They’re just off to a hot start. His shooting percentage is unsustainable. The schedule gets tougher in the second half. They’re not playoff-tested.
All of these things have been said about the Vegas Golden Knights, and all of them have been shot down as the team keeps rolling through the NHL like they were relegated from an even higher league. The team knocked out the San Jose Sharks yesterday on the back of another shutout by Marc-Andre Fleury, and will now sit and wait for the winner of Nashville-Winnipeg. Both the Predators and Jets are impressive hockey clubs, but if you think they’ll be big favorites over the Golden Knights, you haven’t been paying attention.
Vegas may well go all the way to the Stanley Cup in their first season. They could even take home the trophy, handing it to Fleury, James Neal, David Perron, and Deryk Engelland before handing it to some of the less experienced players. Eventually it would end up in the hands of 22-year old Shea Theodore, a defenseman who started the year in the AHL only to now log more than 22 and a half minutes a night in the playoffs. Or Alex Tuch, the 21-year old prospect the Golden Knights received from Minnesota who, while still unpolished, can look like an animal off his leash at times as he disrupts breakouts and crashes heavily on the forecheck.
It would be passed to Malcolm Subban, a forgotten first-round pick who showed that all he needed was a chance and some confidence. He’ll still be 24 when next season begins, and looking like the obvious successor to Fleury down the road.
It’s that “down the road” that is so interesting for the Golden Knights. That’s when everyone was expecting them to compete. Down the road. Maybe sometime in the future. When their draft picks develop.
Those draft picks are developing already.
Cody Glass, the first draft pick in Vegas franchise history, recorded 102 points in 64 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season. He only just turned 19, but on a weaker team would be pushing for a role in the NHL as soon as next season. Nick Suzuki, his CHL counterpart selected just a few picks later, recorded 100 points in 64 matches. 42 goals tied him for third in OHL scoring, and he won’t turn 19 until August. Only AHL eligibility rules will likely stop him from playing professional hockey next season, as he’s already too good for the junior ranks.
Erik Brannstrom, the forgotten first-round pick, logged a regular shift on defense against professionals in the SHL, recording 22 points in 44 games. Fellow drafted blueliner Nicolas Hague put up 35 goals and 78 points as a dominant presence in the OHL.
Some criticized the Golden Knights for giving up three draft picks for Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline, especially because of the limited impact he’s had for them. But Vegas still holds 11 combined picks in rounds 1-3 of the 2019 and 2020 drafts, and will continue to pump talent into their pipeline. They’re not going away.
This summer could see the departure of Neal and Perron, and the offense will suffer. There is a chance that Fleury takes a step backwards, and the top line doesn’t produce as much. But there is more talent coming, there are more players ready to take the next step. Even as the core changes in the next few years, Vegas is set up for long-term success. The train isn’t slowing down, it’s just going to change conductors.