Over the past weekend, I spent four days in San Diego watching the Chicago Wolves play three games in the Western Conference Final of the AHL’s Calder Cup. My focus was specifically on the Golden Knights draft picks and the players Vegas has under control for beyond this season.
To make this easiest to write, and hopefully to read, I’ve listed every player that either played or I was able to talk to while in San Diego, that has time left on their contract with VGK or are RFAs.
Cody Glass (1st Round, 6th overall in 2017, $863,333 AAV through 21-22)
Anyone who reads/follows me closely knows I haven’t been as high on Glass as the rest of the world seems to be. I’ve come to the realization that the reason for this isn’t because I necessarily view him as a player much differently than most, but that my expectations are substantially higher. As the 6th overall pick in a draft class that includes Elias Petterson, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Nico Hischier, and many others that have already had major impacts in the NHL, my expectation for Glass is massive. Top-six forward, impact player, one of the faces of the franchise. That’s what I’m looking for, and still, even though the next paragraph is going to make it sound otherwise, I’m not sure he’s going to be that guy.
Glass literally does everything on the hockey rink that you want to see from a center. The skill that jumped out most to me over the three games was his backchecking and breakouts. Every time his line turned it over in the offensive zone, he was flying back to negate any transition chance. His skating speed really showed in that sense, but also showed once the Wolves recovered the puck and began their transition back into the offensive zone. He’s terrific carrying the puck out of the D-zone, through the neutral zone, and into the O-zone. I’ve seen him do it with ease at the CHL level, but to see it look exactly the same at the AHL level gives me a strong belief that it’ll continue in the NHL.
I liked how he played along the walls, I loved his vision, his positioning, his movement in the offensive zone. Pretty much everything he did, I thought, yep, this guy is pretty darn good. But still, over the course of three games, there wasn’t enough shown in his ability to create offense. It’s the only thing I can knock him for, but at the same time, it’s the thing I value most in a high draft pick forward. Aside from the occasional chance created directly off an entry (which I do believe will continue in the NHL), there wasn’t a ton created beyond rebound chances. Again, I’m aware that my expectations are gigantic, and I’m asking a lot out of him having played a month in the AHL, but I still didn’t see enough of what I needed to in order to completely change my mind and say he’s going to be a superstar in the NHL.
Cody Glass is going to be an NHL player, and I’m probably going to be on the bandwagon calling for him to make the roster out of camp, but I’m still on the fence of whether I think he’s closer to a Cody Eakin or a William Karlsson. When all is said and done I’m confident he’ll fall somewhere in between these two, however, my opinion still shades more towards 21 than 71.
Nic Hauge (2nd Round, 34th overall in 2017, $791,667 AAV through 21-22)
I came into the weekend expecting to come out saying Hague is the surefire #1 defensive prospect in the Golden Knights system. That’s not what I ended up seeing. That’s not to say Hague was bad, because he certainly wasn’t, it’s just that the fears I had, which I’ve been told by multiple high-ranking people that I shouldn’t have, didn’t go away.
The biggest among those is whether or not his skating is good enough to keep up with the elite skaters at the NHL level. The place it showed up most was in gap control. When a player would enter the zone, sometimes not even moving that quickly, far too often Hague would be more than a stick length away from him (which is a long way with his long arms and stick). Then, once he did enter, it took too long to close down that space which often led to an easy pass or on multiple occasions a dangerous shot. It’s important to note that I watched him play against the same team, on the road, three times, so there could be a gameplan piece here that I’m missing (and when speaking to Rocky Thompson about Hague he didn’t seem to have any issues with the way he was defending). However, that style won’t work in the NHL and his recovery plan (reaching out with that long stick and poking pucks away) won’t work as often against Nathan MacKinnon as it did Corey Tropp or Sam Carrick.
I still love Hague in the offensive zone and on the power play though. His instincts at the blue line are tremendous and he’s going to be a threat to do some damage when he does eventually make it to the NHL. Really looking forward to watching him play in the preseason against NHL level forwards, but at this moment, he no longer ranks as the “most likely defenseman to make the NHL roster in the Golden Knight system” on my list.
Zack Whitecloud (Undrafted, Signed as free agent, $925,000 AAV through 2019-20)
Really liked what I saw out of Whitecloud for the entire weekend. He was incredibly responsible in his own zone, showed an ability and willingness to join the rush, and looked solid manning the blue line in the O-zone. The thing that impressed me most about Whitecloud was the way he defends with his feet. His ability to match the skating of the forwards while mirroring every move they made was excellent. He showed good gap-control and then stuck with guys no matter which way they went. In doing so, forwards would very rarely (I honestly can’t remember it happening even one time) skate into a more dangerous area than where they were when they first got the puck while being defended by Whitecloud. Also, he stays so close to puck-carriers that he takes away the best passing option most of the time. The way he defends reminded me a lot of the way Nate Schmidt plays in his own end, simply snuffing out anything the forward wants to do and forcing him into a harmless pass or a turnover and doing it with quick feet and good stick position.
All this being said, I think Whitecloud is eventually going to be an NHL player and solid one, but I can’t say I see anything elite in his game. Think about every good-to-great player in the NHL and there’s something specific that defines him. I’m still not sure what that would be for Whitecloud and because of it I think he might be the safest option of all the prospects as an NHL option in 2019-20, but I don’t see him as a game-changer like Hague or Dylan Coghlan could be.
