It’s that time of year again. Well, now that the hockey schedule is back to normal.
Christmas time means World Juniors and this year’s tournament features plenty of intrigue for Golden Knights fans. Four VGK prospects are set to represent their countries in the 2023 edition of the IIHF World Junior Championships, and all four should play a big role for their respective teams.
Zach Dean Canada
Vegas’ most recent 1st round pick has had a bit of a rocky road since being selected 30th overall in 2021. He took an injury early in Development Camp this summer which left us once again not getting to see much of him in a setting amongst his peers.
However, since he’s returned back to Gatineau he’s doing what you’d hope any 1st round pick would do. Dean has tallied 17 goals and racked up 18 assists in 27 games in the QMJHL and is certainly one of the best players on a pretty good team.
Dean was on the extended roster ahead of the last edition of this tournament but did not make the final roster. Now, he’s expected to play a fairly significant role as a bottom-six forward and penalty killer.
(Photo Credit: Rob Schneidmiller, Ice Time Southwest)
Jakub Brabenec Czechia
One of the standouts from Development Camp this summer, the 19-year-old crafty winger will be an important offensive option for the Czechs. Brabenec has a knack for the net but is also a stellar passer of the puck. His numbers have slipped a bit this season in Charlottetown but a lot of that likely has to do with the overall strength of the team more so than his play.
Brabenec should play high up the Czech lineup and will be a key piece to the power play.
Matyas Sapovaliv Czechia
Also playing for the Czechs is the Golden Knights’ highest pick in the most recent draft. Sapovaliv was excellent in the summer edition of World Juniors and he’s continued that strong play posting a point per game in the OHL this season.
Sapovaliv’s game is much more defensive-minded so points are not always going to come the way he plays. Expect the same in this tournament on a Czech team that has quite a bit of offensive talent. However, Matyas will likely find himself playing many of the tough minutes and taking on some of the hardest matchups. Plus, he’ll likely be a key penalty killer.
Team Czechia takes on Canada in the first game for each team, on December 26th.
Carl Lindbom Sweden
Lindbom made Team Sweden’s roster at the last edition of the tournament but didn’t see a second of action. That’s not expected to be the case this time as he heads into the tournament as the presumptive starter. Lindbom has posted excellent numbers this season in Sweden’s 2nd league, HockeyAllsvenskan.
He’s touting a 15-6-0 record with four shutouts, a 1.76 goals against average, and a .936 save percentage. He’s on pace to have one of the best seasons as a U20 in that league’s history.
This will be a new experience for Golden Knights fans as VGK have never had a goalie prospect actually play consistently at World Juniors. A few Golden Knights goalie prospects have made their respective teams but never has one been handed the reigns as the starter to begin the tournament. Lindbom is expected to be between the pipes as Team Sweden open the tournament on December 26th against Austria.
Bruce Cassidy coached his first game in the NHL almost exactly 20 years ago to the day. He’s stood behind the bench for three different teams (including VGK), he’s won 509 games, and he’s been within one game of lifting the Stanley Cup.
Yet even with all that experience, he still finds himself in awe of what Jack Eichel can do on a hockey rink.
I didn’t realize how strong he is at full speed. Going around people that get a piece of him doesn’t even knock him off balance. That’s kind of unique because he has the puck a lot. He’ll be going around a guy and he’ll put it in an area and the guy will kind of chip him and he’ll skate right on without losing any of his pace, that’s what has surprised me how often he’s able to do that. -Cassidy
The power in Eichel’s stride truly is impressive. Cassidy went on to detail a few occasions when he’s backchecking after a turnover and he catches up to players by taking two strides while the other guy has to take five or six.
The fact that a coach who has game-planned for him time and time again over his career still finds parts of his game shocking is quite stunning.
And, it’s not just his strength that’s amazed Cassidy.
One of the perpetual pages on SinBin.vegas is our Golden Knights Prospect Rankings where we rank every under 23-year-old in the VGK system. The rankings should help to give fans a look at who is close to coming up to the NHL, who has a chance to make a true impact, and give a better sense of each guy in the prospect pool.
