The Vegas Golden Knights are sailing smoothly into the second half of their inaugral season with a 29-10-2 record, which puts them atop of the Pacific Division.
Please do not adjust your computer screen, that is correct — the Golden Knights are the top seed in the Western Conference playoff hunt after 41 games played.
And, all the while, we haven’t yet seen one of the top draft picks from last June’s NHL Entry Draft make their league debut in the Knights steel gray, black, gold and red trim sweater. No complaints — just a little shocking to see an expansion franchise not force feeding their prospects into the NHL and, instead, allowing them to gain a little seasoning by playing a full season in juniors.
So, here we are at the start of 2018, just looking to catch up with the Knights’ top prospects.
Glass Continues to Excel as Knights Top Prospect
Cody Glass was the first draft pick (sixth overall) in Golden Knights history. Expectations are high for Glass to become a first-line center because of his ability to consistently put the puck in the net at the junior level. He left quite an impression for all after a solid preseason camp and now it’s all about convincing the Golden Knights front office that he’s physically ready to compete in the NHL. Glass continues to impress as he leads the Portland Winterhawks in scoring with 23 goals and 36 assists in 38 games this season.
Scouts just love his playmaking ability because Glass rarely makes a mistake with the puck. His decision-making often sets linemates with a good look at the net each time in the offensive zone. Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was wise to send Glass back to juniors prior to the start of season because it allowed his skills to develop without the constant pressures of being under the microscope at such a young age.
Brannstrom Developing into a Blue Line Performer
The final of three first-round picks by the Knights last summer was Erik Brannstrom, who opened some eyes with an impressive training camp that confirmed everyone’s suspicions he was one of the top defensemen from last year’s class. At the conclusion of preseason, Brannstrom returned to Sweden for another season of learning his trade with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League. Playing overseas will help him grow into becoming a quality NHL defenseman.
He has become more involved on both ends of the ice as Brannstrom has shown a keen sense to move the puck out of the defensive zone with his outstanding passing skills. The Golden Knights hope to tap into his offensive talent by encouraging him to lead the attack up ice and becoming another playmaker on rushes toward the crease.
The one question mark with Brannstrom is his 5-foot-10, 172-pound size, which isn’t an ideal physique for a defenseman, but he has shown to be smart and aggressive in front of the net. You get the sense that Brannstrom is a work-in-progress, but could be well worth the wait.
Suzuki: A Prolific Goal Scorer?
Nick Suzuki was the second of three first-round picks by the Knights in last June’s NHL Entry Draft and is projected to become a second-line center behind Cory Glass in the not too distant future. Scoring goals is Suzuki’s forte, scoring 45 goals in the OHL last season, and the Golden Knights hope that skill translates well at the next level.
He has continued to excel with the Owen Sound Attack, netting 18 goals and 32 assists this season. He’s a confident hockey player who has the vision to see others and get them the puck for a good look at the crease. Plus, Suzuki is creative enough around the net to score goals at a high rate. The extended ice time gained by playing another season in the OHL has helped him improved with his backchecking and face-off accuracy.
The Vegas Prospect Pipeline
The Golden Knights have quietly built an impressive minor league system that will develop valuable pieces that will assist them to contend for many years to come. The success of the first half has given the Knights some luxury to allow Glass, Brannstrom and Suzuki time to improve at their own pace until they’re ready to be called up to the NHL.
Our expectations should be low until each prospect has shown to be solid contributors on the ice. But, don’t be surprise if it’s a matter of time before this group creates havoc inside the T-Mobile Arena on a nightly basis.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy