Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon felt Jack Dugan could’ve gone pro last year. He’s that good.
Dugan, one of Vegas’ top prospect forwards, felt he had more to accomplish at Providence before making the jump to the pros. He didn’t do everything in his time as a Friar, but Dugan felt ready enough to put pen to paper on a two-year entry-level deal Thursday with the Golden Knights that will start next season.
“Going into this year if I had a good year, it could’ve been a possibility,” Dugan said of turning pro. “As the season progressed, that became more and more of a possibility.”
The Golden Knights drafted Dugan in the fifth-round (No. 142) in the 2017 NHL Draft out of Northwood School. He tallied 66 points (31 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games with the Chicago Steel of the USHL before transitioning to his two years with Providence.
As a freshman, Dugan was second on the Friars with 39 points and helped Providence reach the Frozen Four. The 22-year-old came back for one more year hoping to win that national championship he dreamed of winning since he was 5 years old. He never got the chance due to COVID-19 canceling the NCAA Tournament.
Dugan finished his sophomore campaign as the nation’s leading scorer with 52 points in 34 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in the nation.
“A great job by our amateur staff to add a player like Jack when we did,” McCrimmon said, eluding to director of player development Wil Nichol watching Dugan at least 40 times since drafting him. “Players develop at different times at different rates. Sometimes a player blossoms and you know right away that you’ve got a player in your organization that should’ve been drafted much higher.
“We felt that way with Jack before the first development camp was even over. He’s got good size, good strength, good skating ability and he’s got good offensive instincts. We’re excited about what the future holds for Jack, what his development will look like as a member of our organization.”
Dugan will be in Southern Nevada next season one way or another. He will enter Golden Knights training camp with the sure lock he will be a top-six option with the Henderson Silver Knights, or makes such an impact that the main roster is his calling in 2020-21.
Whether he makes the Golden Knights comes down to available roster spots and if he’s better now than who will be on the roster next season. Vegas still has restricted free agents Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins to tend to, with just over $6 million available in cap space.
“I think any player in my position is going in there trying to do their best, whether it’s challenge for an NHL spot or spending time in the minors,” Dugan said. “That’s really all I’m trying to do and try to go from there.”
Dugan said it was his decision to have his contract begin next season. With the new collective bargaining agreement stating players signed to entry-level deals during the pause can’t play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there was no point for Dugan to burn a year even if it meant joining the Golden Knights for Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. Players like Kirill Kaprizov and Ilya Sorokin, who signed their ELCs with the Wild and Islanders respectively, felt it would benefit them to practice with the team now and chance going into restricted free agency in 2021.
McCrimmon was fine with whichever choice Dugan made, but Dugan will avoid playing one year of professional hockey and going straight into a contract year. The Golden Knights announced May 11 that Dugan was joining the organization, but there was no announcement of a contract. McCrimmon said that was designed to await confirmation of the NHL’s stance on players in Dugan’s situation.
“There wasn’t any issue that he was going to join the organization,” McCrimmon said. “It was just a matter of getting everything in place before that final decision could be made, how we wanted to handle the contract.”
If Dugan doesn’t make the NHL roster, there’s potential for an exciting roster in AHL Henderson. Lucas Elvenes led all AHL rookies in scoring last season, and Paul Cotter — a favorite from development camp last summer — will benefit in another year in the minors. The following year will be Peyton Krebs’ time.
“I’m looking to get my shot and start whenever things may be,” he said.
So long as he doesn’t throw it away, he’ll make Hamilton proud.