What our rankings do not do is compare the Golden Knights’ system to those around the NHL. For that, we need help from those who spend all of their time in focusing on the league’s up-and-comers. One of the best in the world at that is The Athletic’s Corey Pronman. He recently released a ranking of the top 170 hockey players under the age of 23.
The rankings are broken down into tiers including “Bubble elite NHL player,” “NHL All Star,” “Top-of-the-lineup player,” and a few more below it.
Here’s where things get scary for the Golden Knights. They do not have a single prospect listed in any of those three categories. In fact, Vegas’ first prospect is slotted at #69, and he’s the only player in Pronman’s top 100.
That player is Lukas Cormier, who is currently ranked #3 in the SinBin Rankings.
There are a few candidates who could take a massive step forward with the holes in the Golden Knights lineup left by Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Mattias Janmark. Maybe the most likely of those candidates for the Golden Knights is 24-year-old Brett Howden.
Last year Howden’s season was cut short by a nasty collision early in a March game against the Nashville Predators. Howden went head first into the boards and his neck snapped back in an awkward way. He was carried away on a stretcher and the injury was later compared to as if he had been in a bad car crash.
He never returned to practice but is expected to be completely healthy and ready to go for the 2022-23 season.
Before the injury, he was quietly putting together a fairly impressive season. He posted nine goals and added 11 assists in 47 games and was showing signs of improvement as the season continued. He was used mostly in a fourth line role but also got a bit of a runout as a penalty killer where he notched two shorthanded assists.
The shortened season skews the stats a bit which makes his future with the Golden Knights hard to predict. I tried to use a bunch of his stats and analytics to see which point to progression and which point to regression this season. We’ll do the good stuff first.
Arrow Pointing Up
Time On Ice
Howden averaged just 10:39 per game last year and hit the ice for fewer than 10 minutes in 19 of his 47 games. His largest minute load of the season was just 14:17 on 18 shifts. It’s going to be hard for these numbers not to increase, especially with the likelihood that he gets a look in the top-six for at least a short period. Just a minute a night more playing time should mean a 10% increase in numbers. It seems oversimplified, but don’t ever underestimate how much effect ice time has on offensive statistics.
While playing only 47 games, Howden was able to generate a decent 2.3 point shares. Even better, with the low TOI numbers, there’s room for improvement even if he doesn’t play all 82. 2.3 point shares in 47 games equates to 4.0 in 82 games. Plus, it’s distributed nicely between offense and defense with two-thirds on offense and the remaining third in his contributions defensively. These numbers definitely point to him being able to offer more in 2022-23.
A lot has changed since the last update to the SinBin.vegas Prospect Rankings. VGK added a new group of prospects via the NHL Draft, a number of former draft picks departed the system, and the first Development Camp in two years took place at City National Arena.
There’s a new prospect atop the skater rankings, a new name atop the goalie rankings, and a bunch of shuffling up and down the rankings.
Here’s the new list, ranking all 26 skaters and 5 goalies in the system.
Criteria to qualify for rankings:
Must be younger than 23 years old for skaters, 25 years old for goalies
Cannot have played more than 10 NHL games
Must be either under contract or drafted by the Golden Knights
Players are ranked based on value to the organization. The most important factor is the player’s ceiling, or how good they can eventually become, but also taken into consideration is how close they are to playing in the NHL and how likely they are to play in the NHL. This is NOT a ranking of which players are the best if a game were to be held today.
Recently Removed: Zack Hayes (Age), Ben Jones (Free Agent), Jack Dugan (Free Agent), Maxim Marushev (Age), Brandon Kruse (Rights Expired), Nick Campoli (Rights Expired), Dylan Ferguson (Free Agent)
There’s really only one thing holding Korczak back from the NHL and that’s roster space. He’d have to have a massive Training Camp to push any of the top-seven defensemen off the roster, but there’s no denying he’s ready enough to play in the bigs if there were a spot. He completely dominated Development Camp to the point that he was ruining drills because he’s so sound defensively. He physically looks like an NHLer too. There’s no question of if with him now, it’s when and then for how long, and my guess would be once he breaks through, he’s spending a decade plus in the league.
