CHICAGO – George McPhee and his scouting staff went out and knocked the damn thing out of the park. With three picks in the first round of the draft, the Vegas Golden Knights picked up a truckload of skill in centers Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki and defenseman Erik Brannstrom.
This was always going to be an historic night for the NHL’s newest franchise, but in getting the prospects they did, Vegas established a rock-solid foundation for its pipeline.
“It’s hard to get that kind of talent anywhere else than in the draft,” McPhee said. “It’s not hanging on trees; it’s not low fruit. You have to build your team and get your elite players through the entry draft.”
While all three players will likely need a year or two more of development in either major junior or Sweden, the bar has been set high. Brannstrom was a terror in international tournaments, Suzuki was one of the top goal-scorers in the OHL (and the best possession forward in the whole draft) and Glass was one of the top point producers in the WHL this season. And naturally, there was something a little extra-special about being the first draft picks in franchise history. That distinction was not lost on Glass, the first-ever pick at No. 6.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” he said. “Obviously it’s an historic day and just to be part of the Vegas organization is unbelievable. It’s an honor and something I really appreciate.”
Glass has actually played hockey in Vegas before, hitting up the town for a summer tournament when he was a kid. Back then, the Winnipeg native got a chance to walk the Strip, but at the time he didn’t see a hockey city. Fast-forward to this year and he’s already stoked about the level of interest around the team and the season ticket base for the inaugural campaign.
Brannstrom has a bit more homework to do.
“I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard fun things about it,” he said. “I’ve seen some movies about it, seen some good things.”
When asked which movies, he admitted that The Hangover was a big one. And while he may lose a tooth in Vegas some day, let’s hope he steers clear of face tattoos and stolen tigers.
Several teams had good nights in Chicago – the St. Louis Blues (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) and Dallas Stars (Miro Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger) come to mind – but no franchise did better than Vegas.
McPhee and his crew will go back to work on Saturday armed with 10 additional picks. Three of those are slated to be second-rounders, so that excellent haul from Friday night could get even better. Oettinger was the only netminder taken in the first round, so Vegas has a number of great options left in that regard. Plus, if there’s a gem they truly covet, they can always package picks and move up. As McPhee noted, it’s never a problem to have a lot of draft selections.
The expansion draft was a start for the Golden Knights, but there wasn’t much elite talent in that group. But thanks to a first-class effort in Chicago, Vegas’ future looks a lot brighter today.