Historically, building a roster through expansion isn’t the ideal way to create a winner. Teams are often left devoid of talent, specifically high-end talent and have to wait years before they can build via trade and/or through the draft.
Luckily, for the Golden Knights, that wasn’t the case. The new expansion rules, coupled with George McPhee’s dominance in exploiting them left the league’s 31st team with a Cup-contending roster.
However, due to the nature of the Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights roster has been left with a major hole. It’s not the lack of talent hole most previous expansion teams were put in, but it’s a hole in the age distribution of the roster.
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The Golden Knights have 20 prospects under the age of 20 years old, but just four between the ages of 20 and 22. The reason for this is that Vegas did not participate in the Entry Draft prior to 2017.
The four players are Zach Whitecloud (undrafted college free agent), Keegan Kolesar (acquired via trade at Expansion Draft), Dylan Coghlan (undrafted free agent), and Jack Dugan (2017 Draft, 5th round).
This age gap has the Golden Knights in a bit of a tough spot heading into the 2018-19 season. Most high-end prospects break into the league between the age of 20-22. They spend a few years in juniors, NCAA, or in Europe after being drafted, then make the jump to the NHL. Every other team in the league has at least five players (most have closer to 10) players in this age range.
The void leaves the Golden Knights with a gap in replacement players for the NHL roster. With the departure of James Neal, David Perron, and Luca Sbisa, the Golden Knights have room for young players to break through, but only a few legitimate candidates to fill the roles. Next year, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom, Jake Leschyshyn, Lucas Elvenes, Jonas Rondbjerg, Ben Jones, and possibly even some of the 2018 picks might be ready to make the leap into the NHL, but this year, the Golden Knights really only have three options.
Dugan is heading back to Providence College to play in the NCAA for at least one more year, which leaves Kolesar, Coghlan, and Whitecloud.
It’s a product of the way expansion rosters are created and there’s truly nothing McPhee could have done to avoid it, but it’s an unexpected pit the Golden Knights find themselves in with a roster ready to win and not a lot of help ready in the pipeline.
This gap puts more pressure on the free agent castaways the Golden Knights have brought in. Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie, Jimmy Oligny, Alex Gallant, and Brooks Macek were brought in to help bridge the gap. We all know how well misfits have worked in Vegas, but it’s a dangerous game to be playing every year.
Nonetheless, the Golden Knights are playing it again, out of necessity, for at least one more year.