Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights have started the season with more immediate success than many expected.
General Manager George McPhee constructed a roster with pieces that fit together to make the squad immediately competitive. More important, he built the current roster without sacrificing future ones.
While the Golden Knights have plenty of talent now — proven by their 20-9-2 record — their future capital and assets could be considered more impressive.
McPhee came out of June’s expansion draft with a haul of draft picks over the next four years, including three first-round picks in the 2017 entry draft. For as well as the Golden Knights are doing to start the season, those prospects taken in June may be doing even better.
At No. 6 overall in the first round, Cody Glass was the first draft pick in franchise history. The 18-year-old center from Winnipeg was impressive in training camp and preseason, and has extended that momentum into the season with his junior hockey club, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
Glass has 20 goals and 28 assists in only 30 games this season, leading the team in both categories.
“I’m playing with confidence right now,” Glass said. “I’ve been a lot more confident with the puck and just more confident as a person.”
Walking across the stage and throwing on an NHL jersey as a top-5 pick will do that. So, will going through a full training camp with NHL players.
“Vegas knows what I’m capable of and I try to bring that with me to Portland,” Glass said. “The biggest thing was working with the skills guys in Vegas and working on those things every day after practice. I’m working on skating and shooting. Not only that but just taking the stuff I learned from preseason games. I’m using the speed and the stuff the veterans have taught me.”
At 6-foot-2, Glass has the body to be a powerful force on both ends of ice but must improve his strength.
“I’m protecting the puck better now because I’m stronger on my feet,” Glass said. “I know that in Vegas one of the biggest things is protecting the puck. You’re going against much bigger guys in the NHL and I saw that, so I know how important it is now.”
He’s already shown improvement in that area, among others, Winterhawks general manager and coach Mike Johnston said.
“There were a few key things he wanted to focus on which was getting quicker in his first three steps and being stronger in puck battles,” Johnston said. “He still has to put on a little weight, but he’s gotten a lot better this year with all of those things and you can see it in his play.”
Glass is working on improving his weaknesses, while still sharpening his strengths that made him a top prospect to begin with.
“His strengths have always been his vision, puck movement and how he creates plays for us on the ice and he’s still great at that,” Johnston said. “He’s really rounded out his game though, being a big part of our penalty kill. He’s a good two-way center.”
Glass leads the Winterhawks with eight power play goals, and has 10 assists with the man advantage. He’s scored a team-high three game-winning goals this year and leads Portland with a plus-26 plus-minus.
“The first thing is he realizes that it’s important for us to win right now,” Johnston said. “He also knows as a professional player the more versatility you have the more opportunity you’ll get. He knows that if (Golden Knights head coach) Gerard Gallant can trust him on the defensive end it opens up his opportunities.”
Perhaps the biggest difference in Glass since being drafted is his leadership.
“He carries himself differently,” Johnston said. “He has a presence out there on the ice. He’s a quiet leader. Not a stand up in dressing room and be loud type of leader. He shows his leadership on the ice.”
It’s a quality the Golden Knights would love to see translate to the NHL in the coming years. There isn’t a scenario more ideal for Vegas than to have its first draft pick in franchise history wear the captain’s “C” on the front of his sweater for the next decade.
“I think a lot of the guys in the dressing room look up to me,” Glass said. “Not only because I was a first round pick but because I’m a good all-around guy. I like to keep it loose in the dressing room because that’s when we’re at our best. I’m a guy that likes to show leadership on the ice.”
Glass has led Portland to first place in its division at this point with an impressive 20-9-0 record. He was named the WHL player of the month in November with 10 multipoint games out of 11.
“I want to finish the year strong and hopefully make a run at the championship and a Memorial Cup,” Glass said. “Then next summer and offseason with the Golden Knights will obviously be huge.”
It’s impossible to predict if Glass’ junior hockey dominance will translate straight to the NHL, but his development is promising. Here’s a look at the other Golden Knights’ top draft picks and how they’re doing in their respective leagues.
Nick Suzuki (No. 13 pick in the first round)
The 18-year-old center is having a stellar season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, with 17 goals and 27 assists through only 26 games. He’s currently sixth in the league in points.
Erik Brannstrom (No. 15 pick in the first round)
Brannstrom doesn’t have the gaudy stats of his fellow first-round picks, but the undersized defensemen continues to impress in Sweden. The 18-year-old defenseman has no goals and six assists for HV71, but unlike Glass and Suzuki he isn’t playing in a junior hockey league. Brannstrom plays in the Swedish Hockey League, which is the top professional organization in Sweden and has an average age of 25 (same as the NHL).
Nicolas Hague (No. 3 pick in the second round)
Hague showed off his impressive shot during the Golden Knights’ rookie camp, and it’s paying off this season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. The 6-foot-6 defenseman has 17 goals and 15 assists through 31 games. He leads his team in goals, and is the highest scoring defenseman in the entire OHL.
Jake Leschyshyn (No. 31 pick in the second round)
Leschyshyn was held out of contact drills through all of camp with the Golden Knights as he recovered from ACL surgery in February. The good news is the 18-year-old center is back playing for the Regina Pats of the WHL and has seven goals and six assists this season.
Maxim Zhukov (No. 3 pick in the fourth round)
The way the season has gone for the Golden Knights, they may not need another goaltending prospect for a while, but Zhukov has played great for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. He is in the top-seven in the league in goals against average (2.41), save percentage (.915), shutouts (2) and saves (480).