Over the last few weeks I’ve highlighted the top defenseman Timothy Liljegren and a top three forward Nico Hischier. Either prospect would be a great start for Vegas. Stud defenseman like Liljegren don’t come around often. In fact, 2012 was the last draft multiple defenseman were selected in the top five. Crazy enough, eight rookie blueliners were picked in the top ten that year. (Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Mathew Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, Jacob Trouba, Slater Koekkoek)
All this draft chat had me thinking about McPhee’s strategy. Who would the Golden Knights draft between the highest rated defenseman, or a top three center? SinBin.vegas commenter James made a strong point about a few somewhat recent drafts. Drew Doughty selected second could easily have jumped over Steven Stamkos. Same with the 2009 draft with John Tavares and Victor Hedman. Of course, all four organizations feel incredibly satisfied with their selections. I will always lean towards a top-rated center over a defenseman. As important as goaltending and defense is, NHL offense comes at a premium. However, if a talent like Doughty comes up my decision wouldn’t be tough.
Drafting a center in the Top-5 of the NHL Entry Draft has been almost ridiculously successful for NHL clubs over the past 10-15 years. There will always be a few misses, like Alex Galchenyuk in 2012 or Kyle Turris in 2007, but just about every other one during the past 13 years has had major impact. Take a look at the centers drafted early from 2003-2016.
Centers in the Top-5
2003: Eric Staal– 2nd Overall
2004: Evgeni Malkin– 2nd Overall
2005: Sidney Crosby– 1st Overall
2006: Jordan Staal– 2nd/ Jonathan Toews– 3rd/ Niklas Backstrom 4th
2007: Kyle Turris– 3rd Overall
2008: Steven Stamkos– 1st Overall
2009: John Tavares– 1st Overall
2010: Tyler Seguin– 2nd Overall
2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins– 1st Overall
2012: Alex Galchenyuk– 3rd Overall
2013: Nathan MacKinnon– 1st Overall
2014: Sam Reinhart– 2nd Overall
2015: Connor McDavid– 1st/ Jack Eichel– 2nd Overall
2016: Auston Matthews– 1st Overall
It’s pretty clear when it comes to the Top-5, scouts get it right most of the time. Top line centers can change an organizations destiny. The Penguins are the perfect example drafting back-to-back top two centers in ’04 & ’05. It will be tough for Vegas to pass on one of the three highly-rated centers. Now let’s look at top five defenseman drafted during that same period.
Defenseman in the Top-5
2003: No Top 5/ Ryan Suter– 7th Overall
2004: Cam Barker– 3rd Overall
2005: Jack Johnson– 3rd Overall
2006: Erik Johnson– 1st Overall
2007: Thomas Hickey– 4th Overall
2008: Drew Doughty– 2nd Overall
2009: Victor Hedman– 2nd Overall
2010: Erik Gudbranson– 3rd Overall
2011: Adam Larsson– 4th Overall
2012: Ryan Murray– 2nd/ Griffin Reinhart– 4th/ Morgan Reilly- 5th Overall
2013: Seth Jones– 4th Overall
2014: Aaron Ekblad– 1st Overall
2015: Noah Hanifin– 5th Overall
2016: Olli Juolevi– 5th Overall
High defensive picks don’t compare to the illustrious centers drafted. There are multiple Hall of Fame center candidates compared to possibly one defenseman. There are plenty of star blue liners in the NHL but they’re not necessarily drafted in the top five.
Possibly, Vegas could use a later draft pick on defense. Or maybe goaltending. The Golden Knights will have their own strategy, and the rumors of tanking suggest an offensive mindset. Nolan Patrick is the consensus number one but other talent like Hischier and Gabriel Vilardi are worth the risk. In order to select Patrick Vegas would need some puck luck, or a frozen envelope.
Shout out to James and Phisig150 for the comments that led to this post.