We are coming up on the third anniversary of the Vegas Golden Knights first draft. The expansion and entry drafts of that year paved the way for the tremendous success the franchise has experienced early in its history. Then-general manager George McPhee made a number of moves to acquire multiple draft picks in that 2017 draft and build from the ground up.
Related: Golden Knights Top-10 Prospects
In the seasons since, they have moved a lot of their future assets for stars, but the team had a total of 12 draftees in their first draft and a number of them are starting to pay dividends. Here is a look at the first 12 draft picks in Golden Knights history.
Round 1, 6th Overall – Cody Glass, C (Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
Glass made his NHL debut this season, his first in the professional ranks. After finishing his junior career at the end of the 2018-19 season, he joined the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and helped them to the Calder Cup Final. He had 15 points in 22 playoff games for his first taste of professional hockey.
He began the 2019-20 season with the Golden Knights and played up and down the lineup, finishing with 12 points in 39 games. He suffered through a couple of different injuries, finishing his season with knee surgery, but gained valuable experience on what it takes to play in the NHL.
He will take another step forward next season as he recovers and spends his summer training, evolving into a full-time, top-six forward.
Round 1, 13th Overall – Nick Suzuki, C (Owen Sound Attack, OHL)
While Suzuki never played a game for the Golden Knights, he has had a successful rookie campaign with the Montreal Canadiens. A big piece in the trade that saw Max Pacioretty come to Las Vegas, he made his NHL debut this season and scored 13 goals and 41 points while playing in every game for the Canadiens.
Related: Nick Suzuki Earns Accolades
They also traded Tomas Tatar and a second-round pick in 2019 for Pacioretty, so some will say Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin won that trade, as Tatar was on pace for his second 25-goal season in Montreal and was already over 60 points this season. However, his game did not mesh with former Knights head coach Gerard Gallant’s system so he needed to be dealt.
Even though they gave up Tatar and Suzuki — who looks like he will be a strong contributor throughout his NHL career — the trade was a win for both organizations. Montreal received depth while Vegas got a player that can score goals and has some bite to his game.
Round 1, 15th Overall – Erik Brannstrom, D (HV71 Jonkoping, SHL)
Like Suzuki, Brannstrom was moved before he was able to dawn a Golden Knights sweater — he was an integral part of the trade to acquire Mark Stone. In his second season in North America, he has adapted to the smaller ice surface and recorded 23 points in 27 AHL games while also suiting up for 31 NHL contests with the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators see an Erik Karlsson-type of player in him, hoping he becomes a top-paring defenseman. His skating and puck-moving ability is what caught the eyes of Vegas management when they drafted him. While Brannstrom still hasn’t developed into a full-timer yet, Stone has worked out great in Las Vegas as he recorded 21 goals and 63 points in 65 games this season.
Middle Rounds (2-4)
Round 2, 34th Overall – Nicolas Hague, D (Mississauga Steelheads, OHL)
The towering defenseman played the first half of the season with the big club, but was sent down to the AHL to further his development and play in all situations. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 221 pounds, he is the type of defenseman you don’t see very often anymore, but he skates well for his size and has a bomb of a shot from the point.
Related: Nic Hague’s Road to the NHL
Subject to trade rumors with the recent emergence of Zach Whitecloud, Hague should not be dealt. He recently completed his second pro season and took big strides by playing in 38 NHL contests. Defensemen take longer to develop and he looks to have been a steal in the second round as he has top-four potential.
Round 2, 62nd Overall – Jake Leschyshyn, C (Regina Pats, WHL)
The last pick of the second round had trouble in his first professional season. Leschyshyn was over a point-per-game pace in his final WHL campaign and after being traded to Lethbridge for a playoff run, his confidence was sky-high. However, it seems like most of his success could have come from playing with former first-rounder Dylan Cozens while being an over-age skater.
He only managed four goals and eight points in 61 games for the Wolves this season, but the entire team was starved for offense as they only managed 155 goals (ranked 30th in the AHL). The Golden Knights have a number of young players coming up, so if he finds chemistry, he could develop into a contributing AHLer.
