Top draft priority is addressing the forward depth of the Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights are suddenly emaciated at the forward position. That's no surprise. How has it become a top priority in the NHL Draft?
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Dave Sandford/GettyImages

If you've been reading some of the mock drafts and prospect profiles for the Vegas Golden Knights, there's a common theme among these pieces. It revolves around a particular position before the NHL Draft starts, with the team losing five players to free agency. The position in question? The forward position, where depth has suddenly become thin.

The players lost range in various factors, including skill sets and potential AAVs. General manager Kelly McCrimmon has already made some tough decisions to not bring back certain players, including a "Golden Misfit". No, it's not the one you're thinking about, dear reader. However, there's one, perhaps two, forwards on Vegas's radar for a return.

Of course, these holes can be filled via free agency, with veteran players fitting into the starting lineup. Why not go with cheaper options that won't hammer the salary cap too much? After all, the expectation is for drafted prospects to develop and polish their skills in the minor leagues. Why rush good players into the fold immediately, risking them to become overwhelmed by the NHL's fast pace?

With that, the Golden Knights are looking to re-stock their farm system and prep a softer landing if their Stanley Cup window closes. However, there's a minor problem in this year's NHL Draft: Vegas only has four picks through seven rounds, leaving them lean. Therefore, the team must nail these picks or risk a bumpier road ahead.

With the forward position being an obvious need, there are a couple of reasons why addressing the depth should be a top priority. Luckily, the Vegas Golden Knights have a first-round pick, picking 19th overall. So what makes forward depth a top priority for Vegas?

The Vegas Golden Knights aren't getting younger

It's no secret the Golden Knights are losing five unrestricted forwards to free agency this offseason. Players such as Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson are projected to hit the open market on July 1st. It leaves the team thin at the forward position, looking at other avenues to fill open spots.

However, that's not the only issue plaguing the position. Older players clog the salary cap space, which leaves the team in a tight spot. Names such as Mark Stone (32), Tomas Hertl (30), and William Karlsson (31) have three or more years on their current deals, constituting a heavy cap hit ($22.15 million, to be exact). Those players will start to show decline soon, leaving the team hurting for younger talent. Add in Jack Eichel leaving in two seasons and it brings up more questions about the team's forward depth.

Granted, the blue line is more aged than the forward position (30.1 average age of a defenseman compared to 27.7 for the forward position). But the Vegas Golden Knights have a surplus of defensemen this season, including a younger player ready to get the call. Therefore, it's easier to refill the blue line than at the offensive positions.

Salary cap space is tight

The sky is blue. Water is wet. The Golden Knights only have $897,516 in non-LTIR cap space to work with this offseason. These are simple observations that anyone can see from a mile away. However, the current cap space situation also plays into the team's future aspirations.

Next offseason, Vegas currently sits at $31.2 million in projected cap space, which will take a hit if Jonathan Marchessault returns. Of course, other factors are coming into play, including Nicolas Hague being a restricted free agent next summer. Mind you, he's also eligible for arbitration, meaning he's carrying some weight in negotiations come the summer of 2025.

That's where the forward prospects come in. It eases the pressure of making tough decisions, with NHL-ready players stepping into the fold. While the NHL Draft picks won't be ready next season, there's a chance they could step in the year after.

Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights only have four picks in this year's draft. However, getting a coachable forward prospect or two will help Vegas land more softly, plugging those players in to take on the roles of their predecessors.