Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Since they began play four years ago, the Golden Knights have been a veteran-heavy team. They didn’t have one of their own drafted players appear for them until 2019-20, and relied on first-and second-year players mostly in depth roles, even last season.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Expansion teams by their nature rely on established players. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Alex Pietrangelo aren’t young players, but no one in their right mind is replacing them with rookies.
That’s also not to say Vegas hasn’t done a good job of developing players. Nicolas Hague, Zach Whitecloud and Keegan Kolesar were all players who made their NHL debuts with the Golden Knights who were regulars on last year’s team. And players like Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch, while drafted elsewhere, established themselves in the NHL while with Vegas.
There’s talent in the pipeline. The success of the NHL team, led mostly by veterans, has given Vegas the luxury of not needing to rely on 20- and 21-year-olds just yet.
But plenty of exciting players are ready to burst onto the scene. With hockey camps in various leagues around the world kicking off in the next few weeks, we take a look at a few of them, as well as when they might make an impact.
A note: The below is less of a prospect ranking and more of an informal list of intriguing young players in the Vegas system. Development is seldom linear, so the included ETAs are simply educated guesses of when they could appear with the Golden Knights.
Peyton Krebs, forward, 20
An errant slapshot to Krebs’ jaw in May robbed us of the chance to see the Golden Knights’ top prospect possibly get into playoff games. He’s done everything below the NHL level — first-round pick, WHL player of the year, Team Canada World Junior member — and this year we’ll see what he can do at the NHL level.
He played four games in Vegas last season before he fractured his jaw and very well might have been part of the playoff rotation. He’s going to get every chance to make the NHL roster out of camp, and a seeming battle for third-line center with Nolan Patrick looks like the most interesting storyline for the upcoming training camp. If he’s not quite ready for the Oct. 12 opener he’ll start at Henderson, but there’s little doubt Krebs will be skating at T-Mobile Arena before long.
Projected season-opening team: Vegas (NHL)
NHL ETA: 2021-22
Lukas Cormier, defenseman, 19
The 2020 third-rounder shot up the Golden Knights’ prospect rankings after a year in which he led all QMJHL defensemen and was fourth overall in points, registering 16 goals and 38 assists for 54 games in just 39 games. He led his team to a 35-5-0 record and is already looking like a steal as the 68th overall pick a year ago.
Cormier was one of the last cuts from Team Canada’s World Junior roster a year ago, and looks poised to compete for this year’s squad. At 19, this season will be his last in juniors. He’s already signed to an entry-level contract, so he’ll be battling for a spot on the Golden Knights’ roster at next year’s training camp. If he repeats or even improves on last year’s performance, he’ll be hard to keep out of the NHL.
Projected season-opening team: Charlottetown (QMJHL)
NHL ETA: 2022-23
Brendan Brisson, forward, 19
Brisson followed up a dominant draft year in the USHL with a first-round pick by Vegas, then joined Michigan’s star-studded roster in college last year. Brisson was one of a handful of first-round picks, including the 2021 first-, second- and fifth-overall selections, all of whom are expected to return to college. Brisson was good last season with 10 goals and 21 points in 24 games, and he’ll look to continue his development on what could be an all-time special team at the NCAA level.
As a college sophomore, the Golden Knights will look to sign him either after this season or next, or risk losing the draft rights of the best shooter in their system after his senior season. It’s possible he gets a cup of coffee in the NHL as soon as April if he progresses to the point where Vegas feels he’s ready to turn pro. If not, he’ll return to college in 2022-23 with an eye on a contract after that season.
Projected season-opening team: Michigan (NCAA)
NHL ETA: 2022-23
Ivan Morozov, forward, 21
The best Vegas prospect who is rarely talked about, Morozov has quietly put together two strong campaigns as a young player in arguably the world’s second-best hockey league. Last year in Russia he put up 31 points in 55 games, living up to the hype that made him a second-round pick in 2018, Vegas’ first after trading away its first-rounder.
Morozov’s contract with SKA St. Petersburg expires at the end of the year, making for an interesting decision. He could re-up with his Russian team, but if he’s got eyes on the NHL he could make the jump stateside next summer and compete for a roster spot next fall. If he signs a contract with Vegas, he’ll get every chance to make the NHL team as one of the Golden Knights’ best play-making prospects.
Projected season-opening team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
NHL ETA: 2022-23
Logan Thompson, goalie, 24
It’s clear the Golden Knights value the player they plucked from the ECHL last offseason, and it’s clear he’s the first option if either of their NHL goaltenders get hurt. Thompson was the AHL’s best goalie last season with a sparkling .919 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average, and this will be a big year for the 24-year-old netminder to prove he’s for real.
Don’t let the age scare you off — goalies take longer than skaters to develop, and Thompson has taken the long road to becoming an NHL prospect. He made a brief relief appearance last season, but with Oscar Dansk’s departure along with Vegas not signing a veteran minor-league goalie (so far), Thompson is a Robin Lehner or Laurent Brossoit injury away from his first NHL start. Vegas has never gone a full season with just two goalies, so expect to see Thompson at some point this season.
Projected season-opening team: Henderson (AHL)
NHL ETA: 2021-22
Others of note:
Zach Dean, forward, 18. Projected season-opening team: Gatineau (QMJHL). NHL ETA: 2024-25
Jack Dugan, forward, 23. Projected season-opening team: Henderson (AHL). NHL ETA: 2021-22
Lucas Elvenes, forward, 23. Projected season-opening team: Henderson (AHL). NHL ETA: 2021-22
Daniil Chayka, defenseman, 18. Projected season-opening team: Guelph (OHL) NHL ETA: 2024-25
Kaedan Korczak, defenseman, 20. Projected season-opening team: Henderson (AHL) NHL ETA: 2022-23