June 18, 2024

While the Vegas Golden Knights’ flurry of activity at the trade deadline did not help them go past the first round of their Stanley Cup title defense, it did not cost them their first-round pick in this year’s draft. The club managed to add Tomas Hertl, Noah Hanifin, and Anthony Mantha while keeping what will be the No. 19 choice in June.

Barring trades for other picks, that first-round pick appears to be one of the few draft assets added by the Golden Knights at their home draft (which will be held at the Sphere on June 28-29). With the acquisitions of Mantha, Hanifin, and Adin Hill, Vegas will only have to make one more pick before the sixth round. They re-acquired their own third-round pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Reilly Smith trade, which had previously been traded for Teddy Blueger.

With no disrespect to the aforementioned third-rounder or the club’s sixth- and seventh-round picks, we’ll focus on the No. 19 overall pick here. Let’s take a look at some of the players who could fit into the Golden Knights’ system and be available when the time comes to make their selection. Assume they haven’t exchanged it by then.

Michael Hage, C, Chicago Steel (USHL)

The prospect cupboard was already barren for Vegas, and their trade deadline wheeling and dealing resulted in the exits of 2023 first-round selection David Edstrom and defense prospect Daniil Miromanov. More than any single position in the draft, the Golden Knights require an influx of talent in the pipeline. That is why you should expect GM Kelly McCrimmon and the front office to search for the greatest player possible.

In a wide-open draft, locating that player is difficult. However, if Michael Hage survives long enough, he could be an ideal contender. The Chicago Steel center finished fourth in the USHL in points, with 75 in just 54 games, earning First Team All-Star accolades. And he might only be scraping the surface. Although his growth was hampered by shoulder surgery last season, he possesses the type of speed and high-end offensive skill that might click at the NHL level, making him a player who teams will regret passing over.

Ryder Ritchie, C/RW, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

 

As Peter Baracchini pointed out in his previous mock draft, the Golden Knights and Ryder Ritchie may be a great fit. The Prince Albert Raiders attacker displays maturity rarely seen in players his age (Ritchie will not turn 18 until August). The Calgary native is an extremely perceptive playmaker with a high hockey IQ who plays with great confidence and aggression.

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When it comes to Vegas, the organization’s emphasis on puck possession complements Ritchie’s abilities. While it’s uncertain whether he possesses the tools to produce eye-popping stats, his responsible, thoughtful style of play has resulted in plenty of victories. The son of eight-year NHL veteran Byron Ritchie was a vital member of Team Canada at the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the 2024 IIHF World U18 Championships, winning gold in both events.

EJ Emery, D, USA U18 (NTDP)

EJ Emery on North Dakota, the NHL Draft and More - YouTube

 

In a defense-heavy NHL draft class, the Golden Knights should have plenty of blue line alternatives to choose from. Now, it may be strange to link the club to a defensive prospect considering their depth on the back end (even with Alec Martinez’s pending free agency, they have seven defenders under contract for next season), but it’s an area that needs to be addressed within Vegas’ system. After all, Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb are in their mid-30s, and McNabb and Shea Theodore are both approaching contract years.

To bolster a defense prospect pool that has lost Miromanov and is led by Lukas Cormier, the Golden Knights could do worse than add EJ Emery, a prospect from the United States national team development program. Emery, formerly regarded a fringe first-round pick, has risen up draft boards because to his consistent, shutdown defensive style, which he has gradually combined with an improving offensive ability.

Unpredictability and instability may reign supreme in a wide-open draft with plenty of uncertainty beyond expected No. 1 overall choice Macklin Celebrini. Such a scenario makes it understandably tough for McCrimmon and the Vegas draft management to predict how things will play out before they hit the clock. Even in a draft that isn’t seen as particularly strong or deep, the Golden Knights should take solace in knowing that, as these prospects show, there should be promising players available who suit the organizational culture.

 

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