The Vegas Golden Knights have been nothing short of sensational throughout their inaugural NHL season, and it appears as though more help is well on its way.
Although the Golden Knights boasted a bevy of first-round selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, it is the play of Vegas’ natural second-round choice which has caught the attention of the hockey world. Originally projected to be chosen in the opening round of the event, Nic Hague fell outside of the top-31 and into the hands of the Golden Knights, who nabbed the towering defender without hesitation at 34th overall.
Known for his rugged style of play and intimidating physicality, Hague was thought to be a long-term project for Vegas yet one certainly capable of reaching the NHL-level in the near future. However, Hague has shattered this timeline owing to his play throughout the 2017-18 season, as the youngster has developed into a devastatingly potent two-way defenceman.
As the first Ontario Hockey League defender to score 30 goals since the 1999-00 campaign, Hague has now set his sights solely on cracking the Golden Knights’ roster.
Developing a Daunting Defender
Although he has developed into an excellent defenceman at the major-junior level, Hague’s ascension within the hockey world has not come without its fair share of obstacles.
Perhaps the most notable impediment for Hague throughout his young career to date has been his skating abilities, which have long been critiqued since his arrival in the OHL. Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 215-pounds, Hague’s immense size and lanky stature had combined to create a somewhat awkward and elongated skating stride.
Criticized for being too slow, flat-footed, and not overly agile, Hague has worked tirelessly to improve his skating and has strengthened his stride considerably throughout his past three seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads. Capable of walking the opposing blue line with ease and no longer overtaken wide with speed within his own zone, Hauge’s improved skating has directly benefited each and every facet of his game.
A force defensively, Hague can now stick with the most elusive of enemy forwards, moving his feet quickly in order to maintain his spacing before utilizing a quick stick or thundering body-check in order to jar the puck loose.
However, the most notable improvement in Hague’s game has come in the offensive zone. As a fixture on the Steelheads’ power play owing to his overpowering shot, Hague’s improved footwork now allows him the change angles and alter shooting lanes with ease. Once situated within a clear shooting lane, Hague will release his wicked shot on goal, which has the ability to beat opposing netminders whether they see the puck or not.
Although he will likely never be considered a fast player, Hague’s commitment to improving his skating has had an overwhelming impact on his overall game and value as an NHL prospect.
Poised to Turn Pro
Currently in his third season of OHL play, Hague has displayed the size, strength, skill, and consistency necessary to undergo a successful transition to the professional ranks.
As we have witnessed, Hague owns incredible size and strength owing to his massive frame. Rarely knocked off of the puck and capable of protecting it with ease, Hague’s size would stand as the foundation of a highly successful professional player, and one not exposed due to a lack of physical capability.
Further, there is Hague’s skill, which has been on full display in Mississauga for quite some time now and especially so of late. Having scored more than 30 goals and 70 points in a little more than 60 regular games played, Hague’s ability to fill the net and support his teammates from the blue line is second to none.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is Hague’s consistency.
While his offensive totals have continued to soar each and every season, Hague’s defensive play has remained incredibly steady and poised. Although his plus/minus rating has slipped slightly this season — owing to the Steelheads’ lacklustre team play — Hague has continued to stand as a dominant force on the blue line. What’s more is that Hague’s well-regarded intensity has failed to waiver, as the youngster has recorded a penalty minute total vastly similar to his 2016-17 season’s sum.
Hague Approaching Knighthood
It’s only a matter of time before Hague makes his debut with the Golden Knights at the NHL-level.
Boasting the size, skill, and strength necessary to land in Vegas, Hague already plays a fairly mature game and, as a result, will require little seasoning before jumping to hockey’s highest level.
In fact, following his current OHL campaign in Mississauga, Hague could jump to the AHL-level as early as next season. Although he is only 19-years-of-age, Hague’s late birthdate would facilitate an early entry into the AHL, where Hague could garner considerable professional experience against more challenging competition.
— FanSided NHL (@FanSidedNHL) September 29, 2017
While his NHL arrival will depend on a number of factors, namely the Golden Knights’ roster situation and their standing within the league itself, Hague could make a sudden yet permanent leap to the NHL as early as the 2019-20 season. Although achieving such a feat will be no easy task, Hague’s proven ability to overcome obstacles and flourish regardless of impediments should lead to a long and prosperous NHL career for the native of Kitchener, Ontario.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at email@example.com.