Looking at the progress of Nicolas Hague

Nicolas Hague has established himself as a starting defenseman for the Vegas Golden Knights. What can he do to make himself a tenured player?
Vegas Golden Knights v Seattle Kraken
Vegas Golden Knights v Seattle Kraken / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

There is some good news for the Vegas Golden Knights this upcoming offseason. While the free agency period will change the team's landscape, one shining beacon of hope is there's only one restricted free agent. Make what you will of it, but Vegas won't have to worry about arbitration and other nuisances this summer.

However, next offseason has some interesting questions, including the goaltender situation. While such underlying questions should be addressed, there's another question regarding one of Vegas's starting defensemen: Nicolas Hague. This offseason is already producing interesting storylines, with mainstays potentially going out the door. But next year should have juicy stories of its own. But let's go back to Hague: What's unique about the 25-year-old?

The defenseman's cap hit is roughly $2.3 million next season, with Hague in the last year of his current deal. He'll become a restricted free agent next offseason and has arbitration eligibility. There are numerous questions about his whereabouts after next summer, including if Vegas should retain him. However, there are some good reasons why the Golden Knights should re-sign him next offseason.

After all, it's rare to see a Vegas draft pick stay with the team and not be traded. It's a part of the win-now mantra and maximizing their Stanley Cup window, with draft picks being sacrificed. Brendan Brisson is another anomaly, only he's a former first-round pick (2020 NHL Draft). While the native of Kitchener, Ontario, is a former second-round pick (2017), he also stuck around.

Therefore, let's delve further into those reasons. What makes him unique with the defenseman serving as an important part of the starting lineup? What is he working on to develop his game? An improved Hague is great news for the Vegas Golden Knights, especially if they hope to stay relevant.

What are the strengths of Nicolas Hague?

As with Brisson, Nicolas Hague is a key piece for the future lineup. Contrary to the University of Michigan alum (who's an offensive weapon), he serves a purpose as a big body, standing at 6'6". He can use his size to his advantage, making him a multi-purpose player. Ironically, both players are restricted free agents next offseason. The only difference is Hague is eligible for arbitration and could get a bigger payday.

But the 25-year-old isn't just a tall body. He also has some weight to his frame, weighing 230 lbs. While he might be a lumbering body, the defenseman can skate well for someone his size. In turn, he's established in Bruce Cassidy's defensive system, making him valuable.

A perfect example of Hague using his body is the uptick in blocked shots and hits. In the past two seasons, the Ontario native has 244 blocked shots and 270 hits. With the defenseman using his body to his advantage, he's becoming a problematic matchup for opposing attackers.

In some ways, he's similar to Zdeno Chara, only with more speed and mobility. He's not afraid of punishing his opponents physically, using his body at every juncture. Hague is a perfect fit for the Vegas Golden Knights, with his size and agility helping him in tight situations.

Developing Hague further

Like Chara, Nicolas Hague has a booming shot. He's learning to use his shot to his advantage, growing more into his offensive game. That includes leading rushes and improving his offensive zone starts. Of course, that will come in due time, with the defenseman learning how to become an efficient player.

The good news is he's showing the Vegas Golden Knights how productive he is offensively. He's produced double-digit numbers in both goals and assists in all five seasons with Vegas. Hague's career-highs for goals came in 2022-23 (14), while his high in assists were in 2020-21 and 2022-23 (17).

While the defenseman does take some shots from the outside, he also works in front of the net. That bodes well for Vegas, for they can create redirections and cause trouble for opposing goaltenders. If he can finish plays, he can become problematic.

It's safe to say the former second-round pick will be a part of the Golden Knights lineup for a while now. As he develops into his role further, he has the size and adaptability to make himself a household name. It makes letting older defensemen like Alec Martinez go much easier, for Vegas can rely on younger, bigger talent to carry the load.