Knights On Ice’s 2020-21 preseason Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the top 25 players under the age of 25 currently in Vegas’ system. The KOI staff created their own Top 25 Under 25 ballots. Each individual writer’s ballot was then used to generate a composite score that forms the final rankings.
Falling one spot to the No. 5 position in our Vegas Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25 rankings is hulking defenseman Nicolas Hague.
The former second-round pick (No. 34 overall) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is one of just two of Vegas’ first four draft picks still with the organization after the departures of Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom.
No. 5: Nicolas Hague
- Age: 22
- Position: Defense
- Currently playing: Vegas Golden Knights
- Nationality: Canadian
Following the draft, Hague returned to the OHL and put up monster numbers, scoring 35 goals and 78 points in 67 games. It was the most goals scored by a defenseman in the OHL since 1997-98.
He joined the AHL Chicago Wolves for the 2018-19 campaign, scoring 13 goals and 32 points in 75 games before playing a key role in the team’s Calder Cup playoff run; Vegas’ former AHL affiliate made it to the Finals but lost to Nicolas Roy and the Charlotte Checkers. Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Dylan Coghlan and Brannstrom were all rookies that year.
Hague made the Knights out of training camp in 2019-20 and made his official NHL debut in the second game of the season in place of the injured Nate Schmidt. He played 38 games in total before getting sent down to Chicago for the year; Vegas’ mid-season coaching change had a lot to do with his demotion.
He recorded one goal and 11 points — four of which came on the man advantage — in those 38 contests, though he had to wait until game No. 38 to notch the first goal of his NHL career.
They grow up so fast ☺️ pic.twitter.com/PpJ4iQaAY7— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 22, 2020
This past season, Hague earned himself — and rightly so — a permanent role on the blue line with the big club. He and former defensive partner Whitecloud made up Vegas’ third pairing, and the two played quite well. Hague set career highs with five goals, 12 assists and 17 points in 52 games.
He looked more and more comfortable as the season progressed, and he turned out an especially impressive performance from a possession standpoint.
Among Vegas defensemen, Hague ranked at or near the top in most possession categories, finishing first in Corsi For percentage (54.59), shot share (54.74 percent) and expected goal share (56.59 percent). He finished second — trailing only Shea Theodore — in goal share (59.65 percent) and scoring chance share (55.52 percent), and his 56.11 percent high-danger Corsi share was second on the team behind Nick Holden, who played just 17 games.
Pete DeBoer’s trust in Hague seemed to waver in the postseason, however, as Hague played just 10 games, chipping in one goal and one assist.
That one goal, his first career postseason tally, kicked off a crucial second-period effort by the Knights in Game 7 against Minnesota; Whitecloud scored later in the frame.
But Hague was a healthy scratch on and off throughout the playoffs.
In the first-round series against Minnesota, Hague missed Game 3 (a 5-2 win) as well as Game 5 (a 4-2 loss). Against Colorado, Hague was held out of Game 5 (3-2 OT win) and Game 6 (6-3 win), and he was scratched in the first five games of the Montreal series, making it seven straight games in the press box. Holden took his spot in the lineup in those contests, though he earned his subsequent opportunities given his unlikely offensive contributions.
It didn’t help that Hague took penalties in three straight games in the playoffs, though he was not alone in demonstrating an overall lack of discipline, especially among defenders (i.e., Theodore’s run of delay-of-game infractions).
It was an issue for Hague during the regular season as well, though, as he averaged 2.3 penalty minutes per 60 at 5-on-5; only Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves managed higher rates. At one point, Hague took eight minor penalties in the span of eight games, including two in three straight.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound rearguard plays a physical game, so penalty minutes are inevitable, but he’ll need to be more mindful of his stick considering he’s one of the biggest players in the league.
Despite his size, his skating has improved over the past two seasons, as has his defensive coverage; what he lacks in mobility he makes up for with his long reach. But perhaps his greatest strength is his booming shot, nicknamed the “Haguerbomb.”
He’s not afraid to join the rush and is deceptively capable with the puck, and he’s a threat to score every time he fires it.
Hague is just 22 years old, and he continues to learn and work on his game. He only took 78 shots and got just 17 minutes on the power play this past season but has a lot more to offer on both sides of the puck.
He has one year remaining on his entry-level contract, but he should be manning Vegas’ blue line for many years to come.
Previously in the Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25 2020-21 Series:
Honorable mention: Layton Ahac
No. 25: Jonas Rondbjerg
No. 24: Jake Leschyshyn
No. 23: Paul Cotter
No. 22: Keegan Kolesar
No. 21: Ben Jones
No. 20: Marcus Kallionkieli
No. 19: Lukas Cormier
No. 18: Pavel Dorofeyev
No. 17: Brandon Kruse
No. 16: Peter DeLiberatore
No. 15: Connor Corcoran
No. 14: Ivan Morozov
No. 13: Isaiah Saville
No. 12: Jiri Patera
No. 11: Brendan Brisson
No. 10: Dylan Coghlan
No. 9: Kaedan Korczak
No. 8: Jack Dugan
No. 7: Lucas Elvenes
No. 6: Nicolas Roy