Just about every player to step on the ice for the Golden Knights this season will have already fulfilled their goal as a hockey player. Now, they are all working together to do it again. Individually though, there’s room for improvement for many players on the Vegas roster. With a few departures and an 82-game season in store, there will be opportunities for many Golden Knights, especially the younger ones, to take a step forward. Here are four candidates who could be in store for breakout seasons.
Howden’s career high in points in a season is just 23 and he scored only 13 for the Golden Knights last year. Of course, his contributions in the playoffs ramped up significantly after he found himself as the third wheel on a line with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. Howden scored five goals (including an OT GWG in the WCF) and added five assists for 10 points in 22 playoff games.
This year, he’ll likely start the season right back in that same spot on the second line and might even find his way onto a power play unit. Howden’s skill set clearly matched up well with Stone and Stephenson which should equate to a lot more playing time than he’s seen in the past. Last season he averaged just 13:04 per game. That number jumped by almost a minute per night to 13:59 in the playoffs. It’d be easy to project him to play closer to 15:00 a game this season as long as the chemistry holds with his linemates.
He’s never reached double-digit goals nor has he eclipsed 25 points in a season in his career. He has a great chance to do both, and potentially much more, this year.
Qualifying Offers – Howden^ ($1,500,000), Dorofeyev ($874,125), Patera^ ($787,500)
Expected LTIR – Lehner ($5,000,000)
**This is an inexact salary estimation designed to give a rough outline of how much cap space the Golden Knights have to operate with. For exact up-to-date salary cap information, visit PuckPedia.com.**
The last 31 days for the Golden Knights have been amazing, terrifying, and in many ways unbelievable. The month began with Vegas taking on two of the Eastern conference’s best teams before staring down one of the most brutal on-paper road trips any NHL team can endure. In between, there were multiple trades, injuries galore, and impressively, a whole heap of wins.
Let’s take a look back on the madness that was March for the Golden Knights.
March 1st – VGK acquire Teddy Blueger & Beat CAR
On the first day of the month, the Golden Knights pulled off a bit of a surprising trade, their second of three at this deadline. Blueger was not exactly the type of player most people saw Vegas targetting and the price wasn’t exactly cheap, a 3rd round pick. Coupled with Ivan Barbashev who was acquired earlier, VGK was adding depth that would come in handy as the month wore on.
That night, the Golden Knights pulled off the biggest upset at T-Mobile Arena since Year 1, beating the Hurricanes 3-2. VGK were tremendous defensively and got a statement game from Jack Eichel.
March 2nd – Jonathan Quick acquired
Let the goalie controversy begin! Amidst a rash of injuries, Vegas felt they needed to add another goaltender to the mix. Instead of going the quiet low-key route, Kelly McCrimmon chased the shiniest object on the market, the two-time Stanley Cup winner who had just been traded from the team chasing the Golden Knights.
It’s been an eventful year for the 19-year-old 4th round pick. After impressing during his time wearing a VGK sweater both in the summer and fall, Brabenec headed back to the QMJHL where he continued producing both goals and assists. He was traded to the Sherbrooke Phoenix where he has picked up his pace even more. But, the most impressive portion of Brabenec’s year was the trip to World Juniors. He was excellent the entire tournament, one of Czechia’s most influential offensive players. He averaged a point per game and made plays against the biggest teams and players in the tournament. He sees the game at the speed necessary to play at the next level.
More on Brabenec
8/16/22 – Ranking: 4 – 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 ferocity. He’s definitely not ready for the NHL, maybe not even the AHL, but the future is bright.
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.
Brisson’s first full year as a professional has not gone the way he and the Golden Knights wished. He’s not scoring at the pace expected for a 1st round pick sniper, and his physical game hasn’t matched the level of the AHL level to this point. 19 points including seven goals simply isn’t good enough in 37 AHL games. He still has the elite shot, and he still has some high-end vision with the puck, but there still needs to be quite a bit of improvement if he wants to become the player the Golden Knights expected when they picked him 29th overall.