More on Korczak
2/23/22 – Ranking: 2 – Korczak made his NHL debut earlier this season and definitely didn’t look out of place in the big leagues. He’s continued to take strides both offensively and defensively in the AHL and the occasional nonchalant-ness that we had seen previously is dissipating. His biggest challenge with Vegas is going to be the logjam in front of him, not to mention the few challengers pushing behind him. He’s an NHL player without question though.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 2 – Korczak worked his way up the depth chart for the Silver Knights as the year went on but could never find his place in the lineup permenantly. That should change this year as he’ll probably end up on the HSK top-pair fairly quickly. He’s close to being NHL ready, but the group of seven defensemen in front of him at the NHL level will likely keep him down. Wouldn’t be shocked to see his NHL debut in 2021-22 though.
2/3/21 – Ranking: 4 – The moment Vegas drafted Korczak we knew he was going to be a big guy, but he’s already a monster just one season removed from his draft year and he’s probably only going to get bigger. As he progresses through high levels like World Juniors and the AHL, it appears his calling card will be more as a defense-first penalty kill type player, but he’s certainly looking like he has an NHL future, and probably a long one.
4/16/20 – There’s nothing not to like about Korczak’s game. He’s got size, he’s a good skater, he’s physical, he’s calm on the puck, he can move the puck, and he’ll chip in offensively. His numbers will continue to look good in the WHL, but it’s all about how he looks against better competition going forward and unfortunately we aren’t going to get to see much of that any time soon.
11/16/19 – Korczak looked really good at camp and he has taken that game to the WHL racking up 14 points in 19 games for the Kelowna Rockets. Korczak is the type of defenseman that the Golden Knights are desperately looking for at the NHL level. Of course, he’s not ready at this point (nor would he be available to them anyway) but he’s a mobile, puck-moving d-man who will chip in offensively while taking care of his own end. The next time we really get to see what Korczak has to offer will likely be for Team Canada in December. If he can show something special in that tournament, the 2nd round pick is going to be in the top-five on this list next time for sure.
7/5/19 – The Golden Knights moved up in the draft to select Korczak and it didn’t take long to show why they valued him so much. In his own end, he’s a rock, defending both with his feet (mainly by keeping terrific gaps) and his stick. But what impressed me most with Korczak was his willingness to jump into the rush, or even start a rush. He reminded me a lot of Nate Schmidt, where the entire offense just looks more dangerous in transition when he’s out there.
2) Brendan Brisson (F) Acquired: 2020 Entry Draft, 1st Round, #29 overall Age: 20 (October 22, 2001) Most Recent Team: University of Michigan (NCAA) Previous Ranking: 1
It would have been great to have seen more out of Brisson at Development Camp. He didn’t score a goal in the scrimmages and aside from his well-known elite one-timer, he didn’t pop as the only 1st round pick on the ice. Often times players aren’t quite themselves in the summer, especially after a long season. So it’s possible he comes into Rookie Camp, lights it up, and claims a spot. But as of right now, he still appears to need some professional seasoning in the AHL.
More on Brisson
2/23/22 – Ranking: 1 – Brisson has shot up this chart in large part due to his stellar sophomore season at Michigan but also his inclusion and impact on Team USA at the Olympics. Brisson continues to be dangerous on the power play, and his hockey sense has started to shine through. He’s not afraid to stick his nose into traffic to grab a loose puck and he has a good knack for where loose pucks are going to end up. When chaos happens, Brisson is usually there to clean it up. He continues to look like a bonafide NHL prospect with a ceiling in the top-six.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 4 – Brisson had a solid freshman season at Michigan scoring 10 goals and adding 21 points in 24 games. He’s a power play weapon and will continue to be a point producer at the NCAA level this season. However, with Michigan’s stacked lineup, his playing time will be interesting to monitor. Michigan had four of the top five picks in the 2021 Draft and all are expected to be on the roster this year. As a late 1st round pick from the year prior, Brisson should be able to hold down a permanent spot, but we’re definitely going to learn a lot about him as to where coach Mel Pearson has him in that stacked lineup.
