The Vegas Golden Knights have been competitive since day one but they missed the playoffs for the first time in their existence last year. They didn’t have their first-round pick after trading it to Buffalo for Jack Eichel, a move they’d likely make again.
The Knights have just two first-round picks still within the organization, trading either the pick or the player for reinforcements throughout their existence. Players they’ve moved over the years have helped their NHL roster, but it has certainly weakened their prospect pipeline and future outlook.
Zach Dean is their most recent first-rounder after getting selected 30th in 2021. He plays with speed and skill, looking to pressure his opponents by attacking them with the puck as he enters the offensive zone. He dekes and dangles to open up space and then finds his teammates in a great scoring position. His progression stalled a bit this past season, but the skating, puck skill, and playmaking ability are all above average and he isn’t inept defensively.
Former Michigan Wolverines forward Brendan Brisson is the only other first-round pick still in the organization. A high-end complimentary player who is an excellent finisher, Brisson has enjoyed success at the NCAA level, jumped into the AHL level, and found success there as well. Brisson isn’t going to drive play, but he can be a major component on a power play because of his elite off-puck awareness and impressive shooting talent. He can curl and drag or he can unload a bomb of a one-time shot. Brisson is an easy NHL projection, it will just about how high up the lineup he can get.
Pavel Dorofeyev came over to North America at the end of 2020-21 and adjusted fairly quickly. His creativity and shiftiness allowed him to showcase his dual-threat ability as an offensive player. His skating is what gets him into good positions to get his shot off. Dorofeyev made his NHL debut last season but didn’t play much in either game.
Jakub Brabenec is a player who anticipates play and jumps into lanes proactively. He’s an excellent playmaker who finds teammates in motion with crisp passes. Brabenec's biggest issue is stringing streaks of good play together.
Jakub Demek is a bit more of a meat-and-potatoes type player, using his large frame to protect the puck and drive to the middle of the ice. He can pass or shoot with a player on his back. Demek needs to get quicker but when he gets a head of steam, he can be a handful to deal with for defenders.
Daniil Chayka is a defensive blueliner who has flashed offensive skills at the OHL level but leaves it all behind playing in Russia. He is a bit of a confusing projection because his defensive game is valuable on its own, but if Chayka had the offensive side to pair with it, he could be a really intriguing young blueliner. Chayka has an impressive reach and uses it quite well, covering ground and eliminating space defensively.
Lukas Cormier is one of the most intriguing offensive defensemen in the world of prospects. He has a willingness to join the rush or pinch in from the blueline that you don’t see all that often and his shot is hard and accurate, making his a legitimate shooting threat from all over the offensive zone. Cormier’s defensive game is average at best but when the puck is always on your stick, you spend much less time playing defense which is the best way to look at that aspect of Cormier’s game.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 2 (48 Overall) - Matyas Sapovaliv, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Round 3 (79 Overall) - Jordan Gustafson, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Round 4 (128 Overall) - Cameron Whitehead, G, Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Round 5 (145 Overall) - Patrick Guay, C, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Round 6 (177 Overall) - Ben Hemmerling, RW, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Round 7 (209 Overall) - Abram Wiebe, D, Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)
With no first-round pick because of the Eichel trade, their first draft pick was 48th overall in the second round. Center was a clear area of need, so the Golden Knights went with a safe and projectable player in Matyas Sapovaliv. The 6-foot-3 center is a solid two-way pivot who anticipates play defensively with proficiency. Sapovaliv’s offensive game doesn’t have much dynamism to it, but he is a north-south player who drives to the net which is where good things happen. He has good hands in tight and stays aware of teammates to pass from the goal line.
Jordan Gustafson is the type of player you root for because of his willingness to pay attention to details and make the correct play as often as he does. The Seattle Thunderbirds forward is so intuitive at both ends of the ice. Gustafson never seems to be in a rush until the moment calls for him to burst into a passing lane or split two defenders to receive a pass up ice. Gustafson is a skilled passer with a quick release on his shot. He plays with pace, anticipation, and intelligence, showing a detail-oriented nature that isn’t regularly seen in young players. He is a bit undersized, but there's skill here.
Cameron Whitehead has the size teams want and tracks the play well, but his technique is where the issue seems to be. He sometimes leaves holes under his arms and doesn’t always react to quick changes of direction as you’d like to see. Whitehead is raw and talented, but he's a work in progress.
The Golden Knights made some interesting later rounds selections such with Patrick Guay and Ben Hemmerling. Guay is an overage player who isn’t the cleanest skater but he racked up points in the QMJHL this past year. He has a knack for finding twine and is willing to stay patient and allow the play to develop. Hemmerling is a physical player who sometimes tries to be more dynamic than he actually is. He lacks the refinement to make a difference as a passer and shooter, but Hemmerling rarely lacks effort.
Vegas has had an issue of finding a true number one center since its inception and now that they’ve filled that need with Eichel, they will have plenty of options as to who will be their long-term number two. Brisson has played center at times in his hockey career but mainly played as a winger with Michigan. Even if he doesn’t stick down the middle at the end of the day, they have plenty of options with their newest draft class helping to bolster the position.
Dean and Gustafson project as middle-six centers who can score by making the right play at the right time, utilizing their fundamentals. They play with speed and bring solid 200-foot games, understanding the responsibility of playing in their end. Speaking of defensive prowess, Sapovaliv is a projectable bottom-six center who can be used in penalty kill situations or at the end of the game.
The Golden Knights don’t have much in their defensive pipeline. Cormier is an excellent offensive player and Chayka is a stout defender, but both have holes they need to fill at the end of the ice they aren’t known for. Kaedan Korczak is a player who can do a bit of everything and brings a real physical element to the back end at 6-foot-4. He can make a good first pass but his offensive game is fairly basic, mostly acting as a facilitator.
Beyond that, Connor Corcoran is an interesting player who plays a two-way game but lacks any tools that look NHL-level. He’s well-rounded, but is anything at a high enough level to warrant a spot with the big team?
Next Man Up: LW Pavel Dorofeyev
The Golden Knights have salary cap issues, to say the least. They'll need to have some entry-level contracts on the roster this year and Dorofeyev is certainly a candidate to be that player. He brings offensive creativity and skill that the lineup lacks beyond the top end, and his ability to create his shot will be a valuable trait on a Vegas team that has seen a bit of a hit to their talent pool over the last couple of seasons.
Another option for this role could be the offensive sniper of Brisson. With Max Pacioretty sent out of town, Brisson’s goal scoring could be a major asset, particularly on the powerplay. Brisson and Dorofeyev could very well both be on the roster at one point this season, although the cap may be one factor as to why their talent levels will have earned them the opportunity.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Pavel Dorofeyev, Jakub Brabenec
C: Brendan Brisson, Zachary Dean, Matyas Sapovaliv, Jordan Gustafson
RW: Jakub Demek, Ryder Donovan
LD: Daniil Chayka, Lukas Cormier, Layton Ahac
RD: Kaedan Korczak, Connor Corcoran
G: Isaiah Saville, Jiri Patera, Carl Lindbom
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!