The Vegas Golden Knights fans have been focusing hard on the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft, and for good reason. The very make-up of the team is defined by this draft, and the league hasn’t seen an expansion draft since the 1999 season when they welcomed the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild. There are intricate rules and requirements for a player’s eligibility to be protected and exempt from the draft. It’s significantly different from the traditional NHL Entry Draft that we see on an annual basis.
Vegas Needs Franchise Players Not Castaways
Most of the players that are eligible for the NHL Expansion draft will have less than desirable contracts, pending free agent statuses, or others. It’s for this reason that they likely will not be acquiring many long-term core pieces during the expansion draft, as all players with favorable long-term contracts will be kept as if they were treasure in the cave of a dragon.
The Knights will have the opportunity to select the future of the franchise before their team has even dropped the puck. While most eyes are on that expansion draft, it’s important to note that the Golden Knights are going to secure a great piece of youth at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft on June 23 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
As part of the effort to kick-start the franchise into a competitive state, the NHL is giving the Golden Knights the same chance to win the NHL Draft Lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points. Vegas will be selecting no later than sixth overall in the first round, and third in every subsequent round that follows.
Nolan Patrick has been widely regarded as the clear-cut number one prospect going into the draft. He is a Winnipeg-born forward that has NHL blood lines and a 6’3″, 198-pound frame. Combined with the size, he has the “hockey sense” that makes his teammates around him better. Patrick would be a premier pickup for the Knights. He’s seemingly always in the right position on the ice and can find the soft areas that defenders leave unprotected, and this trait has led to comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
His stock took a slight hit to start the 2016-2017 campaign with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings after a upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for both the Wheat Kings and Team Canada’s World Juniors squad. Unfortunately, it’s not likely that Patrick will be a pick by Vegas unless the Knights manage to move up to first or second overall, if highly touted Swiss forward Nico Hischier is selected before Patrick.
Hischier put on a show at the recent World Juniors despite playing for the underdog Switzerland team, and Domenic Ducharme, coach of Team Canada’s World Junior team, had some glowing things to say about Hirschier at the tournament.
“We saw him score big goals at big times at the world juniors,” Ducharme said, according to Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press. “If you’re a scout, if you want to build a team, you want players who can rise up in those moments and make a difference and I think he is a difference maker.”
Hirschier is more of a flashy, dynamic offensive player and more of a “Kane” to Patrick’s “Toews”. Hirschier has been playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) Halifax Mooseheads. He has a leaner, more lanky body at 5’11”, 163-pounds but that allows him to be a bit more agile and elusive with the puck. If Vegas wants pure lethal offense, then general manager George McPhee wouldn’t go wrong by selecting Hirschier.
Golden Knights Scouts Have Their Hands Full
As the case tends to be after the clear-cut number one and number two selections, save for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the waters become muddy. It becomes more of a preferential process on who and when they’re selected. Oftentimes, the highest rated defenseman in the draft is considered at number three overall, and sometimes there’s too much scoring depth to leave it on the table for other teams.
This year, there is one Swedish defender that’s garnering praise from the media and scouts alike, and that’s Timothy Liljegren. He’s got a 6’0″, 200-pound stature and the skating to compliment it very well. He’s rather crafty with his skating and creates space in transition and owns a booming shot from the point.
Here’s what TSN’s Bob McKenzie had to say about Timothy Liljegren:
He is an elite skater, both in terms of speed and agility, and adept at running a power play. He is seen as both a puck mover and an offensive point producer. No one is suggesting he’s the next Erik Karlsson, not by any means, but scouts say he has some of the same qualities and, therefore, has the potential to be projected as a possible top pairing defenseman in time.
Whether or not the Knights want a blueliner with their first selection, Liljegren is touted as the highest rated point-man in the draft and it isn’t particularly close. With a significant chance at securing the third overall selection, Vegas fans should dive deeper into the Swede and check out his performance with the Swedish World Junior squad at this year’s tournament.
Klim Kostin is Russia’s entry into the elite prospect discussion for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been said to have the skill set to make moves in tight. He also has the size and strength to bull his way to the net and get the dirty goals. He’s 6’3″, 196-pounds and wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize should the Knights fall to the fourth overall selection in the draft. He isn’t ready yet, and likely won’t be for at least another couple of seasons, but scouts unanimously agree that he has NHL top-six scoring winger potential and would be a great pick for the future of the franchise if that’s what it came down to.
The NHL has done the Golden Knights a favor by putting them in the position they have. As the lone expansion team next season, they’re in a position to secure a top-five draft selection in the NHL Entry Draft without having the pain of a mightily disappointing season that’s traditionally associated with it. The hard work has already begun, and it continues here in short order for McPhee.