2/3/21 – Ranking: 3 – Brisson’s selection to the eventual gold medal-winning Team USA at the World Juniors was incredibly impressive considering how stacked that team was. He offers something unlike anything we’ve seen from a VGK prospect to this point and that’s an unbelievable shot. He loves to sit in the circle on the power play and rip shots past goalies who know it’s coming and still can’t stop it. He definitely has a ways to go in regards to strength and experience and the offensive play can improve in other areas aside from the shot, but there’s no doubt Brisson has an exciting future.
All Lukas Cormier does is post numbers. He once again won the Defensman of the Year award in the QMJHL (first guy ever to win it back-to-back) and he looked comfortable both Development Camp and World Juniors. Questions will continue to remain about how well he’ll hold up in the defensive end against pros, but his offensive game is easily good enough to play at the NHL level. He’ll probably play at least a full year in the AHL before he makes any real push for playing time with the Golden Knights.
More on Cormier
2/23/22 – Ranking: 6 – In maybe the least surprising prospect news, Lukas Cormier is filling it up in the QMJHL. He’s been doing it for three years and is likely to continue his upward trajectory in Juniors. He was also selected to Team Canada and played in two games in World Juniors before it was postponed. It wasn’t perfect for him in that tournament, but he was able to get on the board with a point and an assist. The question marks are still there, but he’s still looking like he could be a 3rd round diamond in the rough.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 5 – Cormier took the most significant jump in this edition of the rankings and it’s well deserved. 54 points in 39 games in the regular season to go along with nine more in eight playoff games cannot go unrecognized. He’s still young and with his small frame he’s likely to take a little longer to even be ready for the AHL, let alone the NHL. He should get a chance to participate in training camp with VGK and maybe even get into a few preseason games. Both will be key in seeing where the ceiling could be on him. Basing it just on his junior stats though, the ceiling is very high.
2/3/21 – Ranking: 10 – This kid is a little firecracker and he’s going to be a fun one to keep an eye on as his career progresses. He’s an offensive wizard, especially on the power play and he’s feisty enough to give people problems in his own end. 21 points in his first 14 QMJHL games has people in Eastern Canada buzzing and his invitation to the ridiculously stacked Team Canada World Junior camp should turn heads. We’re a long way from seeing Lukas in a Golden or even Silver Knights jersey, but there’s absolutely some intriguing upside here.
The fastest riser in the rankings, Brabenec finished off an excellent season in the QMJHL and then impressed at Development Camp. It’s a shame he didn’t go to World Juniors because he could have easily turned heads. There’s really not much to dislike about his game. He’s an excellent passer, he has a knack for being in the right place around the blue paint, and he forechecks with a ferocity. He’s definitely not ready for the NHL, maybe not even the AHL, but the future is bright.
More on Brabenec
2/23/22 – Ranking: 10 – In his first season in North America, Brabenec is lighting it up with one of the league’s best teams. He’s tallied 28 assists in 34 games and added 12 goals too. Plus, he was named to the Czechia team at World Juniors where he looked decent in his appearance. He still has a long way to go as he’s still very young, but the ceiling on Brabenec now is much higher than it was a year ago.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 25 – One of the youngest players in the entire Draft, Brabenec has plenty of time to develop and move up this list. He’s done well internationally but has been underwhelming in the Czech league. He’s expected to be much more of a defensive center than anything else though.
Wow did Vikman look good in the net at City National Arena during Development Camp. He was extremely calm in the net, moved well for a bigger guy, and was positionally sound all week long. I know he’s probably not, because he’s yet to become old enough to drink in the United States, but he looked good enough to be able to play in an AHL game tomorrow.
