Teams in the NHL build their teams in many different ways. Some teams build their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the primary way teams create a contending roster is through the NHL Entry Draft. Most years typically have one or two players who go on to make the team, but in some drafts, the general manager nails his choices and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the best Vegas Golden Knights draft class in team history.
Vegas Golden Knights Best Draft Class: 2017
Choosing the best draft class in Golden Knights history wasn’t overly difficult. Vegas is the NHL’s second-newest team and has only participated in five Entry Drafts. Many existing teams were in trouble due to expansion rules. There were great valuable players who teams wanted to protect but couldn’t because of the circumstances. To force Vegas to choose a certain player, teams paid them with quality picks and prospects. Additionally, by trading players chosen from the Expansion Draft, Vegas was able to stockpile multiple picks. In the end, the Golden Knights made 12 selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Vegas had the third-best odds for the first overall pick. They lost the lottery and dropped to sixth. In the first round, they also had the 13th and 15th overall picks. This draft class was an unusual one, as there wasn’t a consensus first-overall pick like most years. Most speculated it would be Nolan Patrick. However, to everyone’s shock, the New Jersey Devils would begin the draft by selecting Swiss forward Nico Hischier. Patrick would go second to the Philadelphia Flyers. Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson went off the board respectively. The Vegas Golden Knights were on the clock to make their first selection in franchise history.
Cody Glass, First Round, 6th Overall
The Golden Knights selected Cody Glass with this pick. Glass scored 94 points in 69 games in the WHL during his draft year. He possessed good passing skills and a strong two-way game. Glass made his debut with Vegas during the 2019-20 season, where he scored 12 points in 39 games. His development was trending positively as he would average near a point-per-game in the AHL. However, he wasn’t producing at the NHL level as much as many hoped. Glass was recently traded to the Nashville Predators as part of a three-way trade in exchange for the injury-riddled Patrick. Both were struggling on their respective teams and needed a fresh start. Hopefully, Glass can get a better opportunity in Nashville and break out with the Predators.
Nick Suzuki, First Round, 13th Overall
Nick Suzuki had a strong draft year in the OHL with 96 points in 65 games. Where Glass saw some opportunity with the Golden Knights, Suzuki didn’t see any. In 2018, the Golden Knights would use Suzuki to bring in forward Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty was acquired to help the Golden Knights by bringing in consistent goal-scoring. This past season, Pacioretty was on pace to hit 41 goals. As for Suzuki, he is slowly developing into one of the best two-way centres in the league.
This past season, Suzuki had 41 points in 56 games. He had great analytics to back up his defensive game. Suzuki has excellent playmaking abilities and can be trusted to play in crucial defensive situations. The Golden Knights picked well with the 13th overall selection and turned Suzuki into a great goal-scorer for the near future. However, Suzuki would have been the centre Vegas is currently searching for. It wouldn’t be surprising if Suzuki is one day awarded the Selke Trophy.
Erik Brannstrom, First Round, 15th Overall
Erik Brannstrom was the first defenceman drafted in Golden Knights history. He has a small frame for a defenceman but had great offensive upside. Brannstrom is a quick and agile defenceman. He has the solid ability to carry the puck into the neutral zone and could also quarterback powerplays. At the time, many compared Brannstrom to Erik Karlsson. In his draft year, Brannstrom had six points in 35 games with HV71 of the SHL. He would make his professional debut with the Chicago Wolves in 2018-19, with 28 points in 41 games.
In 2019, Vegas used Brannstrom in a blockbuster trade to acquire Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. Stone is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL and is the first captain in Golden Knights’ history. Brannstrom, on the other hand, had some trouble staying in the Ottawa Senators defence corps. This season, Brannstrom finally got the opportunity to play a key role on Ottawa’s back-end and had 13 points in 30 games. He should be poised to break out soon. The Golden Knights ended up turning Brannstrom into one of the league’s best players.
Nicolas Hague, Second Round, 34th Overall
Next, the Golden Knights selected the massive 6′-6″ Nicolas Hague. With the Mississauga Steelheads, he had 46 points in 65 games. Hague would spend more time with Mississauga before making his professional hockey debut with Chicago. He would later on play with the Golden Knights, notching 11 points in 38 games. Hague would spend the entirety of the 2020-21 season with Vegas, this time with 17 points in 52 games.
He skates very well for a huge player and can log top minutes. Hague uses his heavy shot from the point and physicality to his advantage. Additionally, Hague had an EV Offense in the 87% percentile and a WAR% in the 62%. He contributes to the offence effectively and is a positive factor in his team’s wins. Hague has nothing but a bright future ahead of him.
