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November 26, 2022

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Golden Knights draft pick Dugan shines for Providence at T-Mobile Arena

Jack Dugan

Jeff Speer / Icon Sportswire via AP Images

Golden Knights forward Jack Dugan (58) controls the puck during a scrimmage at the team’s development camp on July 1, 2017, at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

Some Golden Knights fans attended the Fortress Invitational to get a glimpse of the future of their hockey team. They knew that Providence had Jack Dugan, a 2017 fifth-round pick, and Ohio State had Layton Ahac, a 2019 third-round pick.

Both may end up at T-Mobile Arena one day, which gave those in attendance the past two days a unique opportunity to see future Golden Knights before they ever sign a contract.

Dugan scored the first goal of the tournament, a power-play wrister in a3-1 win over Army on Friday night. Saturday, he scored the game-winning goal in a shootout against Cornell to lead Providence to the four-team event’s title and win its Most Valuable Player Award.

“Hopefully that’s my first goal of many in this building,” Dugan said. “Watching those (Golden Knights) games you think, where would I fit in in the future?”

Dugan is one of the top players in college hockey, and perhaps the only question remains is when he’ll trade his Friars’ jersey for one of the Golden Knights. Vegas can sign him to entry-level deal as soon as his college season is over, and depending on when that is, can get him into an NHL game even this season. It’s similar to what the Golden Knights did with college free agents Zach Whitecloud and Jimmy Schuldt the last two years.

The difference between Dugan and those two is that there is no rush. Because he’s just a sophomore, the Golden Knights will retain his rights for two more seasons. They could decide his development would be best suited for another season or two in college. Or they could decide they want him in their system, allowing him to play in Vegas or with AHL Chicago.

“I think he’s ready to turn pro. He’s ready for the next challenge,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “He’s got to continue to be a dominant player at the level that he’s at. One of the things that we felt that if he was going to back to school as a sophomore is, he really needs to set high expectations for himself and I think he has and to this point I think he’s met.”

He’s certainly been a dominant player. Coming into the Fortress Invitational, Dugan led the nation in points (35) and assists (29) while powering Providence to a 10-5-4 record and No. 14 national ranking.

Dugan said he’s focused on playing in college right now and not a potential professional contract. His coach said he’s just about ready for the next step.

“When you get to the next level, you don’t just get slotted into the top line or the second line, you’ve got to be able to contribute to the team and those are the things we’re trying to get across to him because I think his offensive IQ, his offensive abilities are definitely capable of the next level,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “I think he’s getting close.”

Ahac isn’t quite as far along in his development.

The 18-year-old Ahac, the No. 86 overall pick for the Golden Knights last June, is playing through some growing pains in his freshman season at Ohio State. He had just two assists in 18 games coming into the tournament.

But it’s clear the potential is there. Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said he sees a future NHL player in Ahac, and he’s ready to see what he can become.

“He’d be the first one to tell you when he got to college, everybody’s bigger, everybody’s stronger, everybody’s faster and it’s like ‘woah,’ and he’s learning on the job,” Rohlik said. “To be able to learn and do it on the rink against teams like this is only going to make him better.

“Sky’s the limit.”

None of that tempered Ahac’s excitement to play at what could be his future home arena. He watches Golden Knights games, and already feels part of the organization that drafted him.

“It just seems like it’s almost my home in a way now,” Ahac said. “I’m definitely fortunate to be picked by an organization like this and excited for the future.”

Justin Emerson can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Justin on Twitter at twitter.com/@j15emerson.