Vegas Golden Knights: Working out the need or best player dilemma

Anton Lundell #29 of Finland. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Anton Lundell #29 of Finland. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

There is always the common argument in the build-up to a Draft over whether you should draft for need or select the best player available, and that’s the dilemma facing the Vegas Golden Knights this year.

While the sporting world remains on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL is still planning on holding the 2020 NHL Entry Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights and its 30 other members.

It won’t take place in Montreal nor has a new date been set, but the league still hope to stage its flagship event in June even if hockey does return at some point this summer.

What we do know for certain is that there has never been a draft like it, and there will probably never be a draft like it again.

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How both the WNBA and the NFL conducted their virtual 2020 Drafts will probably be a good indicator as to how the NHL will go about their business on draft night.

For the Golden Knights, however, they can only focus on what they can control and that is ensuring that they are as prepared for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft as they can be, no matter when or in what form it takes place.

In truth, and although a bevy of crucial events for scouts were cancelled due to COVID-19, the front office and the scouting department should have a lot of their homework done.

Plus, locked down at home, you can make the argument that scouts and front office executives will have a lot more time to crunch film and hone in on certain player evaluations.

As such, the Golden Knights will no doubt have their Draft Board in good shape and they should by now have some idea as to how they will approach the 2020 NHL Draft.

And one philosophy they will have to nail down is whether they will draft based on team and franchise need, or draft the best player that is available when they go on the clock.

For instance, the Knights do have some clear needs that they need to address and there are some gaps they need to plug in the farm system, which we covered in-depth here.

Unearthing a future heir to the throne to Marc-Andre Fleury should be at the top of the priority list, and there is a phenom goalie up for grabs in this year’s Draft.

Yaroslav Askarov boasts all the intangibles and all the tools needed to morph into a franchise goaltender in the NHL, and he could be the first goalie picked inside the top 10 since Carey Price was selected 5th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005.

Askarov is a true bluechip talent and he could well go off the board early, so the Golden Knights would have to put together a hell of a package in order to move up and stand any chance of drafting their stud goalie of the future.

Fellow Russian Artur Akhtyamov, who posted a 1.80 Goals Against Average and a .931 Save Percentage in 46 games for Irbis Kazan in the MHL in 2019-20, could also be the answer to the Knights’ prayers and he could well be more of a realistic Draft target.

Another need is a high-end natural right-shot defenseman, given that is an area of expertise Vegas currently lacks in.

Going on the current active roster, there are only two right-shot blueliners and one of those is Deryk Engelland, who is likely to retire in the off-season.

Braden Schneider #2 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Braden Schneider #2 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Outside of that, the Golden Knights only have a handful of right-shot defensemen in the pipeline so addressing that by taking a Braden Schneider or a Helge Grans would be smart.

Then there is drafting the best player available.

Focussing on the First Round for now, the Golden Knights are currently projected to have the No. 24 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, although that could change if they embark on a deep postseason run should hockey return this year.

It is no secret that this year’s draft is both rich and deep in offensive talent, and there will be some premier forwards available in the latter stages of the First Round.

The likes of Hendrix Lapierre, who is an elite two-way center but has seen his stock drop due to three high-profile injuries, could easily fall into the lap of the Golden Knights at the end of the First Round.

We profiled Lapierre in full here.

If that’s how it unfolds and Lapierre is still on the board, the Knights should absolutely select the best player available and take Lapierre given his huge upside.

Likewise with an intriguing talent in the ilk of winger Noel Gunler, who is seen as more of a project with a very high ceiling.

Then there is Finnish center Anton Lundell, who could find himself slipping down the Draft Board due to the wealth of offensive talent that will be available to take in the First Round alone.

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While Vegas does boast a number of stud prospect forwards already in the pipeline, including rookie center Cody Glass, you can’t stockpile enough elite offensive talents so if there’s such a player available with the No. 24 pick, then the Golden Knights should put addressing certain needs on the back-burner.

And that will be the overall plan the Vegas Golden Knights will need to formulate prior to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, whether to stick to addressing core needs or waiting to see if a high-end talent falls to them.