Keegan Kolesar (Acquired via trade from CBJ for 2nd Round Pick, $702,500 AAV through 2019-20)
Rocky Thompson would not stop talking about how far Kolesar’s game has come this season. He kept mentioning how Kolesar’s speed has finally gotten to a place that gives him a real shot to play in the NHL. If that ever happens, he’s going to fill a checking-line role in the mold of a Ryan Reaves or William Carrier.
At this point, he’s neither of those guys, and I’m not so sure he’s even close yet. When Reaves and/or Carrier are on the ice, you know it, literally, everyone in the rink knows it. The same can’t be said on every shift for Kolesar. He has shifts like that for sure, but not every single one, which I think is necessary to show at the AHL level before he can fill that role at the NHL level. The glowing remarks from the head coach are going to have my eyes a little more firmly on him moving forward though. Thompson made it sound like it’s a matter of when not if for Kolesar, I’m still in the if category.
Oscar Dansk (Drafted by CBJ, Signed as free agent, $675,000 AAV through 2019-20)
Not much changed on my view of Dansk over the two games he was in goal while I was there. At his best, Oscar Dansk is absolutely capable of stopping NHL shooters, but the consistency simply isn’t there for him to even be relied upon as a backup yet, let alone a starter. The double OT game he was out of this world good, but Game 3 he was average to slightly below. In the other two games in the series it was somewhere in between but nothing truly special as he was in Game 5.
I’m well aware that Golden Knights fans cannot get those three games he played at T-Mobile Arena out of their heads, and I get it, but to be frank, Oscar Dansk isn’t as good as Malcolm Subban (and it’s honestly not even that close). There’s simply no debate there.
Jake Bischoff (Acquired via trade from NYI at Expansion Draft, RFA w/ arbitration)
Bischoff was the most consistent player on the entire Wolves roster over the course of the three games. He’s really good in his own end, especially with his positioning which leads to shot blocking. Offensively, he’s always going to be in the right place but he’s probably never going to do anything spectacular. When the day comes that the Golden Knights need another penalty killer, this is the guy, but beyond that, I don’t know there’s much else that should make you say, “this guy has to be on the NHL roster.”
Dylan Coghlan (Undrafted, Signed as free agent $715,556 AAV through 20-21)
Coghlan only played in one game while I was there due to a puck to the face that caused him to have his jaw wired shut. He had been out for quite a while so to jump back into Game 5 of the Western Conference Final was a tall task. It panned out pretty much exactly the way you’d expect it to, with him showing a certain level of inconsistency that was to be expected when returning from injury.
However, I saw some of the tools that have the Golden Knights excited about him. My favorite play was a 3-on-2 rush into the Wolves offensive zone in which Coghlan was the off-puck defender. He jumped the passing lane, blocked the pass with his skate, kicked it forward, and started the rush the other way himself. Golden Knights fans have seen Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore do things like that before, and it was great to see from the diamond in the rough that is Coghlan. He has a massive slap shot from the point that we never really got to see in the game he played. Keep your eyes on this guy when he gets to camp this summer and fall, he’s a bit of a wild-card, it wouldn’t shock me if he’s squarely in the race with Hague, Whitecloud, Bischoff, and Schuldt to make the roster if a spot is indeed open.
Tomas Hyka (Drafted by LAK, Signed as free agent, RFA w/ arbitration)
Hyka was Hyka in San Diego. His speed pops off the ice every time he’s out there and he’s shown an ability to put the puck in the net when he gets a chance. I actually thought his defensive game looked better especially along the walls when breaking the puck out. I expect the Golden Knights to bring him back, I expect him to be assigned to the Wolves out of camp, and I expect him to be in the mix to be called up every time Vegas needs a forward. In other words, nothing has changed.
Gage Quinney (Undrafted, Signed as free agent, $715,000 AAV through 2019-20)
Having seen the numbers Quinney has put up this season I was hoping to see something special from him while in San Diego. It didn’t really happen. That’s not to say he was bad, because he certainly wasn’t, but he just never did anything that made me think there’s an NHL player in waiting there. He’s a solid two-way center but he doesn’t really drive offense consistently.
Lucas Elvenes (5th Round, 127th overall in 2017, $776,667 AAV through 21-22)
Elvenes did not play and hasn’t in the AHL yet, but when I spoke to him he said he was taking a lot out of the experience of being with the Wolves. Coming from Sweden we chatted a lot about the different size of the rink and he made it clear that there’s a huge learning curve. He told me the most important thing he needs to work on is his shot. He thinks he’ll be able to pass as a high-level, but he needs his shot to match his passing. He has a lot of talent, and I don’t think it’s crazy to think he could become a guy we really start paying attention to next year in the AHL.
Jake Leschyshyn (2nd Round, 62nd overall in 2017, $778,333 AAV through 21-22)
Jake also didn’t play, but was out on the practice ice with the guys on the morning of Game 4. He did have a chance to play in the three games with the Wolves down the stretch and said the size and speed of the players was the biggest difference he noticed from the CHL game. Said he needs to continue working on his speed.
Also, I asked about the knee injury which happened before he was drafted in 2017, he kind of looked at me with this look of “why the hell are you still asking me about that” and then answered with a perfectly respectable professional answer saying it feels great. So, no more Jake Leschyshyn knee questions, if he doesn’t think it’s a story anymore, then it’s not.