**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
Well, that was a crazy 72 hours of hockey, wasn’t it?
Between the Golden Knights win over the Flyers Thursday, the come-from-behind overtime victory over the Blues Saturday, and the Fortress Invitational Friday and Saturday, there was no shortage of memorable moments.
Today, I’m going to focus on the college hockey component.
When the Golden Knights drafted some prep school kid from upstate New York in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in Chicago, I admit I was mildly intrigued.
The buzz was still palpable from the day before when the Knights took Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom in the first round. So as the next wave ensued, which included Lucas Elvenes, Jake Leschyshyn, Jonas Rondbjerg and Maxim Zhukov, hearing Jack Dugan’s name called wasn’t setting off any Mark Stone-like celebrations in my mind.
Dugan was already committed to play college hockey at Providence. But he thought it was cool to be drafted by an expansion team, even though he wasn’t quite sure what that meant to his fledgling hockey career.
Would he be an afterthought? Would he be traded? Would he get a legitimate shot to play in the NHL with Vegas?
Friday, there was Dugan, skating in T-Mobile Arena, not with the Knights, but with the Friars, who were facing Army in the Fortress Invitational. He received a warm reception from those who were in the building, perhaps a sneak preview of what could come in March.
He didn’t disappoint, scoring against the Black Knights in a 3-1 win.
Saturday, in storybook fashion, Dugan scored the game-winner in a 3-2 shootout victory for the 16th-ranked Friars over No. 2 Cornell. He also had a beautiful assist earlier in the game.
Now a sophomore, Dugan leads the NCAA in scoring with 37 points (7 goals and 30 assists). The right wing has filled out physically, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 194 pounds. He is well-spoken, confident, and focused on winning games for his school. Yes, he has an eye toward the future. Yes, he’d find it cool to be the recipient of the Hobey Baker Award, which is given each spring to college hockey’s best play, something no one at Providence has ever accomplished. But he’s really looking forward to making Las Vegas his home and having a stall in the Knights’ locker room at the T.
That’s my goal, to play in the NHL. That’s what I’ve been working toward my whole life. -Dugan
Dugan’s got great hands. He’s got a very got shot. He skates well and he’s strong. All of that was on display Friday in Providence’s win over Army. Fittingly, Dugan scored the first goal of the tournament, a power play goal that saw him slot the puck through the goalie’s five-hole.
He was shaken up after taking a hit in the second period but he was back on the ice for his next shift, displaying some of that toughness he prides himself on.
The Knights had several people, led by owner Bill Foley, watch Dugan play. Wil Nichol, the team’s director of player development, keeps the closest tabs on Dugan. And Nichol has been impressed with the way Dugan is coming along.
He loves the game. He’s got a real passion for it. From his year with the Chicago Steel in the USHL to his year and a half at Providence, he’s shown that he really wants to get better. The things that stand out are his vision and ability to distribute the puck. He really sees the ice and he’s able to create offense. He’s also big and strong. If the game gets tight he can bang with you. He can beat you in different ways. -Nichol
Nichol wouldn’t say if Dugan is NHL-ready right now. He’ll defer to George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon on that. Dugan himself said he’ll know when it’s time to sign an entry-level contract with the Golden Knights. But despite holding a 3.0 grade-point average with a major in Social Science, Dugan was candid in that his primary focus is on hockey.
He’s definitely not allowing going pro, the Hobey Baker, an NCAA scoring title or anything else distract or sidetrack him. He takes it a shift at a time and that endears him to coach Nate Leaman, who knows he’s got a good one.
Jack is a really dominant player. But he’s smart. He’s got a real high hockey I.Q. But he has to learn what it takes to be good in the pro game; winning the puck, shooting more. -Leaman
Leaman’s right. Dugan does have some things to polish up before he can have a stall at T-Mobile. He didn’t display breakaway speed against the Black Knights and Nichol said Dugan needs to work on his defensive responsibilities.
Turk (Gerard Gallant) wants a 200-foot game and I think he needs to shoot more. He’s got a great shot and he does need to use it more. He’s got a good release. But it’s not uncommon with a lot of young forwards that you have to tell them to shoot it more. He likes to be a playmaker. Cody (Glass) was the same way. I’d go watch Cody in Portland and I’d tell him ‘Cody, you gotta shoot the puck more.’ So yes, he needs to shoot the puck more. -Nichol
Obviously, Dugan knew there was more scrutiny this weekend than if he were playing at Orono, Maine or Storrs, Connecticut. McPhee and McCrimmon were watching. So was Bill Foley, who was rooting for his alma mater but probably was hoping to see Dugan show off some of his brilliance.
I felt a little nervous. It wasn’t my best game. But we won and I was able to help my team. Getting a goal here was unreal. I hope it’s the first of many that I’ll score in this building. -Dugan after the Army win
Leaman thought Dugan did well given the circumstances.
There’s a lot of pressure on him playing in Vegas as a Vegas draft pick. I thought he handled it great. -Leaman
One thing Dugan doesn’t lack is confidence. He displayed that with his celebration after his game-winner vs. Cornell, skating by the Big Red fans and chirping at them a little. He also believes he’ll be back in Vegas on a permanent basis.
To be honest, it is what it is. I came to school to play college hockey. My main goal is to be here (in Vegas). -Dugan
After watching him in person and seeing his game develop over a couple of development camps, I think the Knights will eventually be gifted with a player who will contribute at the NHL level. The really good teams find those hidden gems in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds of the draft. Remember, this is a hard league to play in. Look at Brannstrom, who everybody loves, yet he’s having trouble cracking the lineup in Ottawa, a team that is in dire need of talented players.
Whether Dugan signs with Vegas in March and gets his chance to make his NHL debut late this season or in 2020-21, he’ll eventually get here. I like his game. I like his moxie. He’s got the physical tools to compete at the next level and he seems like a good kid. He reminds me a little of Alex Tuch in terms of his skill set and his demeanor.
Put it all together and this may be a case where McPhee and his hockey ops people should raise a toast to themselves for hitting the jackpot with a mid-draft selection.
A defining moment
A quick word about Saturday’s 5-4 overtime win over the Blues.
There are games that usually define a team’s season, be it good or bad. What the Knights did against St. Louis may well be a catalyst for great things over the second half of the season.
Let’s be honest, they looked terrible the first half of the game and had Marc-Andre Fleury not been on his game, this could have been 4-0, 5-0 or worse. And Nick Holden’s heads-up play of clearing the puck off the goal line after it got behind Fleury in the second period was also big.
But this team’s identity of being relentless (Jonathan Marchessault’s description, not mine) is being established. And incidentally, the comeback win over the Blues was staged without Marchessault and losing Cody Glass in the third period to an apparent right knee injury, and with offensive stalwart Jon Merrill sitting out as a healthy scratch.
In many ways, this win reminded me of the win over Tampa Bay the inaugural season when Shea Theodore scored in the final seconds of regulation. That win gave that team a ton of confidence and we all know what happened that year.
I think the same thing may well apply to this group after rising from the dead and beating the Stanley Cup champions.
This was a defining moment for sure.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**