With the unfortunate pause of the 2019-20 season, no one knows if the 2020 NHL Draft will be held before or after there’s a decision on the remainder of the season. As it stands, the Vegas Golden Knights are in eighth place in the league, meaning they would pick 24th. The draft is supposed to be one of the deepest in recent memory, so it would be best to stock the prospect cupboard with another future asset.
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There is no question that Alexis Lafrenière will be picked first overall and the top-10 is forward heavy, but the first round is loaded with talent and there are several defensemen who should be picked in the second half of round one. This series will dive into who the Golden Knights should select with their first-round pick.
As mentioned, their exact pick is undetermined and could be higher or lower depending on if the league resumes (or doesn’t). No matter how the 2019-20 season ends, it will have an asterisk beside it, so let’s look toward the future.
Enter Jeremie Poirier
Saint John Sea Dogs defenseman Jeremie Poirier is ranked 21st on Craig’s List, TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s list of top prospects for this year’s draft. He is a potential target for general manager Kelly McCrimmon because of his skating and puck-moving ability from the blue line.
Before the season was canceled, he suited up for 64 games and led all QMJHL defensemen with 20 goals and his 53 points ranked second among all blueliners.
He plays a smart game and has a knack of getting the puck through defenders to create opportunities. He registered 261 shots on goal this season, tied with consensus top draft pick Lafrenière. He also makes a great first pass and has the vision to make plays while skating the puck up ice.
While he is on the shy side of using his body and playing a physical brand of hockey, his timing to angle the opposition off the puck and create offense would fit right in with Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt on the Golden Knights’ blue line.
A Golden Knights Target?
While many question Poirier’s abilities in the defensive zone, he possesses a lot of qualities that would make him a good fit for Vegas. His offensive creativity and skating ability are assets the Golden Knights need on their back end.
Some players have a coach for everything these days; skills coach, skating coach, shooting coach, but Poirier has the best ingredient that you can’t teach and that is a high hockey IQ and creativity.
In the clip above, he starts the play by skating the puck out of the zone and gives it to a forward. He then spots that there is only one defender on the right side and his instincts kick in. He follows his pass to receive the drop at the blue line and drives to the net. With his soft hands he is able to lift it above the goalie in-tight for the goal.
One thing the Golden Knights lacked from their defense this season was the ability to skate the puck out of the zone. Theodore is one of the league’s best young defenders, but he can’t be on the ice for 60 minutes. Schmidt is turning into an elite two-way defenseman, but he has never been able to play a full NHL season.
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After those two, the rest of the blueliners don’t possess that “POP” coming out of the defensive zone that Poirier can bring.
See how he has his head up while skating up the ice in the above clip, moving away from the wall the defense creates in the middle and he is able to get the puck behind the net to start a forecheck. While his defensive play needs to be polished, his instincts guide him to create offense and that is hard to learn.
Related: THW 2020 Mock Draft
Even though he has the offensive ability to start a rush from his own end and provide crisp outlet passes, Poirier will return to junior hockey if McCrimmon calls his name at the draft. The Golden Knights do not rush their prospects, and only two of the 28 selected in team history have put on the team’s sweater. He needs time to develop the defensive side of his game and when he does, he could be a staple in the top-four for years to come.