More on Brisson
8/16/22 – Ranking: 2 – 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.
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.
As he’s set to hit his 19th birthday tomorrow, Sapovaliv has soared up the list. This actually has a lot more to do with others dropping, but Matyas has done everything you can ask for in his first season post-draft. He posted seven assists in seven games at World Juniors and was utilized as a defensive specialist as well. He’s also posting strong numbers in the OHL with Saginaw. His forechecking continues to be a strong suit and his ability to read the game as a defensive center is strong. He certainly looks like he has an NHL future.
More on Sapovaliv
8/16/22 – Ranking: 11 – The concern during the draft on Sapovaliv was his skating. At Development Camp, it was not notably poor which is a good sign having stepped on the Vegas ice just days after being drafted. He’s a strong forechecker and his awareness in the defensive and neutral zones is great. He potted a goal at World Juniors, but there were definitely some signs that he was struggling to keep up as the tournament went along. He’s a real boom or bust type prospect, and it’s not hard to see some of the characteristics that make VGK believe he’ll boom.
**To view the rest of the SinBin Prospect Rankings, click here.**
Patera has been excellent in the Silver Knights’ goal despite playing behind one of the worst teams in the AHL. He’s been clearly better than NHL veteran Michael Hutchinson and at times he’s even looked better than another NHLer, Laurent Brossoit. VGK’s future between the pipes is very cloudy heading into next year, there’s a real chance Patera inserts himself into that picture.
More on Patera
8/16/22 – Ranking: 2 – Patera is going to get a shot to state his case in camp, then preseason, and then early in the regular season likely at the AHL level. With the VGK goalie room either inexperienced and banged up, opportunity is there for the taking for everyone wants to take it. Patera has shown out well in some chances and not as well in others.
2/23/22 – Ranking: 2 – When given the chance, Patera has looked every bit an AHL caliber goalie, and I mean that in a good way. Despite bouncing between the AHL and ECHL this season, he’s been strong when he’s been in the net in either Henderson or Fort Wayne. It’s incredibly close between he and Ferguson, but they are both miles behind Thompson.
8/7/21 – Ranking: 2 – It was definitely good to see Patera getting plenty of time with the NHLers at the end of the season on the taxi squad. His AHL numbers were a bit of a mess however as he went 2-4-0 on a team that won the division. It’ll be interesting to see if he wins the job as the backup in Henderson this season. There will be a battle to back up Thompson, and Ferguson absolutely might win it.
2/3/21 – Ranking: 3 I probably dock players for injuries more than I should, but it’s just tough to keep guys up in the rankings when they aren’t healthy. Value certainly has dropped on Patera as he was likely to compete for the backup AHL job and now he’s on the sideline watching Ferguson and Thompson compete for it. His injury isn’t expected to be too long-term, but every day missed hurts.
4/16/20 – Patera had a masterful year in the WHL playing for his NHL GM’s team. He was easily the best goalie in the league and showed the promise that had him as the second goalie ever selected by the Golden Knights. Now it’s time for Patera to really face some challenges. He’ll likely sign a contract and end up in the ECHL where he’ll have to compete for a starting role. He went from #4 to #1 in these rankings in a short time, which proves just how close this group of goalies still is.
11/16/19 – Patera has found himself in a bit of a battle just for playing time in Brandon. He has started just eight games, while draft eligible Ethan Kruger has seen the nets 14 times. Patera’s stats are better, but playing time is a good indicator of form in Canadian juniors.
7/5/19 -He dropped down to 4th on the list last time due to a shoddy performance at World Juniors. He stays at #4 now because the guys in front of him all look very good. As a whole the goaltenders had their best camp yet, with all four of them looking good for the most part. Patera definitely seems to be progressing and is starting to track the puck a bit better than he had the previous times we’ve seen him. I was down on the goalie prospects in the system, but after doing this exercise again, ranking Patera 4th, and realizing how good he was in camp, the depth in the system actually looks pretty good.
