It took the Vegas Golden Knights just six seasons to win their first Stanley Cup, exceeding expectations after the team built what, at the time, felt like a very underwhelming roster at the 2017 NHL expansion draft.
Since then, they’ve been aggressive on the trade front, moving all but one first-round pick ahead of the team’s 2023 Stanley Cup run. They didn’t have to deal their first pick this year, and they landed David Edstrom, whom scouts considered to be one of the more underrated players in the first round.
One thing’s clear: when the Golden Knights fall, they’re going to fall hard. The team’s pipeline is lacking some high-end talent, with most of the group looking like depth options at this point. There’s no shortage of hard-working players, but Edstrom might be the only one capable of becoming a top-six forward at this point.
The Golden Knights have some solid center depth, led by Edstrom, Brendan Brisson and Matyas Sapovaliv. While it’s almost certain a few of them could move to the wing, that’s nice to have. Edstrom has the potential to be a No. 2/3 at the NHL level with his two-way reliability, while Brisson and Sapovaliv both could become wingers if needed. Mathieu Cataford and Jakub Brabenec are both intriguing, too.
A large majority of these players have a very slim chance of becoming regular contributors. Right now, I feel confident about Edstrom, but there are enough flaws in the rest of the system to be worried about potential here. If the Golden Knights are forced to burn things to the ground in 2-3 years, there isn’t a group of players to build around.
1. David Edstrom, C, 18 (Frolunda, SHL)
Drafted: No. 32, first round in 2023
Edstrom was selected 32nd overall by the Golden Knights after a strong end to the season with Sweden’s U-18 team. Paired with Otto Stenberg, the duo was one of the best at the U-18 World Hockey Championship, leading the team to a silver medal after losing to USA in the gold medal game. Edstrom is known for being an excellent skater with good hockey IQ. At 6-foot-3, he has great size for a power forward, and he’s a good dual-threat as a shooter and a passer. Edstrom is expected to spend the season with Frolunda’s senior team, which will be a good test of his abilities.
2. Lukas Cormier, D, 21 (Henderson, AHL)
Drafted: No. 68, third round in 2020
There’s no shortage of high-scoring offensive defensemen out of the QMJHL, but very few can keep that trend alive once they turn pro. With 35 points in Henderson last year, mission accomplished. Cormier has an excellent shot and is a great skater who thrives while playing at a high pace. He’s not big at 5-foot-10, isn’t physical, and can struggle in his own zone. But with the puck, there’s a lot to like.
3. Brendan Brisson, C, 20 (Henderson, AHL)
Drafted: No. 29, first round in 2020
One of just two first-round picks in franchise history to have not been traded. Brisson’s first year of pro hockey had mixed results. He can score, with 18 goals in 58 games, but he’s a below-average skater who can be found watching the play too often. Brisson is smart with a great release, but his lack of footspeed hurts him way too often. Brisson thrives on the power play, though, which could give him a chance. I just don’t love his progression to this point.
4. Matyas Sapovaliv, C, 19 (Saginaw, OHL)
Drafted: No. 48, second round in 2022
Sapovaliv came alive during the world juniors, registering seven assists to help Czechia win silver. It was a nice boost to his game in a year that didn’t see him explode offensively with Saginaw until the playoffs. His skating can be ugly at points, but he has excellent hands and is great in his own zone. As a bottom-six defensive center, Sapovaliv could become a long-term option for the Golden Knights. He’ll have a chance to shine as one of Saginaw’s more experienced players heading into the 2024 Memorial Cup.
5. Pavel Dorofeyev, LW, 22 (Vegas Golden Knights)
Drafted: No. 79, third round in 2019
For a little bit, Dorofeyev looked unstoppable for the Golden Knights. He had seven goals and nine points in 18 games, including four goals in his first five games. He quieted down with just two points in his final eight games, and he didn’t participate in the playoffs. But after some difficult stretches with Henderson, it was good to see him produce like he did. He’s flashy and works hard, but when he’s not scoring, he’s not effective enough away from the puck to make him a full-time NHLer just yet.
6. Carl Lindbom, G, 20 (Färjestad, SHL)
Drafted: No. 222, seventh round in 2021
One of the last players taken in 2021, Lindbom has quickly emerged as one of the best goalie prospects in the game. He had an outstanding season with Djurgardens in Sweden’s second-best pro league, recording a 25-11-0 record with seven shutouts and a .930 save percentage. Lindbom was also the backbone of Sweden’s world junior effort, with defensive zone coverage in front of him being an issue. He’s small at 6-foot-1, but he’s quick, athletic and finds pucks through screens quite well. Moving up to the SHL will be a big step forward, but he’ll have a chance to lean on former Golden Knights goalie Max Lagace for help in Färjestad.
7. Kaedan Korczak, D, 22 (Henderson, AHL)
Drafted: No. 41, second round in 2019
Korczak got into 10 NHL games this year and it didn’t take long for him to play about 19 minutes. He can get upwards of five shots on net a night when he’s feeling “it.” That didn’t always show through in the AHL with just four goals and 14 points, but he competes hard and he’s physical, too. Korczak is likely a third-pairing defenseman at best, but he should get more games under his belt this year.
8. Mathieu Cataford, C, 18 (Halifax, QMJHL)
Drafted: No. 77, third round in 2023
There was a lot to like out of Cataford’s play last year – confidence, more two-way refinement and a solid physical edge. His skating needs a bit of work, and part of that is down to conditioning. But there’s a very good chance he ends up becoming a steal out of the 2023 draft based on how hard he works alone.
9. Arttu Karki, D, 18 (Tappara, Liiga)
Drafted: No. 96, third round in 2023
A couple scouts describe Karki as a potential third-round steal by the Golden Knights. He has a tremendous release, is very skilled with the puck and moves well for a 6-foot-2 defender. Karki had 39 points in 36 games in Finland’s U-20 league to help Tappara win the league title. A big concern is his passive play in front of his own crease, often letting the play come to him. NHL forwards won’t let you watch patiently, but I think there’s enough raw skill here to get intrigued.
10. Jakub Brabenec, C, 19 (Henderson, AHL)
Drafted: No. 102, fourth round in 2021
Brabenec’s hockey sense is high-end, with one Czech scout once describing him as having a “spidey sense.” Over the past two years, his skating has come a long way, matching his high compete level. He loves being in front of the net, although there are concerns that he’s not a good enough finisher to be a scorer in the NHL. But the way he chases after pucks and stops plays, he could find value as a bottom-six player.
Other notables: Isaiah Saville, G (22), Jordan Gustafson, C (19), Mason Primeau, C (22), Daniil Chayka, D (20), Joe Fleming, D (20), Layton Ahac, D (22), Chris Sedoff, D (21), Jiri Patera, G (24), Ivan Morozov, C (23), Jackson Hallum, LW (20), Ryder Donovan, C (22), Jakub Demek, RW (20), Ben Hemmerling, RW (19), Tuomas Uronen, RW (18), Noah Ellis, D (21), Abram Wiebe, D (19), Cameron Whitehead, G (20), Patrick Guay, C (21)
Previous 2023-24 NHL Prospect Pool instalments
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