More on Vikman
2/23/22 – Ranking: 4 – Vikman was fairly good in his start in the Rookie Faceoff and looked like he was right on par with Patera in the practices. He’s been solid in the WHL and he was very good in his pair of hames for the U20 Team Sweden.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 6 – Vikman bounced between three leagues in Sweden and didn’t have a ton of sucess in any of them. He’s still very young, so there’s no reason to give up, but at the moment, this is the only place he can be in these rankings.
2/3/21 – Ranking: 5 – Vikman is the earliest drafted goalie in the VGK system (2nd all-time behind Maxim Zhukov). The Golden Knights moved up in the Draft to get him so there has to be plenty they like. At the moment though, unspectacular stats in Sweden make it hard for me to assign much value.
To see the rest of the SinBin.vegas Prospect Rankings, click here.
Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy will be Jack Eichel’s sixth in his seven-season career. Some point fingers at the 25-year-old and say it’s a pattern. Others are willing to give him a pass based on Buffalo’s inability to dress a competitive team. No matter which side you are on, all are hoping that Eichel has his best years under Cassidy.
You can’t win the Stanley Cup unless you get in the playoffs. When I came here, the standard here is the Stanley Cup. And that’s our goal. Obviously, I think we all understand the situation that we’re in. -Jack Eichel, May 2022
In Buffalo, Eichel had his best seasons playing for head coach Phil Housley. In 2018-19, the former Sabre totaled 82 points (28 Goals, 54 Assists) and finished in the top 25 in both points and assists. Eichel had another strong campaign in 2019-20, averaging (1.15 PPG) more than a point a game. However, he watched the playoffs from home.
Eichel’s Top Three Seasons
2018-19: 82 Points (28 G, 54 A), 77 Games, 1.06 Points Per Game, 26 Power Play Points
2019-20: 78 Points (36 G, 42 A), 68 Games, 1.15 Points Per Game, 27 Power Play Points
2017-18: 64 Points (25 G, 39 A), 67 Games, 0.96 Points Per Game, 20 Power Play Points
*One Season w/ Vegas: 25 Points (14 G, 11 A), 34 Games, 0.74 Points Per Game, 8 Power Play Points
Eight months ago the first few games of the 2022 edition of the World Junior Championships were played. However, due to a rash of positive COVID tests, multiple teams were forced to forfeit. It became clear fairly quickly that the sanctity of the tournament was jeopardized by the forfeitures, so the IIHF quickly moved to postpone the tournament to a later date.
Because the event has an age limit on it, there weren’t a lot of options on when the hockey’s international governing body could reschedule the tournament. So, we find ourselves here in August preparing for a tournament that typically kicks off the day after Christmas.
All games that were played in December have been wiped from the record books and Russia has been banned from the tournament due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. That leaves the tournament with 10 participating nations, with all games to be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton, from August 9th to the 20th.
Lukas Cormier (Canada), Matyas Sapovaliv (Czechia), Jakub Demek (Slovakia), and Carl Lindbom (Sweden) are the four Golden Knights who will participate in this summer’s event.
Cormier, the smooth-skating offensive-minded defenseman, will likely play a key role for a Canadian team with eight drafted defensemen including #1 overall pick in 2021, Owen Power. Cormier’s prowess on the power play should see him getting significant special teams time. The biggest question mark will be where he lands on the depth chart at even-strength. Is he a top-four guy or does he play a sheltered role on the third pair?
Sapovaliv came into camp with a cloud above his skating. It was clear on the ice that he’s not the fastest player, but overall the skating did not slow him down in the scrimmages. His forechecking was elite for the group on the ice and he made a lot more plays than the scouting reports suggested he would. He’ll probably be used in a defensive role in this tournament, likely playing 3rd or 4th line minutes with penalty killing duties.
Demek did not attend Dev Camp which was likely to make sure he was fully healthy for this tournament. He’s one of just seven drafted players on the Slovakian team, including Juraj Slafkovsky, this year’s #1 overall pick. Hopefully, Demek gets a chance to play with Slafkovsky either on a line or on the power play. If he does, it should give a bit more of a glimpse into where he is compared to a player who is probably going to make his NHL debut in October.