1/8/19 – Patera is the only one of the Golden Knights goalie prospects to have made a World Junior roster. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good while playing with the Czech team. He had a miserable game the one he was in the net and even had the blooper of the tourney tripping while trying to get back to the net. His numbers in Brandon have been pretty good though, so don’t go crazy. These are 19-year-old goalies we are talking about, if any of them pan out it would be amazing.
9/12/18 – Despite having the best stat line of any of the three goalies, he was the least impressive. It may have a lot to do with the fact that the Kings rookies did not generate much offense, but Patera seemed to lose track of the puck quite a bit. It’s important to note though that the gap between #1 to #4 is fairly slim here. Couple good periods and Patera could be first.
7/28/18 – Patera was selected by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the CHL Import Draft and is looking forward to trying his hand against better competition this season. He made a couple of incredible reactionary saves during 2018 Development Camp, one in particular that still boggles the mind as to how he kept the puck out. He seems to have quick reflexes and is a fairly large guy for his age.
**To view the rest of the SinBin Prospect Rankings, click here.**
Golden Knights rookies spent the weekend in Phoenix competing in three games against fellow rookie squads from the Coyotes, Sharks, and Kings. A total of 25 players suited up for Vegas, here’s are my observations on every single one of them.
Chayka was steady but never really seemed to get his footing adding any offense. In his own end, he was able to use his strong frame to push guys off the puck as well as protect it when he had it. The decision-making could probably have been a bit quicker, though it got better as the weekend wore on. For a first impression, there was a lot more good than bad.
Kaedan Korczak (2 games, 1RD, 1 RD)
As expected, Korczak looked like he was on another level compared to almost everyone else on the ice. He was calm on the puck, quick in retrieval, and always made the right decisions. There’s probably never going to be much offense in his game, but his willingness to push the puck up the ice will certainly generate chances for his teammates in the future.
Artur Cholach (3 games, 2LD, 2LD, 3 LD)
The first game he looked a step behind pretty much everyone rushing at him, but as the games continued he was able to gain his footing and improved. The concern about his ability to get to pucks and get them off his stick quickly enough to succeed at this level remains though. Overall, it wasn’t a bad weekend for him, but it was far from great.
In the SinBin.vegas Prospect Rankings, goalies are always listed last. So, today we decided to bring the new goalie rankings to the forefront by giving them a post of their own. So, here goes.
Criteria to qualify for rankings:
Must be younger than 23 years old
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.
Saville has been by far the most impressive goalie in his first appearance with the Golden Knights. He looked incredibly confident in the goal and his technique was terrific for an 18-year-old. Dave Prior is constantly working with goalies to try and make minor changes to their game, often times throwing them off a bit, but with Saville that wasn’t the case. Prior wanted Saville to challenge shooters further out of the goal cutting down angles. He did it, and it seemed to make him even better as the week went on. Of the goalies remaining in the Golden Knights system, he’s the highest draft pick and he looks like he’s on the right path to becoming a solid prospect.
2) Dylan Ferguson Acquired: via Trade from Dallas Stars with 2020 2nd Round Pick for Marc Methot (selected in 2017 Entry Draft, 7th Round, #194 overall) Age: 20 (September 20, 1998) Most Recent Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL) Previous Ranking: #2
The one aspect of Ferguson’s game that shows up the most when watching him is his compete level. He looks like he wants to save every single shot, no matter the situation or likelihood he should actually save it. In the scrimmage that he was able to play in Development Camp (he was hurt and missed the final two), it appeared like he was planning on winning the game singlehandedly for his team. The intensity is there, his style is aggressive, and he’s getting more and more consistent. For a smaller guy, his ability to look big inside of the goal is impressive and his athleticism is exciting. It appears like the Golden Knights’ plan for Ferguson is to hand him the reigns as the backup in Chicago, which says a lot about what the organization thinks of him as well.
