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Golden Knights draft controversial winger Trevor Connelly with 19th overall pick in 2024 NHL Draft

The Vegas Golden Knights selected polarizing winger Trevor Connelly with the 19th overall selection in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft Friday night in Las Vegas.

Connelly, who was NHL Central Scouting’s sixth-ranked player among North American skaters, has the talent of a top-5 pick, but multiple off-ice incidents called his character into question. That’s why 16 teams (San Jose and Chicago both had two of the first 18 picks) passed on Connelly, allowing him to fall to Vegas.

From a talent perspective, this was a slam-dunk.

Connelly finished second in the USHL in scoring with 78 points — including 31 goals and 47 assists — in 52 games with the Tri-City Storm this past season.

He often looked like the best player on the ice when representing the United States, turning heads with five goals and 10 points in five games at the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Connelly also scored four goals and nine points in seven games at the U-18 World Championship, though a five-minute major in the third period ultimately cost Team USA the gold medal, as Canada scored three power-play goals in a 6-4 win.

“Trevor is a tremendously talented forward. He’s a great playmaker,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “There are a lot of dimensions to his game. Really high-end skill.”

Connelly boasts elite one-on-one ability, is an excellent skater, has some of the best hands in the draft, plays with creativity and tenacity with and without the puck and immediately becomes the Golden Knights’ most talented prospect.

But drafting Connelly is not purely about talent.

In 2022, Connelly posted a picture to Snapchat of his teammate surrounded by children’s blocks arranged in the shape of a swastika. He later took the photo down and apologized, but he was dismissed from his team, the Long Island Gulls, which was one of four amateur clubs he played for between 2020-22.

He also was accused of directing a racial slur at an opponent during a game in 2021. Connelly denied the allegation, and the initial suspension doled out by the California Amateur Hockey Association was later rescinded when the investigation failed to corroborate the claim.

The Athletic took an in-depth look at Connelly ahead of the draft, digging into additional allegations of troubling behavior, including urinating on a teammate’s belongings, assaulting teammates and bullying. It also includes Connelly’s responses to many of these claims.

McCrimmon said Connelly didn’t dodge any questions about his past conduct and that the Golden Knights did their due diligence, speaking to Connelly on multiple occasions, including just days before the draft.

“I’m really confident we’ll do everything we can to help this player be a great player and a great person,” McCrimmon said. “If we weren’t comfortable that there’s a good person there, we would not have made this selection. That’s something I feel really strongly about.”

McCrimmon also cited the team culture as a reason for optimism regarding getting the best out of Connelly, who says he has taken diversity training and has done community service and volunteer work in an effort to learn from his mistakes and give back.

The Golden Knights do not have a first-round pick in 2025 or 2026 after trading both to acquire Tomas Hertl and Noah Hanifin at the deadline. Vegas wanted to make the most of this year’s selection, which was Vegas’ highest pick since taking Peyton Krebs 17th overall in 2019.

“When we’re drafting where we drafted, we wanted to walk out of the building with some skill, with some talent and a player that had a chance to be a real good NHL player,” McCrimmon said. “I feel that we did that today.”

Connelly, the 6-foot-1, 161-pound native of Tustin, California, has undeniable skill and diversifies Vegas’ thinning prospect pool; the selection also represents a deviation from Vegas’ recent draft strategy, which has focused more on 200-foot players rather than electric offensive talents.

Connelly is just that.

Connelly said he was thrilled to be drafted by the Golden Knights.

“I think everything happens for a reason, I think I’ve been put through these past couple years for a reason. I think it’s all gonna work out for the best for me,” he said. “I’ll do anything for the organization, anything for the people. I’m super excited to get started.”

Connelly will begin his collegiate career next year at Providence College, though he is expected to be at Vegas’ development camp next week.

At the end of the day, the Golden Knights are a fearless organization. They have never shied away from making a big move, nor do they operate in a conventional manner.

They have traded six of seven players previously selected in the first round. They’ve signed and traded for the best players available on multiple occasions. They’ve completed blockbuster trades and have been active at the deadline almost every season. They’ve shipped out star players and fan favorites as cap dumps, they’ve pushed the salary cap to the absolute limits, and they reached the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1 and won it in Year 6.

As McCrimmon pointed out, Vegas has the culture and resources in place to be able to take this chance, which can’t be said of every team.

The Golden Knights are also unapologetically aggressive in a perpetual pursuit of success.

This is not a move without risk, but it is, without question, a high-reward opportunity.

The organization is clearly confident that it can help Connelly repair his image and facilitate enough personal growth to rewrite his narrative.

“In today’s world, with the magnifying glass that’s on young people, people in general, a lot of people make mistakes,” McCrimmon said. “I guess we can cancel everybody or we can try to have a role in helping people get better also. That’s what we’ll do.”

The Golden Knights won’t be on the clock again until the sixth round (Vegas also has two seventh-round picks), though McCrimmon said the Golden Knights might trade up earlier in the draft.

(Photo of Trevor Connelly: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)