2019-20 Player Review: Nicolas Hague became more complete defenseman in first taste of NHL action

The two-way defenseman remains a key prospect for Vegas.

In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we revisit and evaluate the individual performances of Vegas Golden Knights players from last year’s regular season and extended playoff format. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games will be included.

Nicolas Hague is one of the more interesting prospects in the Vegas Golden Knights’ system. The 6-foot-6, 221-pound defenseman is the biggest player in the organization but uses his size well to defend. One of his greatest assets is his shot, nicknamed the “Haguer Bomb,” and he’s shown flashes of massive offensive potential. His skating will never be elite, but he has all the tools to become an imposing top-four defenseman at the NHL level.

Season in review

Hague was drafted in the second round (No. 34 overall) back in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, making him Vegas’ fourth draft pick in franchise history. He was an excellent pickup who could have been a late first-round selection, and he’s been a promising prospect in the system ever since.

He scored 13 goals and 32 points in 75 regular-season games in his first professional season with the Chicago Wolves back in 2018-19, following that up with four goals and 11 points in 22 postseason games. Hague was one of the most important players on the team as the Wolves marched to the Calder Cup Final that year. A strong showing in training camp the following year helped him make the NHL roster, and an early injury to Nate Schmidt gave Hague his first chance with the big club.

He made his NHL debut in the second game of the 2019-20 season, playing 13:57 before receiving a misconduct in a heated contest against San Jose. He notched his first career point just over a week later in Vegas’ 6-2 win against the Flames. After getting sent down briefly, Hague looked much sharper when he returned to the Knights’ roster in early November.

Part of that must be attributed to upgrading from Deryk Engelland to Shea Theodore as his partner. But he was more aggressive and confident defensively, more physical, made better reads and looked more comfortable in all three zones.

However, it took him 38 games to score a goal.

Ironically, the goal came in what proved to be his final NHL game of the season. At first, it appeared as though he was sent down because of the All-Star break, but Hague never made his way back to Vegas, instead finishing the season in the AHL.

Though Hague started getting more ice time on the power play in the first few games under Pete DeBoer, Vegas’ mid-season coaching change ultimately played a role in his fate in 2019-20, as DeBoer elected to use Zach Whitecloud, Hague’s former partner on the Wolves, in his stead.

It was a tough pill to swallow for Hague, but the NHL experience will help him down the road, including in training camp as he fights for a roster spot.

Hague played well in his 38 NHL games despite not scoring, tallying 10 assists and four power-play points.

He averaged 16:05 of ice time per game and had strong possession numbers, including a Corsi For percentage of 55.98, a 53.48 percent scoring chance share, 53.74 percent expected goal share, 57.41 percent scoring chance share and 52.38 percent high-danger goal share.

Rookie Watch: 2019-20 Production

PlayerAge (current)Games PlayedTOI/GPGoalsAssistsPointsCF%HDCF%
Cody Glass213913:22571251.6545
Nicolas Hague223816:051101155.9849.57
Zach Whitecloud241614:1901159.9472.73
Jake Bischoff26415:3600047.2753.85
Gage Quinney2539:4301154.5554.55
Keegan Kolesar23112:0600041.180

Hague has found success at every level throughout his career, and that shouldn’t change moving forward. He was named OHL and CHL defenseman of the year before being a crucial member of Chicago’s Calder Cup run, and he played well in Vegas last season.

Hague’s defensive game has improved as he’s learned to use his size and reach to his advantage, and there’s still room for growth for the 22-year-old native of Kitchener, Ontario.

If given a bigger role, it’s hard to imagine he won’t rise to the occasion.

Standout moment

It took 38 games, but Hague finally found twine on Jan. 21 of 2020, scoring his first NHL goal on an absolute blast on the power play.

He became the second youngest Knights player to score his first goal (Cody Glass accomplished the feat sooner).

Looking ahead

It’s unclear if Hague is destined for the NHL this season.

He’s one of several defensemen in contention for one or possibly two spots that may be available on Vegas’ roster. Though DeBoer never went back to Hague last season, he does consider him to be an “NHL defenseman.” Hague has skated with Whitecloud in training camp thus far, so it’s possible he could be competing with someone like Nick Holden for a starting spot on the third pairing.

That being said, the blue line could change dramatically if Vegas elects to move a defenseman (i.e., Alec Martinez) prior to the start of the season. In that case, Hague has to be on the short list to step in as a regular on the Knights’ back end.

The ability to use Hague offensively or defensively gives DeBoer options, especially as the group adjusts following the offseason departure of Schmidt and addition of Alex Pietrangelo.

But no matter what, Hague, who has two years remaining on his entry-level contract, remains one of Vegas’ top prospects. He’ll be part of Vegas’ plans moving forward; it’s just a question of whether that journey will continue at the NHL level this season or not.

How would you grade Hague’s first extended look at the NHL level?