March 23, 2023

It is a natural inclination for hockey fans to focus on the progress of prospects when their team isn’t doing all that well. After all, if it’s no fun to focus on the present, might as well look to the future. Prospects, however, are just as valuable to competitive, playoff-bound clubs as they are to non-contenders. Take the Vegas Golden Knights, for example.

Though currently mired in a two-game losing skid, the Golden Knights still have their sights set on a playoff return after a blazing start to the year. Still, there are areas of improvement to address, starting with scoring depth and special teams help. Beyond internal improvement among the current group, the most viable ways of shoring up such weaknesses is through call-ups or trade, both of which could involve the use of organizational prospects.

This is especially true for a team that even with a generous dip into long-term injury reserve (LTIR) space thanks to the contract of Shea Weber and injuries to Robin Lehner and Nolan Patrick, is in tight against the salary cap.

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Even as the Henderson Silver Knights, Vegas’ Pacific Division basement-dwelling American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, struggles on the ice, the Golden Knights are seeing some promising signs from prospects throughout the organization who may wind up contributing to their current success in a number of different ways. Here are the good and the bad from the franchise’s ranks thus far this season:

Golden Knights’ Prospects: The Good

It sure feels like Zach Dean, who will turn 20 on Jan. 4, 2023, is ready for this to be his final year of junior hockey. The 6-foot center has already demonstrated two seasons of growth within the Gatineau Olympiques (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) organization and has now gotten out to roughly a 40-goal, 80-point pace this year. Henderson could use some help down the middle, and Dean looks poised to provide it.

Zach Dean Gatineau Olympiques
Zach Dean of the Gatineau Olympiques (Steve Philippe)

Logan Thompson has been a revelation and incredible success story, charting a path through the Vegas system to the point of trusted No. 1 NHL goalie. Believe it or not, there’s more goaltending help coming through the pipeline. At just 19 years of age, 2021 seventh-round pick Carl Lindbom has already asserted himself as the No. 1 option for Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Hockey League. Lindbom is 10-3 with a 1.89 goals against average (GAA) and .935 save percentage (SV%) with four shutouts in just 13 games.

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One of the more fascinating players to watch in the Golden Knights’ system has been Daniil Miromanov. At 25, the undrafted Russian isn’t young by prospect standards (he’s just nine months younger than Jack Eichel). However, his versatility has been on full display, transitioning from the wing into an effective offensive defenseman. Not that there are many openings on the Vegas blue line, but an explosive 6-foot-4 rearguard who ranks in the AHL’s top 10 in defensive goals and points probably belongs in the NHL.

Golden Knights’ Prospects: The Bad

Last season saw Ivan Morozov bounce around two Russian leagues, including time with two KHL teams, and then wind up in Henderson, so the stability of a season spent in one place figured to be welcome. The 22-year-old center even impressed in the Golden Knights’ development camp this past summer (from ‘Knights development camp: Who’s standing out?,’ Las Vegas Review-Journal, 07/16/22). The early returns from the 2018 second-rounder with the Silver Knights have, however, not been as encouraging. Morozov has just two assists in seven games, appearing to struggle with the adjustment to North America thus far.

Heading into the season, Brendan Brisson looked like a prime candidate to make his NHL debut as a mid-season call-up. While that scenario is certainly still in play, the 20-year-old University of Michigan product hasn’t quite seized an opportunity in the early goings. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong or abnormal with a young player incurring bumps upon being first introduced to pro hockey, but Brisson does carry some added pressure given his first-round pedigree and top-six opportunities in the Henderson lineup.

Brendan Brisson, Michigan Wolverines
Brendan Brisson, then with the Michigan Wolverines (Photo Credit Michigan Photography)

Even with a small taste of KHL action last season, Daniil Chayka is looking every bit like the inexperienced, fresh-out-of-his-teens blue liner who is largely new to pro hockey. While hardly cause for concern, it’s clear there’s work for Silver Knights head coach Manny Viveiros and his staff to do with Chayka, who currently has one assist and a minus-7 plus/minus rating in seven games after standing out at the Rookie Faceoff Tournament.

Owing to numerous seasons of regular season success and a willingness on the part of GM Kelly McCrimmon to swap future assets for current ones, the Golden Knights’ prospect pool currently ranks among the lower groups league-wide. That said, there is some high-ceiling potential in the system. Whether the organization continues grooming that promising young talent with an eye towards the future or entertaining trade talk remains to be seen.

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