Jake Leschyshyn, Second Round, 62nd Overall
The Golden Knights used this pick to select 19-year-old Jake Leschyshyn out of the WHL. In his draft year, he had 40 points in 47 games. For an overager, his point production in the WHL was subpar. Leschyshyn took another step backwards the following year with 40 points in 64 games. Fortunately, he would recover the next season and got a chance to play with the Wolves. Leschyshyn plays a physical game despite his small frame and plays a gritty two-way game. This past season with the Henderson Silver Knights, Leschyshyn scored 11 points in 39 games. There is hope that he can one day play as a gritty depth forward for the Golden Knights.
Jonas Rondbjerg, Third Round, 65th Overall
Jonas Rondbjerg had a successful season in Sweden’s U20 SuperElit league in 2016-17, with 31 points in 42 games. The following season, Rondbjerg collected six goals and 11 points in 35 games in the SHL. He continues to catch the attention of many at the 2018 World Juniors, finishing with seven points in six games. Despite the strong season, Rondbjerg would struggle in his D+2 season. He only collected six points in 45 games. Rondbjerg also played poorly in the 2019 World Juniors. This past season with the Silver Knights, he had 13 points in 38 games. He isn’t flashy but plays an effective two-way game that gets the job done. In the future, he could be a reliable bottom-six forward and penalty killer.
Maxim Zhukov, Fourth Round, 96th Overall
The Golden Knights would select their first goaltender and take Maxim Zhukov out of the USHL. In 2016-17, Zhukov posted a 19-8-2 record with a .913 save percentage, a 2.25 goals-against-average and four shutouts. He also performed well in the U18 World Championships, with a .926 SV% and a 2.63 GAA. Unfortunately for Zhukov, that seemed to be his peak. His record, SV% and GAA kept declining as each season went by. He last played for HC Dukla Jihlava of the Czech2 league, with a .931 SV% and a 1.84 GAA in seven games. He will continue to play for them, as he never signed his entry-level contract with Vegas.
Lucas Elvenes, Fifth Round, 127th Overall
Vegas would fortunately select Lucas Elvenes from the SHL. The Swedish native had 45 points in 41 games in his draft year with Rögle BK J20. Elvenes would also spend some time in the SHL with Rögle BK, but was held pointless. He is a very good playmaker, has great puck skills and passing ability with a quick release. Elvenes also uses his skating to make it harder for the opponent to defend. He has spent the past two seasons with the Golden Knights’ affiliate teams. This past season, Elvenes scored six goals and had 18 assists for 24 points in 37 games. If Elvenes continues to play like he is now, he can potentially make the Golden Knights’ roster.
Jack Dugan, Fifth Round, 142nd Overall
Heading into this draft, Dugan was an overager. During the 2016-17 season, Dugan played with Northwood School of the USHS-Prep league, with 80 points in 47 games. The Golden Knights took a chance on Dugan, and so far, the risk has paid off. Dugan is described as a player who plays bigger than his size and loves to drive towards the net. He is a late bloomer, and his progression in production in the NCAA demonstrates just that. This past season, Dugan had 33 points in 37 games for Henderson. He lead the team in assists and was second in points. Dugan is poised to have a respectable stint in the AHL. Whether he can translate his game to the NHL is another question, but Dugan’s strong performance is in his favour.
Nick Campoli, Sixth Round, 158th Overall
Nick Campoli won’t highly likely be making a significant impact on the professional level. Campoli had 32 points in 20 games for the North York Rangers of the OHJL. He would later on play in the NCAA with Clarkson University. Each season, Campoli has been at the bottom of his team’s scoring leaderboard. He will be attending Clarkson University for his final year in the program while Vegas still retains his signing rights to this day. However, if Campoli continues to show no progression in his development, then the Golden Knights will most likely not sign him to an entry-level contract.
Jiri Patera, Sixth Round, 161st Overall
With the last of this draft, Vegas would select Czech goaltender Jiri Patera. In 2016-17, Patera would suit up for the Motor Ceske Budejovice U18 and U20 teams. With the U20 team, he would post a .933 SV% and a 2.61 GAA. Patera spent time with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL and the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. His 2.55 GAA in 2019-20 with Brandon was a franchise record. Patera was also named the WHL Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year the same year. This past season, Patera made the jump to professional hockey with Henderson. He had a 2-4-0 record, a .888 SV% and a 3.54 GAA. Patera still has lots of time to figure out his game, as he is a goaltender with raw skills and a long-term project who has the potential to pan out into a serviceable goaltender.
2019 Draft Class
It was much harder to choose an honourable mention for the Golden Knights. After 2017, Vegas remained as one of the top teams in the league. So their draft classes haven’t been as strong. Vegas started the 2019 Draft by selecting Peyton Krebs, who had a great draft year with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL until a season-ending injury. Many considered him to be a steal at 17th overall. He also spent time last season with Vegas and had five points in five games with Henderson. Another great pick was Pavel Dorofyev in the third round, who came over from Russia with great promise. He can set others up on great chances and is a good finisher. Although the picks near the bottom weren’t as great as 2017, this draft class deserved to be the honourable mention because of the great-value picks at the start.