More on Ferguson
1/8/19 – Ferguson has put up similar numbers to his other seasons in the WHL saving a little over 90% of shots. Due to his age he seems to be a bit further along than Kooy but the physical tools aren’t as promising. Don’t forget that he was the first to sign a contract, he was specifically targeted by VGK in a trade and he was seemingly the highest rated goalie in rookie camp. It’s neck and neck with Kooy but ties are no fun so Dylan drops down a spot.
9/12/18 – Ferguson didn’t play in any of the rookie games, which in theory should be a bad thing. Instead though, it indicates the Golden Knights rank him the highest, by giving him the first preseason game rather than a rookie game. We’ll heed VGK’s rankings and leave him atop the list.
7/28/18 – You might remember young Dylan from his short stint with the Golden Knights, but you should remember him from his solid showing at Development Camp. He looked confident in the goal, something he didn’t look while in the net in Edmonton or even at Development Camp in 2017. Ferguson has a little bit of an edge to him, and it seems to translate to confidence and swagger on the ice. Plus, he’s awesome interacting with kid fans when he comes off the ice.
Patrik Elias is one of the finer European players to ever play the game. The future Hall of Famer was considered a highly smart two-way player with elite skills. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is New Jersey’s franchise leader in points, goals, and assists, which is doubly impressive since Elias played a good chunk of his career in the Dead Puck era.
Elias was in town last month to assist with the NHL’s new player tracking technology, and to watch his Devils face off against the Golden Knights. So, I tracked down the retired star to get his thoughts on the youngsters in the Vegas pipeline.
After all, the Czech was an assistant coach for his home country at this past World Junior Championships. Elias was enthusiastic by what he saw from the Golden Knights prospects.
Before I could finish my question, Elias cut in…
He’s an NHL player no question about it. I watched not only minutes but a couple of hours of video on him because of the way he runs a power play. He’s got a great poise. Obviously, right handed shot. Hockey smarts, great skater. He was one of the better, most fun players to watch. He’s going to be an NHL pro. -Elias
Elias wasn’t committing to a timetable for Glass but he expects it won’t be long.
You see a lot of the guys making the jump quickly. If they work hard, they’ll get the chance. It is a young man’s league. But nothing wrong with playing in the minors for a little bit. Adjust to it a little, even though it’s a different game. -Elias
Just as he was with Glass, Elias was incredibly high on Vegas’ spitfire defenseman.
Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Wolves, HV71, and now the Brandon Wheat Kings. Brannstrom has options. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Erik Brannstrom was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights with the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Unlike many of the other top picks, Brannstrom has been playing in the Swedish Hockey League, a professional hockey league without any age requirements. In other words, he’s been playing against grown men while Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Nic Hague, and most of the other picks have been playing against kids.
The expectation for Brannstrom, if he doesn’t make the NHL team, was for him to play this season in North America, likely in the AHL. That may have changed early this morning morning when a new option opened up.
Interesting: The Brandon Wheat Kings just drafted 2017 15th overall pick Erik Brannstrom (VGK) in the CHL import draft. Not sure if that's the first option for him next season or if they'd prefer him in the AHL, but safety net there to ease him into North America if needed.
The CHL Import Draft is a yearly draft in which Canadian junior teams can select eligible non-North American born players to potentially add to their rosters for the upcoming season. Brannstrom was the 44th pick to the Wheat Kings.
His mind is not on the CHL though.
No, I wouldn’t say that (it was on my mind). Obviously, my goal is to play for the Vegas Golden Knights next season so we’ll see after that what happens. -Erik Brannstrom
He seemed a bit surprised he had even been selected.
The likelihood of Brannstrom making the NHL roster out of camp still remains fairly low. With the selection of Brannstrom in the CHL, there are now three options of where he could play in the likely event he’s not on the 23-man Golden Knights roster.
