Due to the nature of the Expansion Draft, one of the ongoing challenges the Golden Knights have had to work through is dealing with what’s been coined “the age gap.”
We didn’t have the ability to draft (players with birth years) 1998, 97, 96, 95, or 94. We had no players available to us in those age groups. -Kelly McCrimmon
They were able to acquire a few via trade, but in Vegas’ first season they had just four regulars who were born between 1994-1998, which at the time would have made them 21-23 years old. A year later that number remained at four but there were two different players involved.
At the time, it wasn’t that big of a deal because the majority of the group was hitting their prime, somewhere between the ages of 24-30, but it was always clear what was coming on the horizon if the gap was not addressed.
So, over the course of the previous four seasons, the Golden Knights have worked hard to bulk up that group. The kingpin is 1996-born Jack Eichel (which cost a fellow 96 in Alex Tuch). Vegas also have Shea Theodore, William Carrier, Nic Roy, Zach Whitecloud, Keegan Kolesar, Michael Amadio, Dylan Coghlan, and Logan Thompson in that group. (They’ve also cycled through Dylan Sikura, Jake Bischoff, Valentin Zykov, Gage Quinney, Jimmy Schuldt, Stefan Matteau, Brendan Leipsic, and Oscar Dansk who all played NHL games.)
Trades, free agents, waivers, and diamonds in the rough have helped the Golden Knights find a group that will play next season between the ages of 24-28.
Now, you look at our team today and the players that we have in those age groups are very important. Those players are really important in (developing our identity of rolling four lines), they are really important in a salary cap world. They are good players. They help our team win. That to me is critical in your team having that depth and developing that identity that you want to see. -Kelly McCrimmon
There’s one problem. In the quest to fill one age gap, the Golden Knights have created another one, and one that is of even more significance “in the salary cap world” as McCrimmon puts it. The 94-98 group are no longer on their entry-level deals, meaning they are all being paid something close (or more) than their market value. Meanwhile, the younger group is still bound by the ELC system which caps out at less than $1 million.
Vegas is void of difference-makers under the age of 24. They’ve traded away a total of five 1st round picks from the 2017-2019 Drafts and have found mainly depth pieces in the later rounds.
The Golden Knights got 97 games worth of players under the age of 23 a year ago and nearly half of it can be credited to Jake Leschyshyn who filled in amicably but registered just six points in 41 games. The sub-23 group tallied just six goals and 14 points in those 97 games. If you add another year, there are a few more players in the mix, including Nolan Patrick, Brett Howden, Dylan Coghlan, and Nic Hague. The sub-24 group amassed 274 games, but scored a measly 24 goals and 68 points or one point every four games.
Contrast that with a few of the teams remaining in the playoffs right now. The New York Rangers got an incredible 545 games from sub-24’s totaling 59 goals and 199 points. That’s continued in the playoffs where they have 11 goals and 34 points from youngsters. Colorado got 28 goals and 86 points from Cale Makar (born in 1998) alone. Their sub-24 group played a total of 345 games scoring 180 points. In the playoffs, the Avs have gotten seven points from sub-24 players not named Makar in their nine playoff games. And Carolina got 293 games, 75 goals, and 180 points from their players under the age of 24. That’s as many goals per game (.25) as the Golden Knights got points per game, in nearly the same number of games.
Vegas’ endless pursuit to fill the gap between 1994-1998 has kept them competitive and among the group of teams with a chance to win the Cup each of the past five seasons, but to win it in 2022-23 or beyond they are going to need much more from the 1999-2003 group.
While there are plenty of players under VGK control in that age range, not many are expected to contribute at a high-level next season. Here’s the list of skaters…
Maxim Marushev, Nick Campoli, Ben Jones, Brandon Kruse, Jake Leschyshyn, Jonas Rondbjerg, Zach Hayes, Brayden Pachal, Paul Cotter
Peter DiLiberatore, Ivan Morozov, Connor Corcoran, Ryder Donovan, Pavel Dorofeyev
Kaedan Korczak, Layton Ahac, Marcus Kallionkieli, Mason Primeau, Brendan Brisson
Noah Ellis, Jesper Vikman, Lukas Cormier, Jackson Hallum, Daniil Chayka
Zach Dean, Carl Lindbom, Artur Cholach, Jakub Demek, Jakub Brabenec
It won’t be easy, but if the Golden Knights truly want to win the Stanley Cup next year, they are going to have to get something from this group. Or, more likely, find a way to add to it in a significant way in the next four months.