Roughly a day and a half after adding 31 players to their organization, the Vegas Golden Knights went back to work at the 2017 NHL Draft. Armed with 13 selections – including three first round picks – general manager George McPhee put a bow on a year’s worth of extensive scouting by his club with a strong performance that likely set up his club for several years.
Effectively stocking up their prospect cupboards from scratch, McPhee and director of amateur scouting Scott Luce seemed to go with a pretty simple strategy: keep most of your picks and try to accumulate a lot of different types of players with attributes you think translate well to the pro level.
Amidst whispers that Vegas would package their picks to move up in the draft, McPhee instead opted for a broader approach and made three strong selections in the first round: Portland Winterhawks center Cody Glass, Owen Sound Attack center Nick Suzuki and HV71 defenseman Erik Brannstrom. Glass and Suzuki, in particular, were regarded as two of the best offensive centers in their respective leagues and Brannstrom was touted as one of the most complete defenders in the entire draft.
“I thought it went really well,” said McPhee after the first round. “We got two skilled centers and a very skilled defenseman, and we still have three picks in the second round. We contemplated doing a few different things and using a second round pick to do it, but we ended up getting the guys we wanted to get so we didn’t have to do that so we’re really happy about that.”
The following day’s picks followed a similar pattern, with the Golden Knights selecting with nine of their 10 remaining picks – one of their second round selections was sent to Columbus in exchange for 20-year-old forward prospect Keegan Kolesar, likely destined for the Chicago Wolves. The nine picks they kept were used on a fairly broad swath of prospsective NHLers:
- Hulking Mississauga Steelheaders blueliner Nic Hague, who stacks up at 6’5″ and 220 lbs
- Lanky two-way Regina Pats center Jake Leschyshyn
- Danish speedster Jonas Rondbjerg, playing in Sweden’s junior league
- Russian import goaltender Maxim Zhukhov, playing in the USHL
- Swedish sniper Lucas Elvenes, playing in Sweden’s junior league
- New York high school forward Jonathan Dugan
- The slightly under-sized forward Nick Campoli from the junior-A OJHL
- Czech junior goaltender Jiri Patera
- Niagara IceDogs center Ben Jones
Those are nine players with very diverse backgrounds and skill-sets.
Much like with the expansion draft, McPhee and his staff appear to have taken a longer-term approach with their inaugural entry draft class and attempted to set up their club for the long-term. The Vegas NHL roster features a good number of players whose best years are still ahead of them – a gigantic chunk of their roster is between 24 and 26 years old. Given that the Golden Knights are an expansion team and a bit lean on established stars or firepower – with the exception of perhaps Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal and Cody Eakin – the expectation is that the team will probably struggle for a few seasons.
That said, the breadth approach to the 2017 NHL Draft has given the Golden Knights a dozen prospects who, with some luck, can hopefully step into the lineup in two years just as the team’s young core begins to evolve into a more composed and mature team. It won’t happen overnight, but drafts like this weekend’s will definitely help expedite the process.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.