Option A: Return to Sweden and play with HV71
Pros: Continue to play in a professional league against men
Cons: Continue to play on a larger sheet of ice than NHL regulation size, unavailable to Golden Knights until season is completed
Option B: Go to the AHL and play for the Chicago Wolves
Pros: Play professionally against men, be available (waiver exempt) to the Golden Knights all season long
Cons: Playing time may be limited, paid for by VGK
Option C: Go to the CHL and play for the Brandon Wheat Kings
Pros: Play on NHL regulation-size rink, play against many top NHL draft picks
Cons: Playing against all players under the age of 22, possibly too talented to continue developing as a defenseman, unavailable to Golden Knights until season is completed
Option C doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and if it were any team other than the Wheat Kings it would (and probably should) be laughed off as the CHL team taking a shot in the dark hoping he’d have a change of heart. However, because it’s Brandon, which is owned by Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon, the option has to be taken seriously. Clearly, the Wheat Kings took Brannstrom for a reason and odds are a conversation with McCrimmon occurred before the selection.
Never could anyone have imagined the Golden Knights goalie depth would be tested the way it was. Five goalies used in the first 17 games gave George McPhee a pretty solid look at the present and the future of the most important position on the ice.
It would seem not much needs to happen between the pipes for the Golden Knights with Marc-Andre Fleury the clear starter, Malcolm Subban a solid backup and Oscar Dansk plus Maxime Lagace manning the crease in the AHL. However, it’s not that simple, and in fact, McPhee has plenty of decisions in the net not only this offseason but moving forward.
It’s a bit of a shame Fleury will not win any awards after that incredible season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
After posting Vezina quality numbers in the regular season and then racing out to become the Conn Smythe favorite before the final series of the playoffs, it appears Fleury’s days as a full-time starter aren’t as numbered as they appeared during the last days in Pittsburgh.
He’s mentioned playing for many more years and recently said he wants to finish his career in Vegas. Fleury has one more season left on his contract scheduled to pay him $5.75 million. Then he would become an unrestricted free agent, something the Golden Knights probably aren’t interested in letting happen.
Things do get a bit tricky though when dealing with the long-term future of a 33-year-old goalie. While it certainly appears his age isn’t getting in the way at this point, that could change at any moment. Signing Fleury to a four or five year deal is risky as his production could slip at any moment, but letting him constantly play on expiring deals keeps the control in the hands of the player rather than the organization.
If Fleury is being completely honest that he wants to finish his career with the Golden Knights, they should play the short-term contract game with him on a gentleman’s agreement that he’ll get a new deal every time he wants one and the price will be fair. There aren’t many players who any GM would be willing to go down that road with, but if there’s one, it’s probably Fleury.
There’s one concern there though, and that’s Pittsburgh. What if they come calling at some point? It’s easy to say he wants to finish his career in Vegas while sitting on stage in the same building as the Campbell Bowl, but if the idea of going back to the Penguins ever became a realistic possibility, he’d likely want to hear it out.
The best course of action for the Golden Knights is likely to keep him one year away from free agency at all times. Extend his contract each offseason so he feels comfortable, while also protecting the organization against the inevitable father time induced decline.
Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk, Max Lagace
Only one of these three players currently has a contract with the Golden Knights and that’s Subban. Dansk remains under Golden Knights control as he’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Lagace is an unrestricted free agent set to hit the open market on July 1st if he doesn’t reach a deal with Vegas before then.
Subban still seems to be the clear #2 behind Fleury, but his injury-riddled season has to bring pause to the organization’s desire to commit to him as the heir-apparent. Subban was hurt once during a game early in the year and then found himself unavailable two more times due to injuries that occurred during practice. Subban missed a majority of the postseason and the team opted to use Lagace as the backup over Dansk.
The Hockey News is doing a series called “2020 Vision” in which they attempt to predict the future of what each NHL team will look like three years from now. Last week, they took on the Golden Knights roster.
Vegas will be weak at center this year and it will likely be a sore spot until Glass takes the throne – and that’s if he takes it, because we are projecting on an 18-year-old here. Continuity will also be key, as roster turnover must be kept to an acceptable level so the team can gel over the years. -Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News
While Kennedy believes the Golden Knights have to be careful about roster turnover, I believe the exact opposite. Of the 30 players selected by the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, Kennedy has 12 still on the roster in 2020 (plus Tuch and Theodore), I expect that number to be closer to five or six.