Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. The cut-off for prospects is typically 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Vegas Golden Knights Prospects
This report will be a little different from the rest of our reports. As a brand new team, the top Vegas Golden Knights prospects are going to lean very heavily towards players they selected in the 2017 NHL Draft. After all the Golden Knights received the title of best draft, in our annual draft grades.
Smart moves by general manager George McPhee in building his team around the Expansion Draft ensure that these aren’t the only prospects the Golden Knights have. They have aquired players who still qualify as prospects in this series, including Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, Keegan Kolesar, and signed free agent Reid Duke.
Top Prospect: Cody Glass
The Golden Knights drafted Glass with the 6th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Glass. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Shea Theodore
Defense — shoots Left
Born August 3rd, 1995 — Langley, British Columbia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 195 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks in the 1st round, #26 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2017
Anaheim has one of the deepest defence corps in the NHL, as such getting a full-time role has been difficult for the 21-year old. Theodore yo-yoed between the AHL and the big club for the second straight year. He scored two goals and nine points in 34 games for Ducks as well as five goals and 20 points for the San Diego Gulls. Theodore was very impressive when injuries hit the Ducks in the NHL playoffs scoring two goals and eight points in 14 games.
Theodore’s skating is at an elite level and defines his game. He has excellent speed and acceleration, and this allows him to lead the rush, or to join as a trailer and then get back to the defensive responsibilities in his own end. He has great agility, and good edge work, and pivots which really allows him to cover a lot of ice. Theodore improved his lower body strength, giving him better balance and helping him to be stronger on the puck. However, there are still steps to be taken in this area.
Theodore is developing into an excellent offensive producer. In addition to his skating ability, he has great stick handling and excellent poise. Couple this with very good vision and passing abilities and Theodore is a key play maker. He can set up teammates both off the rush, and when quarterbacking the power play. On top of it all Theodore has developed an excellent slap shot and one timer and can score from the point on the power play. He gets the puck on net, even through traffic. Theodore understands that keeping the puck low can provide his teammates opportunities for rebounds, tip-ins and screens.
Theodore has plenty of size. Since being drafted he has improved the physical aspects of his game. He is better in board battles, in throwing hits and in clearing the crease. There is still some more room for improvement and bulking up and adding some more muscle to his frame would certainly help. He gambles offensively from time-to-time, which can get him caught at the defensive end of the ice.
Expect Theodore to be a top four defenceman for the Golden Knights. He is NHL ready and will be one of the pieces that this team is built around.
#3 Prospect: Nick Suzuki
The Golden Knights drafted Suzuki with the 13th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Suzuki. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect: Erik Brannstrom
The Golden Knights drafted Brannstrom with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Brannstrom. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Alex Tuch
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 10th, 1996 — Baldwinsville, New York
Height 6’4″ — Weight 225 lbs [193 cm /103 kg]
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round, #18 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2017
Alex Tuch had a first pro season. He scored 18 goals and 37 points in 57 games as an AHL rookie with the Iowa Wild. He also got in a quick callup with the Minnesota Will, playing six NHL games. Unfortunately, he is still looking for his first NHL point.
Tuch is 6’4 and 225 pounds. He is built like a truck. He plays with the skill needed to become the type of power forward prospect many teams covet. His skating stride seems unconventional and awkward, but it doesn’t hold him back as he generates decent speed and has a good first step and adequate acceleration. He’s not a speedster but he can keep up. Tuch also has good balance and is strong on the puck. Tuch wins a tone of puck battles using that good balance, and leverage, along with his size. He also uses his balance to fight through checks and get to the dirty areas of the ice in order to put up points. Tuch has good agility for a man his size, and can slip through openings when he sees them.
Tuch uses his size and strength to establish position in front of the net or to win board battles. He also is an effective fore checker and will use his body to get the puck, and while very effective, he is not likely to throw too many highlight reel hits. He is also good at controlling the puck in the cycle game and at driving the net when an opening appears. If an opening doesn’t appear, he drives the net bowling right over the man defending him.
