As the 2018-19 season eases into the playoffs, the Vegas Golden Knights transition from being an expansion team to a team that is built on winning now. Last year changed so much, and the argument may be that Vegas is even better this season. The results may not pan out but the roster put forth now on paper is a contender in the West.
Prospect wise, Vegas expects a late first-round pick once again this year. Their pipeline should get a boost with ten picks in the first five rounds of the 2019 NHL Draft. George McPhee has some options in his arsenal, and he may use a few of them. Anyway, here are the top ten prospects for the Vegas Golden Knights.
2018-19 Top 10 Vegas Golden Knights Prospects
1. Nic Hague, D – Chicago (AHL)
Drafted: 34th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Vegas
Hague coming of age in his first full season in Chicago is not a surprise. Skating translated to the AHL level and quickly for the tall defenseman who can easily quarterback a power-play. His emergence made Erik Brannstrom somewhat expendable. Inevitably, the question will come up. Can Hague skate at the NHL level?
Hague projected as a top-four defenseman at the start of the season. Now, the Vegas defenseman still has facets to improve on. He has slowed down points wise but not defensively. There exists a slight chance he could briefly be called up for Vegas, but the likelihood is that he gets a better shot during training camp.
2. Cody Glass, RW/C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
HT/WT: 6-2/ 185
Drafted: 6th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Vegas
The speedy and skilled forward possesses the craftiness of a veteran. Furthermore, the Portland Winterhawks forward creates breakdowns due to his puck pursuit alone. His ability to think the game along with his drive keep him from getting too complacent. In the process, he may turn out to be Vegas’s top prospect.
Glass impressed many in the Vegas camp with his ability to soak in the game and ability to play with anyone. All pundits could talk about was how Glass improved so much from the year before. It would not shock anyone if Glass wound up with the AHL team in Chicago as soon as 2019-20. An injury was the only thing to slow him down this year. In 38 games, he still had 69 points. That is an eye-popping 1.82 points per game.
3. Jonas Rondbjerg, LW/RW – HC Vaxjo Lakers (SHL)
Draft: 65th overall in the second round of the 2017 draft by Vegas
Vegas carries quite a few wingers, but Rondbjerg blends a nice skill set in a medium-framed body. He still needs to work on his upper-body strength a little bit along with his hands as the level of play rises.
Rondbjerg is a tenacious two-way forward with an ability to win puck battles. He took a bit of a step back compared to last season but these setbacks will happen. The winger is at least a year or two from coming over to North America. Vegas will take their time with him as he is a longer-term project. Most of the Golden Knights prospects are at this stage.
4. Paul Cotter, C – London Knights (OHL)
Drafted: 115th overall in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by Vegas
Arguably, Cotter is another prospect on a long developmental curve. Fortunately, Vegas has time on their side and Cotter is transitioning to the OHL nicely. He has 26 points in 48 games for the London Knights this year.
His upside is that of a middle-six center. That may become higher but based on what has been seen, Cotter has the goal-scoring ability but that has not been seen often enough in the OHL. He is a name to keep an eye on for this year’s Worlds. On the other hand, it may be a couple of years before he cracks the AHL.
5. Ivan Morozov, C – SKA (KHL, VHL, MHL)
Drafted: 61st overall in the second round of the 2018 draft by Vegas
The forward climbed the ladder for SKA all the way to the top in just his first full year. That is quite impressive for an 18-year-old. He played for Team Russia at the Worlds, providing valuable backchecking and the ability to play a 200-foot game. So far, in the Russian league, the first thing you notice about Morozov is his ability to create space. He looks like he could step in and play the North American game at times.
Therefore, the question becomes when does he leave Russia. Will it be next year or the year after? There are aspects of his game that Morozov must work on. Most notably, his faceoffs are improving but not close to an NHL level yet. Also, he sees the ice well but does get a little too cute trying to make the “it” pass. That will come in time. His two-way game improves with each time he plays.
6. Zach Whitecloud, D – Chicago (AHL)
Whitecloud is known more like a defensive defenseman, and yet his offense is a bit underrated. He has 24 points in 61 games for Chicago this year. Also, he is a right-handed shooting defenseman which Vegas is in short supply. However, Vegas has a logjam of defensemen in their organization which has caused issues before. Whitecloud possesses NHL ability on the defensive end but other players were called up ahead of him because of their offensive upside.
There seems a chance he could crack the Vegas roster out of training camp next season. For now, he is gaining valuable experience playing with Chicago.
7. Dylan Coghlan, D – Chicago (AHL)
With Vegas, another defenseman that cannot get a shot in the system seems commonplace. Coghlan is also a right-handed shooting blueliner but is even more of a defensive defenseman. That was the thought until he released that shot of his more. His last two years with Tri-City of the USHL showed he could take on the offensive responsibilities while still playing solid defense.
Once in Chicago, it took a little for Coghlan to get going but now has 12 goals and 30 points on the season (54 games played). Again, with the depth chart as jammed as it is, the defenseman is stuck in Chicago for a while. That may not be a bad thing as he continues to garner more ice time in all situations there. The experience is very valuable.
8. Lucas Elevenes, LW/RW– Rogle BK
Drafted: 127th overall in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft by Vegas.
After the last year or so, the jury remains out on whether Elvenees will play in the NHL. However, it is clear that he has some talent that comes close or is at NHL level. His playmaking is top-notch but only shows up in flashes.
Fortunately, Elevenes is producing at about a point every other game in the SHL At least, he has room to grow into even more of a playmaker. Elevenes developing a shot to go with his above average skating would be optimal. His defense is improving slowly in the last year.
9. Reid Duke, C/LW – Chicago (AHL)
Drafted: 169th overall in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft by Minnesota.
Duke has had an interesting past with the Minnesota organization and now Vegas. The forward scored seven goals and nine assists in 44 games. However, his two-way play is raved about constantly in Chicago. He even got a call-up earlier this season. Duke took a healthy scratch but impressed his teammates nonetheless.
While he may never reach a top-six role with Vegas, Duke can be a serviceable bottom-six forward with the Golden Knights. Fortunately, Vegas has enough depth not to rush Duke or in the hopes, other prospects come along.
10. Jake Leschyshyn, C – Regina and Lethbridge (WHL)
Drafted: 62nd overall in the second round of the 2017 draft by Vegas
Leschyshyn possesses the bloodline of NHL talent from his father, Curtis. On the other hand, Jake scores and scores often. This is against all odds at times. He tallied 40 goals between the two OHL locations this year. Also, he averaged over a point a game. The forward produces wherever he goes and that’s promising.
The pivot is a long-term project as far as Vegas is concerned. There is potential but that may not be seen for 2-3 years. Furthermore, patience is key here. Leschysyn working on the defensive aspects of his game along with faceoffs will be telling as he develops. Initially, he makes a heck of a first impression. Do not be surprised if he moves up lists more in the next 12-24 months.