the last three seasons (2015 and 2017).

For comparison, players around the league with similar contracts to Shipachyov’s include stars like the Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie, the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty and the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo.

“It’s an important acquisition for us,” McPhee said. “We are going to need skill and trying to get that position in the expansion draft would be difficult. I’ve seen him play at the World Championships. We thought it would be a big addition to our club.”

Shipachyov will also bring much-needed leadership to an inevitably young Golden Knights’ team. He served as either a captain or an alternate captain in the last three years for SKA St. Petersburg. In his entire KHL career, he registered 137 goals and 275 assists for 412 points in 445 games split between Saint Petersburg and his hometown team, the Severstal Cherepovets.

“He is prepared to play a lot and sees that there could be a lot of ice time,” McPhee said. “We fully expect him to be one of the top-6 forwards, as well as a major contributor on play on power plays and the penalty kill.”

The chance to be a premier player may be what drove Shipachyov to Las Vegas, but it certainly wasn’t the only factor.

Brand new facilities like T-Mobile Arena and the soon-to-be completed practice facility in Summerlin are great bargaining chips for the Golden Knights, but above all is Nevada’s no state income tax.

“I think it will be a factor if we’re doing everything else right,” McPhee said. “If we are building a good team people will want to come to Las Vegas to play. It’s easy to get around, the cost of living is great and the weather is excellent.

“No state income tax is basically like getting a free house, because what you’re saving in taxes can pay your mortgage.”

Reid Duke will always be the Golden Knights’ first player in franchise history, but he’ll be fighting for a roster spot during training camp. Duke has yet to take the ice since joining the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League in early April.

Shipachyov won’t face the same uncertainty with his role. It’s more than likely he’ll end up with the letter “C” stitched onto his jersey than not being on the Golden Knights’ opening night roster.

“This is a case of seeing a really good player and trying to bring him in,” McPhee said. “We want a talented, up-tempo, fast paced team. When you see talent you sure love to acquire it. I’ve never had a problem of having too much talent.”