The last time I did an edition of the prospect report (The Knights Watch for any of my long-time readers), the Vegas Golden Knights looked quite a bit different.
Vegas had Nick Suzuki in the organization, for starters. They had all of their picks intact as Tomas Tatar was still a Detroit Red Wing and Max Pacioretty was still a Montreal Canadien.
They were the Golden Knights opposing fans hated because of the — heh — “rigged” expansion draft. The Knights that were inexplicably both in a place to compete with their veteran talent on the roster and young players developing at the NHL level, but also had the picks and prospects of a team in a rebuild expecting to be a contender well into the future.
What a crazy thing to think back on with the benefit of some hindsight.
Because now we exist in a world where the Golden Knights are firmly entrenched in a “win-now” mode and every day that goes by where they are in the playoff hunt brings with it the risk that general manager George McPhee might trade off more draft value or prospect collateral to push the team over the hump.
It’s a wondrous wealth of possibilities for the fans, but admittedly annoying for those of us trying to start a series devoted to following the exciting young prospects coming up through the system.
In short, George McPhee has clearly read my work questioning all his decisions and has decided to smite me.
Now, enough of the crazy person ranting at no one and onto the kids.
The way we’re going to do this going forward, I think, is to highlight six players every month. You guessed it; three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. Not necessarily the ones with the most points every month, but perhaps who have shown the most improvement statistically or, occasionally, ones we don’t talk about very often but deserve to be noticed.
That said, for the first edition for the second season of the series, I think we play it safe and go with the top prospects.
W - Nikita Gusev (SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL)
23 GP: 7 goals, 22 assists, 29 points
I don’t know if Gusev will ever come over to the NHL, but he presently leads the KHL in scoring, two points ahead of Mathew Maione, the defenseman playing for Dinamo Riga.
I grant you, 26 is probably a little too old to be on the Knights Watch so this will be his one and only appearance, but he is the most NHL-ready player in the Knights’ system and if they could somehow get him over in the next couple years, it could be a massive upgrade for the team.
C - Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks of the WHL)
12 GP: 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points
The guy they didn’t want to trade for Erik Karlsson presently sits eighth in the WHL in scoring. Though, it must be said, he has played at least one game less than anyone above him. Points per game wise his 1.91 is not quite as good as Brett Leason’s 2.18, but is better than the other six players ahead of him.
Can’t see any reason he won’t see some NHL time next season. Possibly only as one of those early-season nine-game stints, but NHL action nonetheless.
He’ll wear an A for Team Canada in the Canada Russia series, which starts November 5.
C - Jake Leschyshyn (Regina Pats of the WHL)
14 GP: 6 goals, 10 assists, 16 points
I mean, come on. How can you not love this kid?
Don’t ask me why they green screened him in front of the title screen for basically every Harry Potter movie or apparently burning him alive. I really don’t know.
Leschyshyn presently sits second on the Pats in scoring behind Nick Henry. Granted, this is his overage year so it all has to be taken with a grain of salt, but he is well ahead of the pace that made him a 40-point player last season (in 64 games) so credit must be given for taking a step forward and doing what is expected from a production standpoint.
D - Erik Brannstrom (Chicago Wolves of the AHL)
7 GP: 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points
In just seven games, which is fewer than anyone who is ahead of him, Brannstrom has put himself tied for eighth in AHL defensive scoring. Now, small sample size and all that, point-per-game players don’t occur often in the AHL. They are far from a dime a dozen, rarely ever defensemen, and even rarer still that they are 19-year-old defensemen. Now sure, he might possibly fall off this pace, but it is impressive for the time being. Even if it is only seven games.
Can we just call this kid up, please?
D - Nicolas Hague (Chicago Wolves also of the AHL)
9 GP: 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points
Having not been able to watch him much, I cannot speak to his growth or development this season. Has his foot speed improved? I don’t know. What I do know is he led all OHL defensemen in goals last season and three points in nine games is more than good enough for me.
I still expect him to eventually become a more stay-at-home type when he eventually comes up to the NHL. Likely they will try to build him into a Brayden McNabb type of player, but unlike what many might think when they hear that term or that comparison, it doesn’t mean he won’t also produce some offense along the way.
G - Jiri Patera (Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL)
12 GP: 2.83 GAA, .918 SV%
”Oh, but Mike, surely Dylan Ferguson, who has played an NHL game for the Golden Knights, is the top goaltending prospect in the organization!”
I mean, maybe? But, Patera has better numbers. It isn’t even close right now. And while you could also argue Jordan Kooy has better numbers than both he has also played about half the games and was a seventh-round pick so let’s let the kid grow into being a prospect.
Patera has the fourth-best save percentage in the WHL of goalies who have played at least ten games, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It can be said he is one of the main reasons the Wheat Kings have been so good this season (7-3-3 of which Patera is 6-3-0).