It is hardly a secret that in a hard cap sport you build through the Draft, and the Vegas Golden Knights need to really start bolstering their pipeline.
Building through the Draft and leaning on organizational depth are staples of any successful major sports teams’ daily diet, and the Vegas Golden Knights will need to start building from within sooner rather than later.
While most expansion teams opt for a slow build and settle for a tough start to life in exchange for a bounty of high draft picks, the Golden Knights went in the other direction and instead morphed into an instant cup contender.
Crafting a juggernaut from other teams’ misfits and undesirables, the Knights made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year and revised the blueprint for how expansion teams should construct a roster as a result.
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However, in enjoying immediate and unprecedented success, the Golden Knights had to make a few significant sacrifices that carry a heavy long-term cost.
They gave up a hefty haul of a 2018 NHL Entry Draft First-Round pick, a Second-Round selection in 2019 and a third-round pick in the 2021 Draft to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Tomas Tatar.
Keep in mind that Tatar was a huge disappointment in the 2017-18 postseason for the Knights, who are still on tap for $500,000 of Tatar’s retained salary in 2020-21.
Then, after deciding their window to win was wide open following their home run of an inaugural season, the front office went all in by pulling the trigger on two blockbuster trades.
Vegas gave up two legitimate bluechip prospects in defenseman Erik Brannstrom and forward Nick Suzuki for elite stars in Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, also dealing Tatar and a couple of Second-Round picks as part of those trades.
So, less than three years in the NHL and the Golden Knights had already leveraged substantial pieces of their future for established impact players to help them win now.
While there is nothing wrong with the direction the front office went in, after all you should absolutely maximise your window to win, the Golden Knights severely weakened a farm system that never had the chance to really grow and build a solid foundation of prospects.
And, as is the case in all major sports, the bill will need to be paid eventually and the Knights will have to go though a rebuild of some sorts in a few years once this current core starts to age.
Given the sterling work done by the front office, that time is a way away yet but Vegas should be starting to focus on replenishing their pipeline.
Granted, the front office have started that process by drafting high-end talents in the ilk of Peyton Krebs, Kaedan Korczak and Jack Dugan, while forward Cody Glass showed flashes of his high ceiling during his turbulent rookie year.
Nic Hague, drafted No. 34 overall in 2017, has developed nicely and didn’t look out of place on an NHL blueline, while both Zach Whitecloud and Jimmy Schuldt are undrafted free agents with plenty of promise.
However, given that the Golden Knights will now be right up against the salary cap for the second year in a row, they need to ensure that they add more blue chip and elite prospects to the farm system.
Not only for the long-term health of this franchise but also in the short-term in order to keep the win-now window open as long as possible.
For instance, the 2020-21 season will be the final year of Paul Stastny‘s three-year, $19,500,000 contract.
Unless they move the forward before, which is unlikely given the hefty $6,500,000 AAV, the Golden Knights will need a long-term heir to slot in as the second-line center.
Glass looks perfect for that role given his chemistry with Pacioretty and Stone, while Krebs could also be a long-term contender too.
But Vegas will need other high-end prospect forwards behind them and, if stud two-way center Hendrix Lapierre is available with the No. 24 overall pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, then the Knights would be incredibly wise to take the unpolished gem.
This year’s Draft is rich and deep in offensive talent while there are also a few blue chip defensemen that will be available in the First Round.
There is also the small matter of there being a potential franchise goaltender in Yaroslav Askarov, although it is almost certain that the Russian will be off the board way before Vegas goes on the clock.
But there is enough talent throughout this year’s Draft for the Knights to significantly bolster their farm system and replenish the pipeline with prospects that can eventually make the leap to the NHL.
We have reached the point where the Draft will now be the Golden Knights’ best friend, and that will be the case for the foreseeable.
Of course, the Draft is a vital commodity for all teams but for the Vegas Golden Knights, who surrendered a lot of franchise talent in order to win now, the next few Drafts will take on even more importance when it comes to re-stocking the pipeline and re-strengthening that organizational depth.