Vegas Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25: Nic Hague hungry to earn roster spot

Hague impressed in the AHL last season and hits No. 4 on our countdown.

Knights On Ice’s 2019-20 preseason Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the top 25 players under the age of 25 currently in Vegas’ system. Six Knights On Ice writers 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 ballot.

Nic Hague is still very tall. That’s perhaps his greatest asset, as it factors into his ability to stick check and push other players around in the corners. Last season in the AHL, Hague was nearly impossible to get around. Opposing players were tasked with getting through him and defensive partner Zach Whitecloud in order to score on the Chicago Wolves from the regular season through the Calder Cup Final — a feat that was more often than not impossible to accomplish.

With the departures of Nick Suzuki (sent to Montreal in exchange for Max Pacioretty) and Erik Brannstom (who headed to Ottawa for Mark Stone), Hague is now one of the two most important prospects in the Golden Knights’ system. He lived up to the hype with the Chicago Wolves last season, scoring 32 points in 75 regular season games (missing just one game) and 11 in 22 playoff games.

No. 4: Nic Hague
Position: D
Age: 20 (Dec. 5, 1998)
Size: 6-foot-6, 214 pounds
Nationality: Canadian

Hague was one of the most leaned upon players throughout the Wolves’ playoff run, as he and Whitecloud played some big minutes every game. Hague was arguably the harder player to get around during the playoffs, the harder player to score on of the two defensemen and was a plus-8 better than Whitecloud in terms of plus/minus.

A year after winning both the CHL and OHL Defenseman of the Year honors and being named an OHL First-Team All-Star, Hague was a major factor in his first professional season and showed why the Golden Knights should have faith in him going forward. If Hague is the defenseman brought up to the NHL this season, despite a crowded and competitive field, it would make sense. Hague can play an offensive role or a defensive role and can fit with a good variety of defensemen. He would make as much sense with Shea Theodore as he would with Nate Schmidt.

Hague, despite being on the older side as a prospect, also represents great value for the Golden Knights:

And Hague projects out as a high second pair/low-end first pairing defenseman:

Hague has impressed at every corner as he’s made his way through the development pipeline, and it’s becoming clearer that just as he was ready for the Chicago Wolves and his first taste of professional hockey on a young team, he may be ready for the next step forward.

One of Hague’s best assets is his shot. He scored the most goals of any defenseman in the OHL two seasons ago, and 13 goals in the AHL as one of the youngest players last year — he didn’t turn 20 until December, and played two months as a 19 year old. His shot could help replace the void left by Colin Miller on Vegas’ blue line, and Hague could fit on the second-unit power play for the Golden Knights. He could also fit on the penalty kill.

Hague will always lose demerits for his skating, which, as a massive defenseman, has never and could never be great. But that didn’t matter in the AHL playoffs last season, and except for a few rare cases, Hague didn’t have a problem keeping opposing forwards in front of him. Nonetheless, putting him with a more proficient skater (a la Theodore or Schmidt) wouldn’t hurt, and was part of the reason the Whitecloud-Hague pairing worked so well in the AHL.

Hague’s defense also improved this season under Rocky Thompson, and he no longer looks lost in his own zone as he did in the few AHL games he played in 2018-19. Part of that was likely getting continued reps in the AHL this past season and being provided the opportunity to learn with a player like Whitecloud, who’s able to make up for mistakes more often than not. There’s a chance he could benefit from another season in the AHL, but there’s not much needed growth left in Hague’s game.

Whether or not Hague makes the NHL this season has yet to be determined, but it would likely be a mistake for the Golden Knights not to at least give him a look. With a partner to learn from/lean on like Schmidt, Hague could learn in the NHL while making an impact on the roster, and perhaps on both special teams units.

It might be time for the big man to move on up.

Previously in Vegas Golden Knights Preseason 2019 Top 25 Under 25: