The Vegas Golden Knights have now had five NHL Drafts to stock their prospect cupboard. After five drafts you would think a young expansion team would have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL.
Nope, not so much. Vegas had three first-round picks in their inaugural draft and have traded away Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstrom. They traded away their 2018 first-round pick. They traded away their 2019 first-round pick Peyton Krebs. That is a tremendous amount of draft capital, and it has bought them a Stanley Cup contending team loaded with superstar players in their prime the likes of Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty.
Vegas has been a tremendous success story since they entered the league, far exceeding my expectations. The cost of that success has come at the expense of selling futures, and that bill may come due in the future as they have traded away their 2022 first-round pick. The prospect cupboard is not devoid of potential stars and has some depth that could pan out as well in supporting roles.
In short, Vegas has done an outstanding job of scouting, drafting, asset management, and player development.
- Brendan Brisson, C/W – University of Michigan (NCAA)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 29th overall by Vegas Golden Knights
One of the more underrated players on the All-Star roster the Michigan Wolverines is Brisson. While names like Matty Beniers, Owen Power, Kent Johnson, and Luke Hughes demand a lot of limelight, the only one on that list to out point Brisson was Beniers. As a sophomore Brisson posted 42 points through 38 games to finish second on the team scoring, and 16th in league scoring. His production earned him a role with USA at the Beijing Olympics where he scored two goals in four games. Brisson also helped USA to a Gold Medal in the 2021 WJC.
Brisson’s best weapon is his one-timer. His release is fast, hard, and accurate. He has soft hands, and his puck skills are NHL ready. His skating is not a strength, but also not a liability. He competes hard but has average size and lacks a physical aggression in his game.
He thinks the game well and uses his hockey sense to create pressure with possession, works the cycle well, and makes quick one-touch passes. Brisson has a good hockey IQ and makes creative plays and times his arrival to open ice perfectly to accept a pass to unload his deadly shot.
Brisson has turned pro and signed with Henderson (AHL). Look for him to fill a top-six role in the pros and make a living scoring one-timer goals with the man advantage.
- Lukas Cormier, LD – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 68th overall by Vegas Golden Knights
Cormier is going to be a steal for Vegas as a third-round pick from the 2020 draft. His defensive game was a red flag in his draft year and at 5-9 there was some size bias at play. Since his draft, he had a 54-point season in last year’s 39-game COVID shortened season and was the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year leading the league in defenseman points and assists. Cormier also showcased his skill at Canada WJC selection camps and was named to the 2022 edition and had two points in two games before the games were canceled.
Cormier is now listed at 5-10 and may have a little more growth spurt to go before he is NHL ready. Cormier is a prolific offensive defenseman. He excels on the powerplay, carries pucks up ice in transition, and drives plays to the net. His best weapon is his point shot, which is hard and low. He outwaits defenders for optimum shooting lanes and deploys deception to create shooting opportunities with fake shots, look-offs, and creative soft hands. His point shot is particularly dangerous as it is often intended as a shot/pass or deflection or rebound option. These skills and vision translate very well to the NHL.
His lack of size may cause some issues in his own end, but his reads and mobility should make him adequate defensively. Cormier will learn the pro game in Henderson next season in the AHL and could be at the top of the league for rookie scoring defensemen. His tenure in the AHL will depend on his defensive adaptation as he is offensively NHL-ready now.
- Pavel Dorofeyev, LW/RW – Henderson Silver Knights (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round three, 79th overall by Vegas Golden Knights
The offensively gifted Russian was a prolific junior scorer in Russia and at the WJC where he scored four points in seven games in 2020 helping Russia to a Silver Medal. His offensive production at the KHL level was underwhelming. This can be common as the KHL seldom deploys teenagers in prominent roles and limits ice time.
After bouncing from league to league and team to team in Russia, he moved to North America to finish the 2021 season in the AHL and posted 13 points as a rookie in 24 games. He has had a breakout season and is now the leading scorer in Henderson by a healthy margin and is on pace for 52 points in 68 games.
Dorofeyev has silky smooth mitts and the vision to match. He is a magician with the puck, can maneuver through traffic, and create plays when it looks like he is out of options. His play earned him a couple of call-ups to Vegas and he will compete for a full-time promotion for the 2022-23 season. His game is a top-six offensive player or bust and it is starting to project like he is going to make it.
- Ivan Morozov, C – HK Sochi (KHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 61st overall by Vegas Golden Knights
The KHL is not known to be a developmental league, but no one told that to Morozov. His role and production on one of the top teams the past two years with SKA St. Petersburg as a teenager was impressive. In 2020-21 he put up 31 points in 55 games while adding another seven in 15 playoff games.
Curiously after 17 games this year and eight points, he was demoted to the VHL where he racked up 19 points through 15 games. At the KHL trade deadline, he was moved to Sochi, where he played first-line minutes and had three points in five games.
His season is now over, and his contract is expired. He has let it be known he intends to come to North America, but the political landscape may make that a challenge.
Morozov is a strong physical player. His attention to detail and defensive awareness creates turnovers and transition that will play well in the NHL. He is dominant on faceoffs but lacks high-end skating and speed. His offensive game is good but may limit him to a third-line role as well. If Morozov signs his ELC he could jump straight to the NHL as soon as next season as the Knights will be looking for some cap-friendly contracts to fill out their roster.
- Zach Dean, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 30th overall by Vegas Golden Knights
Dean kicked in the front door of the QMJHL as a 16-year-old rookie posting 46 points in 57 games. Since then, he has been well known in the scouting community, but his point production has not advanced as expected.
His draft year was cut short due to COVID. As an assistant captain for the Olympiques in his sophomore season, he had 10 goals and 10 assists in 23 games. The Alberta native squeaked into the first round of the 2021 draft when Vegas selected him 30th overall. His D+1 season saw a slight improvement from a counting stat point of view as he projects as over a point per game player on pace for 52 points in 49 games.
What has scouts excited about Dean is he plays the game at a high pace. He has good vision with soft, quick hands. He plays a solid game in all three zones and has equal compete offensively and defensively. While not a hulking mass of a man at 6-0, 180 pounds, he has man strength and can either go around or through players at the Major Junior level. Dean has all the tools needed to be successful and impactful at the NHL level but there is concern that his offensive upside may limit him to a third-line player.
- Daniil Chayka, LD – Guelph Storm (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round two, 38th overall by Vegas Golden Knights
The big smooth-skating defender was on a lot of scouts’ first-round draft ranking for much of his draft year but slipped out and was considered to be a reach when Vegas selected him 38th early in the second round.
His OHL rookie season was impressive with 14 points in 56 games. He was more of a passenger for their Championship run and Memorial Cup Tournament, but the experience was great. His sophomore season is where he captured the scouting community’s attention with his solid all-around play and 34 points in 56 games.
A late birthday pushed him into the following draft and the pandemic canceled the OHL season. Chayka played in Russia, but on three different teams in three different leagues and was underwhelming in all of them. That combined with his egg-laying performance at the WJC dropped him down the draft charts.
Back in the OHL with Guelph for his D+1 season and final year in the OHL he has rebounded with a 39-point pace in 53 games. Chayka can play an impactful game, he plays big minutes, settles things down defensively, has a big point shot, and projects as a good pro player.
Chayka will make the jump to the AHL next year where the Knights coaching staff will work on developing his offensive game, puck retrievals and adjusting to a higher pace. His NHL upside is likely capped out as a middle pairing defensive defenseman who supports a more offensive puck-moving partner.
- Kaedan Korczak, RD – Henderson Silver Knights (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round two, 41st overall by Vegas Golden Knights
Korczak may be as close as we will get to a throw-back NHL big, physical defenseman. At 6-4 and 192 pounds, he has the size. He put up some decent offensive numbers in the WHL with 106 points in 214 career games.
He is a good skater that can cover a lot of ice in short order. His long and active stick is effective at closing passing and shooting lanes. He uses his size well in board battles and to clear the front of the net.
His offensive vision and appetite seem to be somewhat limited; he makes the first pass look easy but is not offensively aggressive. His rookie season in the AHL has been a good transition on pace for 13 points through 51 games.
Korczak was recalled for his NHL debut in February for a 5-2 win over Buffalo where he had 16:37 minutes of ice-time. I don’t see his offensive game flourishing in the NHL, but I do see him having a good career as a bottom pairing defensive defenseman that kills penalties.
- Jack Dugan, LW – Henderson Silver Knights (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round five, 142nd overall by Vegas Golden Knights
Drafted out of Northwood School in the fifth round as a long shot, his D+1 season in the USHL was impressive with 66 points and 104 PIM in 54 games. Dugan moved to the NCAA with Providence and had instant success with 39 points in 41 games followed by a breakout sophomore season of 52 points in 34 games. His stock was at an all-time high and was looking like a steal from the fifth round.
Dugan signed after two seasons of NCAA and had a good rookie AHL season last year with 33 points in 37 games in Henderson during the short season. This year has been a struggle for Dugan as injuries have limited him to 31 games and seemingly impacted his production as well as he is on pace for only 22 points in 41 games. It has hurt his stock and cost him a chance to make his NHL debut as the Golden Knights have been plagued by injuries. Assuming Dugan can rebound from his rough season at 24-years-old, a comeback he could find himself in an NHL role, but time is running out.
- Jackson Hallum, C/W – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 91st overall by Vegas Golden Knights
Hallum has committed to the University of Michigan and will help replenish the Wolverines roster after the team suffered a mass exodus following their frozen four semifinals loss. Hallum will still have plenty of competition in his freshman season as he will be joined by fellow recruits Frank Nazar, Adam Fantili, Rutger McGrorty and returnee Mackie Samoskevich.
It will be tough competition for sure, but Hallum is coming off a strong USHL season where he is on pace for 71 points in 62 games with 30 goals. Coming from high school hockey and one full season of USHL, it is difficult to predict how his offensive game will fare at higher levels and into pro hockey.
One thing is for sure, he is a burner! Hallum is an outstanding skater with speed, acceleration, and agility. His skating projects to every level, but he needs to develop some better defensive awareness and show he has the offensive chops to play at the next level. Hallum is a project and will take three or four years, but the potential is there.
- Jakub Brabenec, C – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round four, 102nd overall by Vegas Golden Knights
After catching some attention at the 2021 U18 for Czechia with four points in five games, Brabenec has had a breakout season in the QMJHL. As a rookie with the Islanders, he is on pace for a 63-point season in 58 games. Still only 18-years-old he has another year of junior eligibility remaining but because he was drafted out of Europe, he can turn pro sooner.
Brabenec is an excellent playmaker with good hands and vision, at 154 pounds he needs to add some bulk and strength before he turns pro and will benefit from another year in the Q in a larger role next year.