Thanks for joining us for our August 31-in-31 series! Every day this month we will be taking a look at each team and diving into their prospect depth charts, risers and fallers, graduating prospects, and top ten prospects in the system.
After their miraculous inaugural season, is it possible to imagine that the Golden Knights could get any better heading into their second season? That is a far more difficult question to answer than ask. How many predicted Vegas to even make the playoffs last season, let alone storm their way to the Stanley Cup Final? On paper, they looked like a mediocre team at best, but by April nearly every player had finished a career best season that extended well into the playoffs. Even if we could say the team is better on paper heading into October, it’s hard to imagine they can repeat last year’s success.
The biggest losses for the Golden Knights came with veteran leadership and significant point production moving on in the free agent market as James Neal signed with the Calgary Flames and David Perron made his way back to the St. Louis Blues after a career season posting 66 points in only 70 games played.
Vegas is hoping to capitalize on some minor free agency acquisitions and rely on the rest of the roster to take another step forward in order to fill the gap that Neal and Perron have created. They added a quality pivot in Paul Stastny and defensive depth in Nick Holden, along with some depth options in Daniel Carr and Brandon Pirri. It was a relatively quiet off-season, and the rest of the noise that was made was with the re-signing of a slew of their own restricted and unrestricted free agents: William Karlsson (one year), Marc-Andre Fleury (three years), Colin Miller (four years), Ryan Reaves (two years), Tomas Nosek (one year), William Carrier (two years), Oscar Dansk (two years), and Maxime Lagace (one year).
With only two entry drafts under their belt, the Golden Knights currently have the smallest prospect pool in the NHL. They’ve made quick strides to improve their system and will look to do so once again next year with 10 picks in the first six rounds. The problem with the expansion process, if one can even call it a problem for Vegas, is that it left the Golden Knights with an abundance of NHL-ready talent and very little room for prospects to make the jump to the top level. It was expected that Vegas would move many of their players at the deadline to help bulk up their prospect pipeline, but with Vegas’ improbable run last year they weren’t in a position to be sellers at the deadline, which would have opened the door for a few of their prospects at the top level. In fact, it was almost surprising to see Vegas without a draft pick until late in the second round when they chose Ivan Morozov with the 61st pick. Patience is a virtue in terms of prospect development, so it will only help the team in the long run.
Vegas can thank Minnesota for that same patience that they are using in their system for how they handled one of their top prospects in Alex Tuch. He was able to play his first full NHL season, and was exceptional as a rookie finding the score sheet 37 times including 15 goals. Tuch has shown one of the most consistent progressions as a prospect from the time he was drafted out of the US National Development Team Program and projects as second line NHLer.
Tomas Nosek (25 years old) finally earned a regular spot in the NHL and played 67 games while averaging over 11 minutes of ice-time. It’s doubtful that he’ll ever become more than a bottom-six player, but he provided consistent depth throughout the regular season and showcased some offensive upside in the post-season posting six points in 17 playoff games. He’ll be back on a one-year contract after filing for salary arbitration but settling prior to adjudication.
William Carrier was another player that was able to remain in the NHL for the first time in his young career but was only able to suit up for 37 total games in the regular season after battling significant injuries in the second half of the season. He looks to be a far cry in terms of fantasy potential compared to the pace he put up in his junior days with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Tweeners Teemu Pulkkinen and T.J. Tynan didn’t get the shot they so desperately needed to prove that they have NHL talent, and at 26, Pulkkinen has decided to bolt to the KHL. Tynan has one year remaining on his contract but time has all but run out on his NHL dream.
Who Could We See in 2018-19?
There probably aren’t going to be any of Vegas’ top prospects making the jump to the NHL and free agency and re-signings will limit the opportunity for some of their future core pieces. Cody Glass has an outside shot at making the team and doesn’t have much left to prove in the WHL. It’s highly likely that they’ll let Glass marinate for another year with the Portland Winterhawks and lead Canada’s World Junior team, but he may force their hand and give them no other choice this fall.
Nick Suzuki is another offensive sparkplug that is very close to being NHL ready, and has very little left to prove in the OHL. Both he and Glass may get a nine-game taste before being sent back.
Erik Brannstrom, on the hand, has the enviable task to hone his craft in the AHL and will likely start the season with the Chicago Wolves. I fully expect that he’ll get a cup of coffee with Vegas, but adapting in his first year on N. American ice will be best suited in the minors.
Nicolas Hague – The monster defender was one of the best players in the entire CHL and was able to find the score-sheet 78 times in only 67 games played. He was named CHL Defenseman of the Year on top of several other awards which is a huge feat considering the talent that exists in arguably the top prospect league in the world.
Lucas Elvenes – If Elvenes is not on your fantasy radar, you need to get him there quickly. He was all but at a point-per-game pace when he made the jump from the Allsvenskan to the SHL and didn’t slow down despite limited minutes with Rogle posting 16 points in 28 games. He’s all but a lock to play on Sweden’s U20 World Junior Team, and is the type of player that can make any fantasy GM look brilliant if he is able to keep up with his current progression.
Griffin Reinhart – The former 4th overall pick by the New York Islanders was hoping that a fresh start with an expansion team was all he needed to jumpstart his career. Unfortunately for Reinhart, he wasn’t able to get a sniff in the NHL.
Reid Duke – The very first player signed to the Golden Knights had an injury laden season and is beginning to plummet down the depth chart. He was only able to suit up for 16 total games in the AHL and didn’t post a single point with the Chicago Wolves.
Prospect Depth Chart
Top Ten Fantasy Prospects
- Cody Glass, C – he’s the full package and everything you want in a top prospect. After 102 points last year, how high can he go?
- Nick Suzuki, C – a ridiculous set of mitts combined with great vision suggests he’s not far away from making an impact.
- Erik Brännström, D – still a bit raw, but is showing near perfect prospect development.
- Nic Hague, D – CHL defenseman of the year. Is there anything else left to say?
- Nikita Gusev, LW – arguably the best player currently playing outside of the NHL. The question is whether he’ll ever come over.
- Lukas Elvenes, RW – expected to be a top line forward for a strong Sweden World Junior team.
- Ivan Morozov, C – their first selection in the 2018 draft is still raw, but is a complete player responsible in both ends of the rink.
- Ben Jones, C – could easily become the steal of the 2017 draft out of the 7th round.
- Zach Whitecloud, D – highly sought after NCAA free agent signing, is very close to being pro ready.
- Jack Dugan, LW – 3rd in USHL scoring, will attend Providence (NCAA) in the fall and has outside chance after U.S.A. World Junior invite.
Honorable mention: Jonas Røndbjerg, RW – a great value pick in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, he was exceptional at last year’s World Junior Championship posting seven points in six games.