Tuch has soft hands to tip in pucks, pounce on rebounds, and score from in tight when driving the net. He also had one of the hardest wrist shots in the college and a very good release. Tuch adds to that powerful wrister, with a cannon of a slap shot which he can unleash in one-timers. He is able to control the puck in the cycle game and make smart passes to teammates leading to the majority of his assists. His hockey sense is very good, as Tuch seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck, and he is able to find openings in the defence without it.
Tuch shows good defensive instincts. His hockey IQ is very apparent as he anticipates plays well leading to turnovers and starting the transition game. He is hard on the back check and supports the defense down low. Tuch wins battles along the boards in all three zones. His hard-nosed and gritty style helps in his own end of the ice. He is a very good all-around type of player.
Expect to see Tuch starting in the AHL this year. He needs to play big minutes and continue to develop his consistency and make other minor refinements to his game. Tuch could become an important part of the Golden Knights soon.
#6 Prospect: Nicolas Hague
The Golden Knights drafted Hague with the 34th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Hage. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Keegan Kolesar
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born April 8th, 1997 — Winnipeg, Manitoba
Height 6’2″ — Weight 223 lbs [188 cm / 101 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 3rd round, #69 overall, at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Vegas Golden Knights, June 2017.
Kolesar had an an excellent final season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. He put up 26 goals and 60 points in 54 regular season games. He turned his game up another notch in the playoffs, helping the Seattle Thunderbirds to the WHL Championship. Kolesar had 12 goals and 31 points in 19 games, leading all scorers in the WHL playoffs.
While Kolesar is a good prospect, the biggest concern here is his skating. He must get quicker, particularly in his first few steps. An awkward and choppy startup, and poor acceleration can be an issue, particularly in chasing down loose pucks. He has gotten better in the last two years, but there is still work to be done in this area. Once he gets going Kolesar has above average speed, and has the agility and edge work to create problems off the rush. He also has good balance. Kolesar is strong on his skates and can win board battles or establish position in front of the net.
Kolesar is a potential power forward who plays a very simple game. As mentioned, he is strong and powerful along the boards, and wins battles for position in front of the net. He gets into good positions as well as the quick hands to score goals in close. He can pounce on rebounds, one time in passes and get deflections out front. Kolesar does have a hard wrist shot, snap shot, and one-timer from further out. His shots also feature a good release. Kolesar has a knack for getting finding a soft spot in the defence and getting that shot off.
He also loves to hit, and punishes defenders on the forecheck. Most of his assists come from digging pucks out of corners or protecting it on the cycle and then getting the puck to a teammate in front of the int.
Kolesar plays his gritty style in all three zones. He fights for loose pucks and gets into good positions. He is willing to work hard on the back check, helping with back pressure. Kolesar has smart positioning, cutting down passing lanes, and is willing to block shots.
Kolesar will turn pro this season. Expect to see him with the Chicago Wolves as he will continue to develop in the AHL. He could be two years away from the NHL as he has some areas of his game that must be refined.
#8 Prospect: Jake Leschyshyn
The Golden Knights drafted Leschyshyn with the 62nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Leschyshyn. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#9 Prospect: William Carrier
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born December 20th 1994 — Lasalle, Quebec
Height 6’1 — Weight 194 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 2, #57 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Buffalo Sabres in February 2014
Drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft
Carrier spent most of the year with the Buffalo Sabres, scoring five goals and eight points in 41 games for the team.
Carrier has a strong, powerful skating stride. He generates very good speed, and his acceleration is such that he can reach top speed in only a few strides. He has enough speed to take a defender wide and cut to the net. Carrier has great balance and is very difficult to knock off the puck. Carrier’s powerful stride allows him to fight through checks, and he has the ability to go straight through defenders at times instead of going around them. He has decent agility and edgework, but he’s more likely to use his ability to bulldoze a defender then to elude them.
