Yesterday, Nicolas Roy secured his place with the Vegas Golden Knights for the next half-decade, signing a five-year, $15 million contract through the 2026-27 season. Today, the restart of the World Junior Championships gets underway, providing a major platform for four prospects who hope to one day find themselves playing alongside Roy.
Lukas Cormier (Canada), Jakub Demek (Slovakia), Matyas Sapovaliv (Czechia) and Carl Lindbom (Sweden) have all been named to the World Junior rosters of their respective countries. Fellow prospects Jakub Babrenec (Czechia) and Jesper Vikman (Sweden) will not be a part of the restart despite initially taking part last December, leaving Vegas fans with four talented youngsters to serve as a preview of what’s coming through the pipelines.
So while Golden Knights fans celebrate the returns of Keegan Kolesar and Roy and eye the status of the other RFA named Nicolas (from ‘Golden Knights offseason: What to know about the restricted free agents’, The Athletic, 8/2/22), it’s worth monitoring how these four prospects fare in Edmonton representing their home country as part of junior hockey’s biggest showcase.
Lukas Cormier (Third Round, No. 68 Overall – 2020 Draft)
Fresh off a historic campaign in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a member of the QMJHL finalist Charlottetown Islanders, Cormier is back representing Canada at the tournament. Not only did the defenseman lead all QMJHL blueliners in scoring, but his 33 goals marked the highest total the league has seen from any player on the back end in over 15 years. That production continued into the playoffs, where he scored eight goals and 21 points in 15 games.
Cormier, the two-time QMJHL Defenseman of the Year, signed his entry-level contract with the Golden Knights at the end of 2020 and is now eligible to join the Henderson Silver Knights in time for next season. Given his accomplishments to date, he may not have much left to prove in Quebec. During the canceled World Juniors in December, the 20-year-old posted a goal, an assist and a plus-5 plus/minus rating in just two games.
Jakub Demek (Fourth Round, No. 128 Overall – 2021 Draft)
Demek arrived on North American soil last season and made an immediate impact as a rookie. The 6-foot-4 Slovak center finished sixth in team scoring on the Edmonton Oil Kings with 20 goals and 54 points in 55 games. He also registered five goals and 17 points over 19 playoff games, helping Edmonton to their third WHL title in franchise history.
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While the scoring is certainly nice, Demek does not project to have the offensive game to make it as a top-six NHL forward. Instead, his path to the next level comes in his ability to out-muscle his opponents and impact the game through physicality. That’s likely what Vegas brass will be looking for as they watch Slovakia’s games.
Matyas Sapovaliv (Second Round, No. 48 Overall – 2022 Draft)
Expect Golden Knights executives to be paying particular attention to Sapovaliv during the tournament. The Czech center joined the organization just a month ago, being taken in the second round with what was Vegas’ first draft selection. The 18-year-old boasts a tantalizing combination of size (6-foot-3) and playmaking abilities, which general manager Kelly McCrimmon and company will be keeping an eye on.
It was that skill set that helped Sapovaliv stand out during his rookie year in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) as a member of the Saginaw Spirit. Despite sporting a -18 plus/minus for the Western Conference bottom-dwellers, he still managed 18 goals and 52 points, good for fourth in the league in rookie scoring. With two more OHL seasons before he’s even AHL-eligible, expect those numbers to grow.
Carl Lindbom (Seventh Round, No. 222 Overall – 2021 Draft)
Lindbom wasn’t the goaltender out of the Golden Knights’ system that most were expecting to see crack Team Sweden, but while Vikman may carry the bigger profile and boast more international experience, the younger Lindbom will have the chance to participate yet again in next year’s World Juniors. This is good news for Vegas, as their 2021 seventh-round pick likely won’t see much action as the clear third-stringer behind Jesper Wallstedt and Calle Clang.
But hey, experience is experience, especially for a player who produced an underwhelming 3.07 goals against average (GAA) and .895 save percentage across two international appearances. That said, Lindbom recorded a solid 13-6-0 record with a 2.24 GAA and .913 save percentage with the Djurgårdens IF under-20 team and impressed in one Swedish Hockey League (SHL) game.
None of these four players are expected to make an impact in Vegas this season. However, they could ultimately prove vital somewhere down the road in an organization seeking injections of young talent at cap-friendly prices. And if Cormier, Demek, Sapovaliv and Lindbom seem like distant hopes, keep in mind that it was just five years ago that the newly re-signed Roy was helping Canada to a silver medal at the event.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.