Lindbom was solid in the goal during Camp, which was an improvement over his performance in the rookie games in Phoenix. There are three goalies on Team Sweden, both of which were selected much earlier in the Draft than Lindbom. Jesper Wallstedt was picked 20th overall in 2021 while Calle Clang went 77th in 2020. If Lindbom plays over these two, it will be a strong statement. If he doesn’t, while disappointing, not much should be made of it at this point.
The Golden Knights made waves at the opening of free agency, but not exactly the way they usually have. This year, rather than seeking out the blockbuster trade or being in on the biggest free agent, Vegas’ only trade was a salary dump and their remaining action on the market was mostly AHL depth pieces.
However, if we’ve learned anything in the past, what may look like a depth add in July could become a crucial player in a playoff run.
The Golden Knights added five such players, all on contracts valued at exactly the NHL minimum. Let’s learn more about them all.
As an undrafted free agent playing in the NCAA, Foo first attracted the attention of the Golden Knights during his monster third season at Union College in 2016-17. He scored 26 goals and added 36 assists in 38 games in the ECAC. Vegas ultimately lost the race to sign Foo in the summer of 2017 as he inked an entry-level deal with the Calgary Flames.
Foo played just four NHL games in his rookie season and they still stand as the only four he’s played in his career. He did score twice in those games including one against the Golden Knights in the final game of the 17-18 regular season.
After that stint in the NHL, Foo spent his entire second professional season in the AHL with Stockton. He then departed for the KHL, playing for these China-based Kunlun Red Star, where he’s been each of the last three seasons, and has posted 76 points in 154 games.
Foo played in the Olympics in 2022 and scored China’s first-ever goal in men’s Olympic ice hockey.
He’s a strong skater who loves to live in front of the net, has a good hockey IQ, and a knack for scoring goals.
It’s clear he’s physically ready for the NHL level. There remains a fine line between being calm and under control in the defensive end as opposed to lacking urgency. In Camp, any pressure he invited was fended off easily, time will tell if that will continue against the best players in the world. Either way, there should be zero doubt that his future includes NHL experience.
It felt like most of the week he was trying to do too much. Whether it was trying to dangle guys in the D-zone, making moves at the blue lines, or attempting passes through closed lanes. His backchecking remains excellent though. I came into the week thinking he was going to push for a spot on the NHL roster at camp, I leave knowing he’s a longshot to start anywhere but the AHL.
The star of the weekend, Brabanec (pronounced Bra-ban-etz) was constantly near the goal creating or finishing chances. His forechecking was too much for many to handle and his hockey-IQ jumped off the page in all three zones. Reminds me a lot of Jonas Rondbjerg from 2018 Dev Camp.
Skated just one day before being held out for precautionary reasons.
When the Golden Knights pulled off the blockbuster trade to acquire Jack Eichel, it became clear they would have to do some serious work to on their salary cap. That work is now complete and it has resulted in the departures of Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Dylan Coghlan.
The trio of players shipped out accounted for 42 goals last season with Pacioretty missing more than half of the year due to injury. Also, while still unsigned, it’s possible Mattias Janmark and his nine goals exit Vegas as well. That’s more than 50 goals leaving the organization without a single new player being added to the fold (at least to this point).
So, how do they make up that offense?
That question was posed to GM Kelly McCrimmon at today’s press conference and his answer was essentially four-pronged. Let’s go through each of them.
“We anticipate a healthy lineup will put more offense into our lineup”
McCrimmon specifically singled out Stone, but the larger point is that without virtually every important player on the team missing significant time, as we saw last year, there will be an influx in scoring.
Stone, Eichel, Karlsson, and Smith will all likely generate more this coming year than they did last year. Between them, they scored 51 goals and tallied 128 points in 2021-22. The career averages of those four players calls for something closer to 98 goals and 245 points. Throw in Martinez, Howden, and Hague and there’s room for even more.
It’s pretty clear that if the team is significantly healthier, scoring will go up.