Gretzky: Hockey in Vegas ‘great for the sport’

Wayne Gretzky sees a bright future for the Vegas Golden Knights.

In a Wednesday interview with "NHL Tonight," the league's all-time leading scorer spoke highly of hockey's newest franchise, which will begin play this season.

"It's wonderful," Gretzky said. "It's great for the sport, and it's just going to grow and get bigger and better."

Led by owner Bill Foley, general manager George McPhee, and coach Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights expect to be an exciting addition for the NHL, featuring key expansion picks like James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, and three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury.

That group will be expected to not only deliver a fun on-ice product, but to build up hockey in the community and with the Golden Knights' budding fan base.

Gretzky can certainly relate, and it wasn't by mistake his talk with "NHL Tonight" was held Wednesday, 29 years to the day he was shipped from Edmonton to Los Angeles, paving the way for hockey in the Sun Belt.

The Kings were the first entry into the Golden State in 1967 - alongside the now-defunct California Seals - but it was Gretzky's acquisition that put hockey in the Hollywood spotlight.

"I think (for) my first exhibition game, we had 9,000 people in the stadium, and I thought, 'Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?'" Gretzky said. "But thankfully, the whole organization understood that it was going to be a process. And we were all a big part of that.

"We weren't just a hockey team. We had to do extra things. We had to get out into the community. We had to really put our foot behind youth hockey and really do extra work, and the players really enjoyed it. They really wanted to make hockey part of the culture of California."

Through expansion and relocation, the NHL has since added five more franchises in the American Southwest, covering San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix, Dallas, and now Las Vegas.

And while Gretzky hopes things go smoothly for the Golden Knights, games against his Oilers, where he serves as partner and vice chair, could be a different story.

"Now that I'm back in that division with Edmonton, I hope (the Golden Knights) don't get too good," Gretzky quipped. "I do pull for people who are good people, and it is a good organization."

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