The Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be a franchise that continues to deny the traditional trajectory of what an expansion team in the NHL is known for. With numerous trades and free agent signings involving big-name players throughout their five years in the league, they have been able to continuously find different ways to expand their competitive window.
While there is no reason to believe that the Golden Knights are trending in the direction of a rebuild anytime soon, by having a significant amount of cap space committed to their top players over the next few seasons (10 players under contract with at least a $5 million cap hit), it could prove to be extremely important for their prospects to break into the NHL as soon as possible, in order to give themselves some cap relief.
With that said, let’s take a look at the top five prospects in the Golden Knights organization heading into the 2022-23 season.
Brendan Brisson – 20, Center/Winger, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Brendan Brisson has developed quite nicely as a scoring threat with an NHL-caliber release over the past two seasons. His strong hockey IQ allows him to quickly problem solve when it comes to defensive schemes and plays with a style that prioritizes quick puck movement. Due to his lack of size and physicality, he is less impactful when creating scoring opportunities for himself when he possesses the puck but has the offensive tools to be a threatening presence in multiple areas of the opposition’s zone.
Brisson finished first in goals with 21 and second in scoring with 42 points on the highly talented 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines roster headlined by the likes of Matty Beniers, Owen Power, Kent Johnson and Luke Hughes. His resume continued to become more impressive throughout the year, with an appearance on Team USA’s Olympic roster and later joining the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League (AHL) to close out the season.
With a full AHL campaign with Henderson set for Brisson, there is a possibility that he could show up in relief of injured players this season with the Golden Knights and a strong chance that he competes for a spot in the lineup for the 2023-24 season.
Lukas Cormier – 19, Defensemen, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
Lukas Cormier has easily solidified himself as one of the best defensive prospects outside the NHL. On top of his 33-goal, 81-point season, which resulted in him capturing the Quebec Major Junior League’s (QMJHL) Emile Bouchard Trophy as the league’s best defensemen for the second consecutive season, he quarterbacked Team Canada’s second power-play unit at the World Juniors this summer where they earned themselves a gold medal.
Probably the weakest point in Cormier’s game is his defense, which will need significant improvements if he is going to make the jump to the NHL within the next few seasons. His limitations are mostly based on his lack of size, as he tends to have a tough time overcoming opponents in puck battles. However, he has already started trending in the right direction this past year with Charlottetown, where he averaged almost 30 minutes of ice time a night, which included some time on the penalty kill, where he played noticeably better defensively.
The consensus among scouts seems to be that Cormier projects as a top-four defenseman with a high offensive ceiling. Based on the current strength and depth of Vegas’ defense, as well as the length of each of their contracts, it could take a few seasons for him to break through as a regular in the NHL. Although there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he will get there one day.
Zach Dean – 18, Center, Gatineau (QMJHL)
The story of Zach Dean has remained relatively consistent even before he was drafted in 2021; his point production does not reflect the impact he has on the game. After an underwhelming 20 points in 23 games in his draft year, it’s his consistently high level of intensity and vision to make plays at both ends of the ice that has made him such a valuable player with Gatineau over the past two seasons.
Dean’s lack of point production can also be attributed to the lack of talent around him. Despite having the skill and patience to create offense individually, there were many times this season when his teammates looked like they were a step behind him physically and in processing offensive strategies. This resulted in him constantly having to wait an extra second to make a pass and having to sacrifice rush chances in favour of waiting for reinforcements in the offensive zone. Having to compromise your offensive game this much is probably not going to result in the most eye-popping statistical season.
As it currently stands, I think Dean’s developmental potential is what makes him so valuable. While he hasn’t necessarily shown the dominance in the QMJHL to be looked at as an offensively productive NHL forward in the future, his work ethic and attention to detail will make it easy for him to transition into the professional game. Hockey IQ has the tendency to be undervalued in today’s prospect evaluation process, but with his ability to see the game at such a high level, it’s likely that he will have a decent shot to become a bottom-six forward in Vegas’ lineup after a few more seasons of development.
Pavel Dorofeyev – 21, Winger, Henderson (AHL)
Pavel Dorofeyev has shown significant improvement in many aspects of his game since leaving the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) to join Henderson in 2020. The 2019 3rd-round pick led the Silver Knights in goals (27) and points (52) last season and has finally started to find ways to make an impact at the professional level in North America.
There are a lot of things to like about Dorofeyev’s style of play and how his growing confidence is starting to affect it. His shot is his best offensive tool, with a deceptive release and good body mechanics allowing him to generate an incredible amount of power while needing little time to get it off. He has also shown that he knows how to effectively use his size to drive to the slot or drive to the net with possession of the puck and become a threat in close quarters. Being a dynamic scorer is a huge part of making an impact as a top-six forward in the NHL, and his willingness to get to these areas and take more risks is a major sign that his offensive game is bringing him closer to realizing that potential.
One of the things that Dorofeyev will definitely need to improve on is his pace of play. While he has shown the ability to drive by defenders on occasion, he can struggle with making smart decisions at high speed and sometimes only really dominates when he gets to dictate the tempo of play. As I have said when discussing some of the previous prospects, being able to process the game at the highest level is a tool in itself that can be largely overlooked by players and can sometimes be the reason why they are unable to make the jump to the NHL. However, with his offensive skill set and ability to score from multiple areas of the ice, I still strongly believe he is a potential middle-six forward who could be a strong option on the power play.
Ivan Morozov – 21, Center, Sochi (KHL)
Ivan Morozov is a very intelligent prospect who, despite having a tough season in the KHL this past year, still has a lot of room to grow. After being drafted in the second round by the Golden Knights in 2018, he played a vital role in SKA St. Petersburg’s top six throughout the following two seasons, where he finished his tenure there in 2021 with 31 points in 55 games as a 19-year-old. However, he struggled to replicate this offensive production this past season, which resulted in him getting sent down to the VHL before signing with Vegas in April.
Morozov is very good with defenders pressuring him on his back. He constantly scans his immediate area and finds ways to make safe plays to avoid any high danger chances against his team. He seems to have developed a lot of great habits at both ends of the ice that will make it easy for coaches to like him. After a few more years of development in the AHL, he could turn out to be quite the versatile forward for Vegas as a third or fourth-line option with some offensive upside.
Daniil Chayka – 19, Defensemen, Guelph (OHL)
Kaedan Korczak – 21, Defensemen, Henderson (AHL)
Logan Thompson – 24, Goaltender, Henderson (AHL)
Peter Diliberatore – 21, Defensemen, Henderson (AHL)
Isaiah Saville – 21, Goaltender, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)
As a team that prioritizes winning as much as Vegas has, it becomes necessary to find talent in the later stages of the draft. Despite there being no truly defined number one prospect that stands above the rest, I think Vegas has done a solid job of putting together a group of young and intelligent players that will be able to grow into a strong supporting cast around their roster. With there being so much promise with the current star-studded roster, as well as the intriguing prospects that they have been able to draft over the past few seasons, the future in Las Vegas is extremely bright.
Eric is a recent graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Sport Media Program and is covering the Vegas Golden Knights with the Hockey Writers