Round 3, 65th Overall – Jonas Rondbjerg, C (Vaxjo HC, SHL)
A native of Denmark, Rondbjerg plays a big game. He isn’t afraid to use his body in checking opponents and does a good job of shielding the puck in the offensive zone. After playing two seasons in the top Swedish league, he moved across the pond to play in the AHL in 2019.
Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in his first game in North America and lost a year of development. After an impressive rookie and training camp, he should be 100% for the opening of 2020 camp.
Round 4, 96th Overall – Maksim Zhukov, G (Green Bay Gamblers, USHL)
The big Russian goalie had a great rookie season in the USHL with a .913 save percentage (SV%) and four shutouts, playing in 31 games. Since then, Zhukov’s play has not been the same. His goals-against average (GAA) has gone up and SV% down in every season since being drafted and the Golden Knights did not offer him a contract, making him a free agent.
He signed with the Toronto Marlies in 2019, so this could be considered their first miss as he is already with another organization. However, it looks like management made the correct call in not giving him a contract as he played the entire season in the ECHL with a GAA of 3.50 and SV% of .871.
Late Rounds (5-7)
Round 5, 127th Overall – Lucas Elvenes, C (Rogle, SHL)
Elvenes started his professional career in North America with a bang this season. After scoring four points in his first AHL game, he was also named to the All-Star game and finished with 48 points in 59 games on an offensively starved Wolves team.
Even though he slowed down after a fast start, he had a great first season in the Golden Knights organization. The leagues in Europe do not play as many games as they do in the AHL/NHL, a big factor to his slow down in the second half. After an offseason of training and recovery, he will build off a successful rookie campaign and has the potential to play NHL games next season.
Round 5, 142nd Overall – Jack Dugan, LW (Northwood High School)
In his first year of draft eligibility, Dugan was not selected. In his second go-round, the Golden Knights picked him up in the fifth round and his stock has gone up ever since.
In his sophomore season for Providence College, he was named one of the 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA. He led the league in assists (42) and points (52), but when they released the Hobey Hat Trick finalists he was not on it, leading to this tweet.
His entire career he has been handed the short stick and had to prove doubters wrong. Not being in the final three has added fuel to his fire, which benefits the Golden Knights and his road to the NHL. He has still not announced whether he is returning to school or signing his entry-level contract, but with each passing day it seems like he is gearing up to turn pro.
Round 6, 158th Overall – Nick Campoli, C (North York Rangers, OJHL)
In two seasons at Clarkson University, Campoli has only scored 6 goals and 17 points in 68 games. The only Golden Knights sweater he will probably wear is the one he dawns for Clarkson as he has not developed as management has hoped.
If there is one skill that can make him relevant and earn a professional job, it is in the face-off dot. He was 53% this season and if he can build on that, his coaching staff will give him more responsibility and earn him more ice time.
Round 6, 161st Overall – Jiri Patera, G (Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic)
Patera had a breakout season in his final year with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He finished fourth in the WHL in SV% (.921) and a cool 2.55 GAA in 41 games. The Czech-native has size — 6-foot-2 — and plays even bigger while in the crease.
He rose to the occasion this season and potentially saved his pro career in North America because if he had another dismal campaign, he would have had to go home to continue his playing career. Instead, he will potentially be the backup for Vegas’ AHL club or the starter with their ECHL team this coming fall.
Round 7, 189th Overall – Ben Jones, C (Niagara IceDogs, OHL)
Jones spent his first season of professional hockey between the ECHL and the AHL. It is always a big jump for players who have been playing in the CHL as over-agers to move up into the professional ranks as the young guy and he felt that transition this season.
Using his junior career as evidence, he got better with each season, so we can make a full assessment after the 2020-21 season.
Final Grade: A
McPhee and his staff had plenty of darts to throw at the board and made some great choices. Their top four picks have already made their NHL debuts and they were able to move two of these players for current superstars. Their two fifth-round selections have turned into some of their top prospects who have the potential of making the NHL next season.
The Golden Knights have been the most successful expansion franchise because of how great their inaugural draft turned out to be — something the new Seattle franchise hopes to replicate.