Just when you think you’ve got Golden Knights prospect Paul Cotter figured out, the target moves.
A USHL product, the Golden Knights selected Cotter in the 4th round as a player most described as well-rounded without an elite offensive game. He showed up to Development Camp in 2018 and wowed in his first time on Vegas ice scoring points and making offense-driving plays consistently.
He then headed off to Western Michigan to play college hockey which likely meant seeing him stashed away as a Golden Knights prospect for years to come. Eight games into his career as a Bronco, Cotter left school for the OHL and the London Knights.
Less than two months later, Cotter signed his entry-level contract with the Golden Knights, something he wasn’t able to do while in college. He played in London with limited success and was expected to shine once again at Development Camp in 2019.
Cotter was mysteriously absent from camp, which we later learned was due to appendicitis. He missed out on his chance to shine and likely took a step backward towards reaching the NHL.
Then he showed up to Rookie Camp, and on the very first day back with the Golden Knights, Cotter made his motives clear where he wants to end up this season.
Obviously the goal is to make Vegas. But it might be a smaller percentage chance for us younger guys, so the big goal for me is to make Chicago. That’d be awesome for me a younger guy. I do think I’m ready. -Paul Cotter
Because Cotter is American, he does not fall under the CHL/NHL agreement which forbids many prospects from leaving the OHL to play in the minors. Cotter’s plan is to prove he’s ready for professional hockey now, and hopefully prove he’s ready to play in the NHL sooner rather than later.
I can be a first-line guy and put up points, or if need be I can be a fourth-line guy with high energy, high physicality, but within any role I will be a good leader. -Cotter
Now it’s up to his performance and the Golden Knights front office to choose the next path for Cotter. By rule, he can play in any one of three places this year, London (OHL), Chicago (AHL), or Vegas (NHL). It’ll all come down to how he plays over the course of the next few weeks.
He’ll likely play all three rookie games in Irvine this weekend, he’ll probably see at least a bit of preseason action, and he’ll be run through the gauntlet in camp testing him to see which league he belongs in as a 20-year-old.
Vegas is a longshot, especially right away, but the decision to send Cotter to Chicago or London will be a tough one. Technically, it’s not permanent if Cotter starts the year in London, as the rules do allow him to head to the AHL at any point this season. However, that’s not how the Golden Knights see it.
If we made the decision (to send a player to the CHL), that’s likely a decision we would stick with. Philosophically, if we made that decision, we’d stand by it. -McCrimmon
There’s a lot on the line for everyone involved.
For Cotter, he’s got a month to prove he’s beyond junior hockey and he’s a lot closer to the NHL than most gave him credit. For the Golden Knights, Cotter represents a scoring option both in the AHL and eventually in the NHL, something they are a bit thin on beyond the obvious options atop the main roster.
His play on the ice will determine a lot, and his mindset is clearly to prove his worth every time out there. Don’t be surprised to see Cotter light it up in Irvine and maybe even get on the board in the preseason.
The Golden Knights are typically overly patient with their prospects, which leads me to believe London is the heavy favorite. But with Paul Cotter, the favorite doesn’t always win.