So, Reid Duke is the first ever player signed to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
In the team’s first ever transaction, GM George McPhee signed the Western Hockey League sniper to a three-year entry level contract. Duke, 21, is in his sixth season in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by Minnesota, Duke has 35 goals and 32 assists in 54 games with Brandon this season.
The Golden Knights are no doubt beating the far flung bushes of the hockey world as we speak, looking for free agents who other teams in the NHL have either looked the other way on, or given up on them entirely.
As for nuggets that some NHL team’s have dug up recently, the Chicago Blackhawks struck gold with KHL scoring star Artemi Panarin in 2015, while the Toronto Maple Leafs got a good one in 2016 with defenceman Nikita Zaitsev.
We have combed the world’s top pro, college and junior leagues and have targeted 10 fairly young players (McPhee can grab old guys from NHL rosters in the expansion), that the Golden Knights could sign today if they wanted (two goalies, three defencemen and five forwards).
10. Dominik Furch, G – Avangard Omsk
Still just 26 but in his fifth full season of pro hockey in Europe, Furch has posted his greatest numbers in the KHL with Omsk after spending four full seasons with hometown Slavia Praha (Prague) of the Czech League. Furch was tie for fourth in most games played in 2016-17 at 53, and finished 13th in goals against average (1.98), 19th in save percentage (.927), second in wins (27) and posted two shutouts. In the KHL playoffs, so far, he is 4-2 in six games, with a 1.63 GAA and .922 save percentage with a shutout. The 6’2″, 200 lbs. netminder has represented the Czech Republic several times, most recently at the 2016 World Championships, where he went 2-2 with two shutouts, a 0.94 goals against average and .960 save percentage.
9. Viktor Andren, G – Vaxho Lakers
Viktor Andren is certainly a late bloomer. The Mariestad, Sweden born goaltender has found pro hockey very agreeable to him. Just turned 23, Andren has posted pretty good numbers with Vaxjo of the Swedish Elite League this season, going 13-9 in 23 games, with a 1.99 goals against average and .914 save percentage. He also has four shutouts. His 2016-17 season in the top league was preceded by a stellar 2015-16 campaign with Pantern IK of Division 1, where he went 15-18 in 34 games, along with a .922 save percentage, 2.17 GAA and four shutouts. This stats are all the more remarkable when you consider that Andren never had a goals against average anywhere near 2.00 in five seasons of junior (his best was 2.97 in 16 games with Mariestad J20 in 2011-12).
8. Jakub Jerabek, D – Chekhov Vityaz
Defence is never easy, in any pro league. The KHL is no soft touch in that regard and with offensive dynamos like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk plying their trade there, the blue line can be treacherous. One player making the most of his first full season in the league is Plzen native Jakub Jerabek, 25, who played seven seasons in the Czech league with his hometown Plzen HC. Never drafted, Jerabek finally hit his stride as a 23-year-old during the 2014-15 season with Plzen, scoring 32 points in 48 games and posting an even rating. He upped the ante to 33 points and +12 with Plzen in 2015-16 and this year he had a career high 34 points (five goals) in 59 games, good for fifth overall in the KHL. Jerabek had a goal and an assist in four playoff games as Vityaz was swept by powerful SKA St. Petersburg (Kovalchuk and Datsyuk’s team).
7. Matias Cleland, D – University of New Hampshire
There are currently four NHLers from Colorado in the NHL, led by Carolina Hurricanes promising young defenceman Jaccob Slavin, and also includes Ben Bishop, F Nick Shore and Boston D Brandon Carlo. One player from Colorado who might deserve a shot at playing is Matias Cleland of Longmont. The 23-year-old defenceman with the University of New Hampshire is the NCAA’s leading scorer among all defenceman with two goals and 33 assists in 37 games with the Wildcats. His progression to being a standout as a senior has been methodical, as he posted four points as a freshman, 18 as a sophomore and 28 as a junior. Cleland’s Wildcats tangle with powerful UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East quarter-finals starting on Friday night.