Carrier cycles the puck extremely well down low, and finds openings to cut to the net. He can show soft hands when he gets there. He scores most of his goals in tight either through this cutting to the net; or by standing in front with rebounds and tip-ins. Carrier has good vision and can be an decent play maker, especially out of the cycle. A pure power forward, he wins battles along the boards, and loves to throw his weight around on the fore check. He could stand to improve his stick handling though. This holds Carrier’s offensive game back. He will need to get better at making plays while still moving at top speed. Otherwise he will top out as a bottom six player going forward.
Carrier has the added bonus of playing a strong two-way game. He brings his physical presence to his own end of the rink, and continues to be strong in board battles and hitting. He also cuts down on passing and shooting lanes and is not afraid to block shots. Carrier has good anticipation, and creates turnovers. He has been used on the penalty kill.
At this point Carrier is profiling like a bottom six player. He can play a grinding game in the offensive zone, and a decent defensive game. He should get a bottom six role on the Golden Knights
Sleeper Prospect: Tomas Hyka
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born March 23, 1993 — Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic
Height 5’11” — Weight 174 lbs [180 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 6th round, #171 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Signed with the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2014.
Hyka had a very good season for BK Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Elite League. His 17 goals and 38 points in 48 games led the team. It was also enough to get him on the Czech team at the World Championships. Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, his rights expired and he signed as a free agent with Vegas.
Hyka is another great skater. He has great top end speed, and really good acceleration. He is agile and extremely shifty, and uses his edges extremely well. Hyka makes sudden stops and starts, changes of direction, or changes of pace, giving defenders fits. Hyka has good balance. He needs work on his core strength. Hyka can be stronger on his skates and not knocked around as easily. He is a little undersized which is also an issue here.
Hyka is a good puckhandler who isn’t afraid to take the puck to the net despite his frame. He has a decent shot and release, but is more of a play maker off the wing than a scorer. He also has good vision and makes crisp tape to tape passes putting teammates in good positions to convert. Hyka possesses excellent hockey sense and offensive instinct.
The biggest question on Hyka is his size and strength. Big, strong defenders knock Hyka off the puck at times. The question is if Hyka is strong enough to handle the rigors of NHL Hockey. Hyka could also stand to be more consistent, as there are times where he can disappear for stretches.
He can also be overpowered in the defensive zone despite his attentive back checking. Hyka is a willing and committed back checker. He works hard in the defensive zone. Hyka has good positioning. He is aggressive and involved in the play. However his physical short comings really detract from his overall effectiveness in his own end of the ice.
Hyka should fight for a spot on the NHL roster this year. He may be a depth piece providing some skill in the bottom six, or he could be injury depth in the AHL. Training camp will be extremely important for this bubble player.
The Golden Knights took full advantage of some very advantageous expansion draft rules this year, and turned it into a great draft that stocks their system. With three picks in the top 15, they snagged two potential top line centres in Glass and Suzuki. Lechyshyn and Lucas Elvenes are also solid picks. In terms of non-2017 drafted prospects, Tuch, Kolesar, and Hyka are joined by Brandon Leipsic, Reid Duke, William Carrier, Stefan Matteau, T.J. Tynan, and Tomas Nosek provide forward depth
Erik Brannstrom and Shea Theodore provide the Golden Knights with two elite puck movers in the system. Meanwhile Hague is a big body who can play a defensive game. Jake Bischoff provides depth further down the system. Adding to these young defencemen will be a priority for George McPhee very soon.
In net, Maksim Zhukov has excellent athleticism. While free agent signing Oscar Dansk provides depth in the system.
Main Photo: KELOWNA, CANADA – JANUARY 21: Cody Glass #8 of the Portland Winterhawks lines up against the Kelowna Rockets on January 21, 2017 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)