Between salary cap constraints, taxi squads and everything else going on these days, the NHL has seen a lot of new and surprising faces. On Wednesday night, one such player made a definite statement when Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Dylan Coghlan scored a hat trick in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. They were the first goals of Coghlan's 12-game NHL career and while he would have liked to get the win for his team too, it was still pretty cool.
"It's nice to get the first one out of the way," Coghlan said. "I've definitely had some chances this year and haven't capitalized - I don't know if I was nervous or got a bad bounce - but it was nice to finally get one. And to get two more was awesome."
But let's back up a bit and answer the question a lot of the hockey world is probably asking right now: Who the heck is Dylan Coghlan?
Though his junior numbers were impressive, Coghlan was never drafted, getting passed over three times before signing with Vegas as a free agent in September of 2017. Coghlan had attended the Golden Knights' rookie camp that summer and done enough to warrant a training camp tryout which led to the contract, but why did it take so long?
Coming out of the Nanaimo Clippers program in British Columbia, Coghlan was a third-round pick of the Tri-City Americans in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. He made the team as a 16-year-old and played well, then made a nice jump during his draft year. Tri-City was loaded on the back end that season, with Parker Wotherspoon (NYI) leading the team's blueliners in scoring and future NHLers Juuso Valimaki and Brandon Carlo also playing big roles. Coghlan had 24 points that year, then rocketed up to 53 points as an 18-year-old (Carlo had left for the Bruins by then).
At 19, Coghlan became the Americans' top scorer from the back end, racking up 63 points in 65 games before making a splash in the playoffs as one of Tri-City's best players in a run to the conference final. Tri-City swept Kelowna and Victoria before falling to Carter Hart's Everett Silvertips in six games. But he still didn't get drafted.
"His skating was good and his size was fine," said Tri-City GM Bob Tory. "He wasn't a big, punishing defenseman, but the game has changed so much. He always had the offensive side of his game and the big shot, I just couldn't get teams to warm up to him."
Tory even had a tough time getting Coghlan camp tryouts back then, though the defenseman did get a shot with Detroit at Red Wings rookie camp after his first draft snub. Eventually, the Golden Knights gave the kid a chance.
After two years in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, Coghlan got his shot with Vegas this season and he already has a pretty good memory thanks to the hat trick against Minnesota.
"I had a couple close calls in junior, but I haven't had a hat trick since I was 10," Coghlan said. "Maybe younger."
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer praised Coghlan's ability to create offense from the back end, while Tory wonders if those first goals will give Coghlan the confidence to shoot more from here on out. With Alex Pietrangelo ailing, the Golden Knights may need more Coghlan in the coming days and considering the young man's path, he's certainly earned the look.
"He dealt with the disappointment of not getting drafted and just kept working," Tory said. "To Dylan's credit, he never allowed it to affect his personality or his work ethic. He always had a positive attitude coming to the rink and a smile on his face. He wanted to be a player and he just kept focusing on getting better. I think that's a good message to a lot of young kids: the journey is more important than the destination, because if you don't pay attention to the journey, you're not going to get to the destination."