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Five-Year Forecast: your 2023-24 Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights made quick work, signing the team's core to long-term success. But will that be enough to keep the team contending over the next five years?

Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.

Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will almost certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Vegas.

FORWARDS

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There's a good chance the Golden Knights can survive without having to deplete their core lineup. Stone, Marchessault, Karlsson and Tuch are signed well past 2024 and in it for the long run. Pacioretty is a UFA in 2023, but he seems to have found his game again with Stone in the picture, who is perhaps the best winger with which Pacioretty has ever played. If the Golden Knights are still a contender, look for GM Kelly McCrimmon to extend Pacioretty for a few more years. Smith's future might be the most clouded, however. With four 50-plus point campaigns in his career, Smith is a valuable asset to the Golden Knights, but he's a UFA in 2022 – can Vegas sign him to a similar price at $5 million per season? The Golden Knights can't afford to give him much more, and if his price tag exceeds $6 million, he might be walking.

That leaves the rest of the spots open for young guns. Excluding Glass, Krebs is the undisputed top prospect in the organization and while he's still a few years away, the dominant playmaker has a well-rounded skill set that you want from a modern-day center. He needs to add some bulk, but Vegas can't go wrong with him as their third-line center. Leschyshyn can fill the bottom-line center role as a prominent penalty killer with a physical edge, and he some untapped scoring touch, too. Jones, a seventh-round pick in 2017 (189th overall), had a dominant offensive season in the OHL in 2018-19, and while he was one of the older players in the league, he has taken strides over the past few years. Dugan and Dorofeyev are still a few years away from being a threat, but they're good depth scoring options to have to round out the group.

DEFENSE

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Schmidt and Theodore, the pillars of Vegas' defense group today, are signed until 2025 and will still be key members of the roster come 2023-24. That's a solid top pairing to build around while adding young talent around them. Hague is currently the team's top defensive prospect and can be an intimidating physical force. His below-average skating was exposed in the AHL last season, but the steps he took in his first pro season were still impressive. Korczak, Vegas' second-round pick in 2019 (41st overall), is still young but is strong in his own zone and has the makings of a reliable stay-at-home defensemen. One of the most interesting situations will be the path of Whitecloud. He skated in one contest for the Steelheads two seasons ago after finishing his NCAA career and showed tremendous improvements in his game as the season went on (and was a huge contributor during the Chicago Wolves' playoff run). Does Whitecloud, currently 22, have what it takes to be an everyday NHLer? Perhaps, but there are a few younger defenders that will be knocking on the door come 2023 like Demin, Layton Ahac and Xavier Bouchard.

GOALIES

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Here's the thing with Vegas: Fleury will be 39 in 2023-24 and still needs a new contract before then. But the Golden Knights don't have a goalie that looks capable of taking over the starting role in the next few seasons, meaning unless the club goes the trade route, Fleury could return for a final two seasons after his deal ends in 2022. It would be in a mentor position, though, and Saville and will be done with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He's got everything you'd want to see out of a starting goalie, minus size. If he can bulk up a bit in college, the Golden Knights could skate away with a steal in the fifth round from 2019 (135th overall). Consider this a 1A/1B situation for now.

The future of the Golden Knights will be an interesting one. The club didn't waste much time locking up the core group of stars at every position, and with five picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 draft – considered to be the best draft since 2003 – there's true excitement in Sin City. The team hasn't killed themselves with bad contracts just yet and an influx of picks over the next few years means McCrimmon can fill holes with cheap, young talent. Managing the cap will be a challenge for the Golden Knights, who will have to make tough roster decisions as time wears on. But, hey, expect another Stanley Cup run or two beforehand to make it all worth it.

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