Much has been said about Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season, and deservedly so. The team everyone deemed unlikely to even make the playoffs currently leads the Pacific Division by a healthy margin and only trail the powerhouse Nashville Predators for first overall in the Western Conference. Amongst the numerous impressive accomplishments from this underdog, larger-than-life team this season – did anyone have William Karlsson pegged as a 40-goal scorer? – it is easy to forget the organization actually participated in two major events this summer.
The expansion draft and the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
The expansion draft was an indisputable success for Vegas – providing the Golden Knights with all the tools and players they needed to pull off a rookie season for the ages. But what about the 2017 NHL Entry draft? In the midst of breaking expansion team-records and turning the league on its head, many of the Golden Knights’ prospects have been somewhat forgotten. Like 19-year old Ontario native Nicolas Hague who recently made history in the OHL.
The 6’6″, 214 pound Mississauga Steelheads’ rearguard wasn’t projected to be an offensive defenseman ahead of this season. While blessed with a thunderous shot and not lacking in the talent department, it would be a stretch to suggest that when George McPhee drafted him 34th overall in the 2nd round, it was for his prowess with scoring goals and making plays.
“We took on a lot of skill in the first round: highly intelligent, skilled players. We weren’t intentionally trying to balance that out, it just sort of worked that way when we got our ‘big guy’ in Hague”, McPhee explained after selecting three smaller, offensively skilled players ahead of Hague.
“I try and look at big guys like Colton Parayko and Victor Hedman – there are not too many guys that are 6’6” in the NHL – they move the puck well, play physical and are generally just really difficult to play against. I try to make that my style as well”, Hague himself told reporters after being drafted.
Despite his scouting report, scoring goals and making plays is exactly what Hague has been doing this season. While Mississauga did lose its February 28th meeting with the Oshawa Generals, Hague added a goal and an assist – points that propelled him into a number of different record books. The goal was his 30th on the season, a plateau that is rarely – if ever – breached in the OHL. In fact, the last time it happened before Hague was when Allan Rourke scored 31 in 2000. The two points also meant Hagues season totals reached 66 – a new record in terms of points in a season for a Mississauga Steelheads’ defenseman.
Reaching these rather significant milestones haven’t distracted Hague from continuing to score points though. With his current total, 69 points (32+37) in 61 games, he trails only Evan Bouchard – by many considered to be a purely offensive defender – in the OHL scoring race for defensemen. His 32 goals (minimum) will also be enough to secure him a spot in the top-15 for goal scoring campaigns by an OHL defenseman all-time, an exclusive list that includes another defenseman known for his booming shot: Al MacInnis.
For Vegas, the emergence of Nicolas Hague and his newfound offensive abilities adds increased depth to a prospect pool that already includes successful first-round picks Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brännström. Not to mention another much-improved player: third-round pick Jonas Röndbjerg who is a regular for Växjö Lakers in the SHL and put up two goals and five assists for seven points in six games for Denmark at the 2018 WJC.
Vegas has a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season but should they falter, Nicolas Hague and his fellow prospects will be there to pick up the slack in the future.