The Vegas Golden Knights have obviously not been shy about trading their prospects away for players that they believe will help them win right now. While the window to win the Stanley Cup has never been as exuberantly wide open for the Golden Knights as it is currently, some forward-thinking people may be wondering, “What about the future?”
After trading for superstar players like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty, the Golden Knights now own one of the smaller groups of prospects in the entire NHL. With large contracts and cap hits on the horizon, the development of these players will be a vital cog in the success of the Golden Knights, who must depend on their pool of prospects to eventually fill gaps in the line-up while playing on Entry-Level Contracts (ELCs) at a cheaper cost as the league salary cap continues to grow.
Here are the top-five names that you can expect to be seen in a Golden Knights jersey in the near future (unless they get traded first, of course).
5. Kaedan Korczak, Defense
2nd round, 41st overall (2019)
GP: 7 G: 0 A: 1 P: 1, +1 (Henderson Silver Knights, AHL)
Kaedan Korczak projects as a sturdy, if not reliable NHL defenseman. He has good size at 6’3, 202 lbs, and has added some much-needed strength to his repertoire since being drafted in the second round in 2019. He’s not scared to throw a big hit, and he will stand up for his teammates if necessary.
It remains to be seen if Korczak can put up the same offensive numbers as he did while playing for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, but the good news for Vegas fans is that Kelowna is well known for producing quality NHL defensemen. Norris Trophy winners Duncan Keith and Shea Weber both developed in the Rockets’ system, and like Korczak, both were selected in the second round of their respective drafts.
If Korczak can come anywhere close to that level of production, he will be a star in Las Vegas for a long time.
4. Brendan Brisson, Center
1st round, 19th overall (2020)
GP: 10 G: 7 A: 5 P: 12, +2 (University of Michigan, NCAA)
The young centerman is currently playing at over a point-per-game pace in the NCAA for the ultra-stacked Michigan Wolverines hockey team, playing left wing on a line with fellow top prospects Thomas Bordeleau (San Jose Sharks) and Mackie Samoskevich (Florida Panthers).
Brisson excels at finding his teammates in open space, setting them up for easy goals and offensive opportunities. Passing is easily his best asset, but his hockey I.Q. is what really makes his playmaking stand out from the rest of the bunch. The fact that he is not playing his natural center position with Michigan right now does mean that he is not getting the experience in the defensive zone that he needs in order to make it to the next level.
Brisson is the highest-drafted player on this list, and his position at #4 is not a reflection of poor play, more so than the chance that he may not be able to produce at the same pace in the NHL.
3. Daniil Chayka, Defense
2nd round, 38th overall (2021)
GP: 12 G: 2 A: 9 P: 11, +3 (Guelph Storm, OHL)
Daniil Chayka will be an NHL defenseman at some point. The question definitely is not “if,” but rather “how good will he really be?” Most scouting outlets had the young Russian defender projected to be selected late in the first round, as most NHL teams saw him as a safe pick in this past year’s draft.
Much to the delight of Golden Knights Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Luce and General Manager Kelly McCrimmon, Chayka slipped to the Golden Knights’ pick in the second round. His slip was likely due to his less-than-stellar offensive numbers in the Ontario Hockey League, but so far this season, Chayka has proven that his offensive game has taken a gigantic leap, as he has posted 11 points through 12 games with Guelph.
As long as Chayka continues to improve his offensive game, there’s reason to believe he will be a minute-crunching defenseman at the professional level.
2. Lucas Elvenes, Left Wing/Right Wing
5th round, 127th overall (2017)
GP: 7 G: 1 A: 3 P: 4, 0 (Henderson Silver Knights, AHL)
Lucas Elvenes is close to being considered to be the first real draft day steal in Vegas Golden Knights franchise history. The former fifth-round pick has posted 76 career points in 103 total AHL appearances. This season will be a “make or break” type year for the 22 year-old forward.
Elvenes has shown he has the offensive and skating capabilities to play at the next level, but the knocks on Elvenes include his lack of physicality and defensive awareness. Elvenes will need to put up numbers similar to or better than his explosive AHL rookie season in 2019-2020, when he posted 48 points in 59 games and earned AHL All-Star honors, if he wants to earn a future roster spot with the Golden Knights.
Despite his draft status being a later round pick, Elvenes is an elite talent as a prospect that could develop into a 70-80 point player for the Golden Knights in the NHL.
1. Zach Dean, Center/Right Wing
1st round, 30th overall (2021)
GP: 23 G: 10 A: 10 P: 20, -4 (2020 stats, Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL)
Although the young centerman is yet to lace up the skates for the Gatineau Olympiques this season, Zach Dean showed the Golden Knights that he was worth the gamble as the 30th overall selection in this past year’s draft while playing for them at the Coyotes Rookie Faceoff Tournament in September.
Dean showed off his well-polished and complete 200-foot game, controlling all three zones of the ice as dominant as he was in his previous two seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Olympiques.
Louis Robitaille, head coach of the Gatineau Olympiques, used to coach against Zach Dean as head coach of the Victoriaville Tigres, and upon being hired by Gatineau in April 2020, Robitaille told The Athletic, “In Victoria(ville), we really liked him as a player. We liked his speed, we liked his knowledge of the game, we liked that he played at a high pace. When I got named in Gatineau, I knew that he would be one of our leaders on and off the ice and one of the best 17-year-olds in the league.”
That is some pretty high praise from a brand new head coach, albeit one coming over from a rival team. Zach Dean projects as a first or second-line two-way center, one that will be leaned on by every coach he plays for to score goals, shut down the opposition’s top players, and be a valued leader to the rest of his teammates.
But as the recent trend with the Golden Knights would suggest, we may not get a chance to see any of these prospects ever suit up in the Gold and Black. Maybe they should wait until they sign a long-term deal with the Golden Knights before purchasing a home in Las Vegas. Just a suggestion.
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