Brannstrom remains the most exciting prospect in the VGK pipeline, but there’s a ton to look forward to both on and off the roster. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

2018 Golden Knights Development Camp is now over and there is plenty to talk about. From the progression of the 2017 rookie class to Zach Whitecloud’s shot at the NHL roster to the recruitment of Jimmy Schuldt, Development Camp leaves us with many questions, but plenty of hints to the answers.

  • The progression of the 2017 Draft picks was noticeable
    • Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki both looked more comfortable in camp. Like last season, Glass’ finishing ability and Suzuki’s hands jumped off the page.
    • Nic Hague continues to look like a monster on the ice and his stick is Brayden McNabb like. Still feels like the skating needs a bit of improvement, but his offensive ability is really exciting. Plus, the “Nic Hague toe drag” is real. He pulled it off multiple times in the scrimmages to get from the point to the slot, or the circle to directly in front of the goal. It rhymes too, which is awesome.
    • Erik Brannstrom remains the dynamic superstar in the making we remember. His confidence on the ice is infectious. When he has the puck, there’s almost an aura that makes everyone watching (including the other players on the ice) believe something special is about to happen. It doesn’t always happen, but every once in a while it does, and in those moments it really happens. It reminds me of a home run hitter in baseball, where every time he steps to the plate, even though he only gets a hit about 30% of the time, you feel like this is going to be the one. It’s electrifying. The problem is, like the home run hitter, 70% of the time it doesn’t happen, and for a defenseman in the NHL, that’s way too much. He’s 18-years-old though. He’s not ready for the NHL yet, as much as that pains me to say.
    • Jack Dugan and Jonas Rondbjerg were the standouts among the other draft picks from the 2017 Draft. After about the 8th time saying “oh, nice play Rondbjerg” or “wow, look at Dugan” I realized their good moments weren’t flashes. It’s certainly exciting to see a few non-first round picks separate themselves from the pack a bit.

  • College free agents made much more noise than expected
    • The prize free agent, Jimmy Schuldt, was without question the best defenseman on his team, and an argument can be made that he was even better than Zach Whitecloud on the other team.  He’s going back to school for his senior year, and then the decision will be in his hands on where he wants to play in the NHL. Wil Nichol, the Golden Knights director of player development, did not keep it a secret they hope he chooses Vegas. As a fan, you should too, this kid looks like the real deal.
    • Tarek Baker was also a major standout in camp. Offensively he was tremendous, constantly making plays either for himself or teammates. He’s headed to the University of Wisconsin thsi season, but he’s a name the Golden Knights need to keep an eye on come late next year. He looks like a diamond in the rough for whatever team ends up with him.
    • A few other college free agents jumped out, specifically Dawson DiPietro, Bobby Nardella and Jake Slaker. It’s a huge plus to see so many good college players in Vegas’ camp, because when it comes time to sign contracts, the Golden Knights could be atop many of their lists.
  • Despite missing the top two players selected in the 2018 Draft, the newest Golden Knights were a bit of a mixed bag.
    • Paul Cotter and Brandon Kruse were the two that looked the best with Cotter flashing a bit more than Kruse. Both are rather small forwards and can use some physical developing under the watchful eye of the Golden Knights organization, but it didn’t appear to get in the way of either. Bob Lowes, assistant director of player personnel, raved about Cotter after one of the scrimmages. (I’ll probably have a story on that in the coming days)
    • A number of 2017 Draft picks looked on the overmatched side, especially against the likes of Keegan Kolesar, Reid Duke, and Gage Quinney. They literally were drafted a week ago and some of them have not played at a level higher than high school, so there’s really no point in singling anyone out or judging anyone on these performances, but it happened, so I’m writing it.
  • The already signed players underwhelmed a bit
    • Going into camp I fully expected the group of Quinney, Kolesar, Duke, Tyler Wong and Dylan Coghlan to be dominant. It easily could be on me that I was expecting a bit too much, and there were multiple moments from each of the five that were impressive, but 22+ year-olds with AHL/ECHL seasons under their belt should be worlds ahead of the rest of the players out there. They were better, for sure, but it wasn’t the massive gap I was expecting.
    • Zach Whitecloud was either the best defenseman or the second best defenseman on the ice, there’s no question about that. It’s probably a product of his style as to why he didn’t make a bit more noise in this camp though. Whitecloud is a stay-at-home style defenseman who always seems to make the right decision. In a scrimmage in which we’re trying to watch both teams at the same time, that kind of player gets lost in the shuffle a bit. I have a feeling if I had a chance to rewatch every shift he took during the three scrimmage games, I would have a much different opinion of how he played, but having watched it in full speed, live, without replay, and often with an eye on other players, there was nothing spectacular about his play. The expectation was that he would rise above the rest and begin staking his claim to a roster spot. Personally, I didn’t see that happen, however, again, due to the style of player, there’s no way I’d rule him out for being on the 23-man roster out of camp. We’ll learn so much more about Whitecloud in September.
  • The goalies were unbelievably better than a year ago
    • One of my biggest takeaways from last year’s Development Camp (and now I feel like I’m allowed to say it because I’m about to follow it up with something super nice about these guys) was how rough the goaltending looked. The Golden Knights had three draft picks in camp and three others who were camp invitees, all six scared me every time a puck was shot at them. This year, what a difference. Both Jiri Patera and Maxim Zhukov looked solid in the net. Dylan Ferguson felt like a seasoned vet in there, and new draft pick Jordan Kooy rebounded from a tough first scrimmage to look pretty darn good in the final two. Goaltending depth in the pipeline remains a concern for the Golden Knights because there aren’t any goalies between the age of 20-23 in the system, but the young crop shows promise.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If you have questions on any players specifically or even want to hear more about anyone mentioned in this post, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below.