6. Darren Raddysh. D – Erie Otters
Of the two Raddysh brothers playing with the OHL’s Erie Otters, Taylor and Darren, only the sun of any future NHL stardom has shone on Taylor, the younger of the two by nearly two full years. Taylor was picked in the second round of the 2016 entry draft by Tampa Bay and is currently second in the OHL with 100 points. Darren, meanwhile, was never drafted (his draft year would have been 2014) but is currently the top point-scoring defender in the league with 74 points (16 goals) in 56 games. Darren turned 20 on Feb. 28 and going on five seasons now has improved greatly. The Toronto born rearguard found his scoring touch in 2014-15, firing 14 goals and adding 34 assists in 60 games. Raddysh fell to 40 points last season, however, has nearly doubled that output with games to play yet. He’s also a career high +58. We think he has the size (6’1″, 200 lbs.) and savvy to at least get a tryout in the big league.
5. Joel Kellman, F – Karlskrona HK
At the tender age of 22, Kellman is but one of two players his age in the Swedish Elite League’s Top 25 in scoring among all forwards. The 5’11”, 192 lb. centerman with Karlskrona has progressed nicely in the SHL after parts of three seasons in the first division with Malmo and Karlskrona (before they were promoted). In 2015-16, the Karlskrona born Kellman compiled 16 points in 47 games and logged a -12. This season, he pushed his stats into the top 25 with 13 goals and 15 assists in 50 games. Kellman has leadership potential, too, having captained the Super Elite League Malmo Redhawks junior team in 2012-13, where he scored 49 points in 43 games.
4. Jan Kovar, F – Magnitogorsk Metallurg
Going on four seasons now, Magnitogorsk star forward Jan Kovar has been among the top scoring forwards in the KHL. This season, the talented forward from Pisek, CZE finished seventh overall in scoring, firing 23 goals and 40 assists in 59 games for Metallurg. Amazing then, that the 5’11”, 216 lbs. forward was never drafted and has remained as long as he has in the KHL. Even more astounding when you think that he has played 231 games with Magnitogorsk since 2013-14, scoring 90 goals and 171 assists with an overall plus-minus rating of +74. He’s been no wilting daisy in the post-season, either, recording 66 points (22 goals) in 59 playoff games. In this year’s playoffs, Kovar currently sits fourth in overall scoring, having notched four goals and four assists in five games as Metallurg disposed of Kunlun in the first round.
3. Antoine Waked, F – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
When a team that loses the likes of Timo Meier and Francis Perron, other players have to step in and fill the scoring void. That player for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who topped the QMJHL last season and went to the Memorial Cup final with stars Meier and Perron in the line-up, is Antoine Waked. Possessed of top-end speed and a wicked shot, Waked has scored as many points this season (77) in 61 games as he did in all of his first three seasons combined (77 points in 147 games). Being a third-liner and penalty-killer in years past probably hurt the 20-year-old’s draft hopes in his draft year (2014). The 6’1″, 195 lb. right winger scored but eight points in his first season and was +1 but has stepped up his game every year since. Waked had four goals and two assists in 19 playoff games last year, along with two assists in five Memorial Cup games.
2. Vadim Shipachev, F – St. Petersburg SKA
The official scouting line on 6’1″, 190 lb. center Shipachev says that he could “improve his overall game” and that he isn’t “overly efficient in physical battles.” However, he is a very good skater and an offensively gifted pivot who has just plain scored at every level he’s played at. Shipachev, who will be 30 on Mar. 12, wasn’t drafted in 2005, probably because his 18 points in 55 games with Severstal Cherepovets didn’t raise enough eyebrows. Since then, the Cherepovets native has progressed up the pro ladder, to the point he finished third in KHL scoring with 26 goals and 50 assists in just 50 games, two points back of more celebrated teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. Shipachev has also been a dynamo on the world stage, collecting 34 points in 27 total World Championship appearances for Russia, as well as an assist in two games with Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey last fall.
1. Zach Aston-Reese – Northeastern University
We’re pretty certain Northeastern University star Zach Aston-Reese is going to be offered a free agent contract by a NHL team. The senior forward led all NCAA DI scorers with 62 points in just 36 games. The native of Staten Island, N.Y. (which has produced just one NHLer, Nick Fotiu), is definitely a late bloomer who no one thought of as draft material in 2012, after he scored just 15 points and logged a -4 in 53 games with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. Since that draft year, Aston-Reese has matured into as complete a 200-foot player as there might be in NCAA DI hockey. His points and plus-minus with the Huskies have gone from 19 and +8 as a freshman to the 62 points he has this season and +12. If the Golden Knights were smart, they’d add him to their negotiation list.