Wednesday, June 28, 2023 | 2 a.m.
There are two teams that are usually happiest during the NHL Draft: The club drafting No. 1, and the one at No. 32.
The Golden Knights don’t have the fortune of getting to select a generational talent in Connor Bedard like the Chicago Blackhawks do, but picking last in the first round usually means that club has won the Stanley Cup, barring a trade of that pick.
Unless Vegas decides to part ways with the 32nd pick in the first round of Wednesday’s NHL Draft (4 p.m., ESPN), the Stanley Cup champions will go at the end.
“When you have a staff that works as hard as our staff, the chance to draft in the first round is pretty special for them,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said in comments on the team’s Twitter account on Tuesday. “We’ll happily sit in the back row on the draft floor on Wednesday night and be ready to make our selection.”
The Golden Knights have five picks — Nos. 32, 77 (from Buffalo), 96, 192 and 224 — entering the draft, but that could change when rounds 2-7 take place on Thursday.
Trading a first-round pick wouldn’t be out of the norm for the Golden Knights. They didn’t have their first-round selection last summer after shipping it to Buffalo in the trade for Jack Eichel. That, of course, proved worth it with Eichel (26 points) leading Vegas in scoring in its run to their first championship.
There’s also the thought of keeping the pick and adding another prospect. The Golden Knights traded one of their top young players, forward Zach Dean, to St. Louis for Ivan Barbashev prior to the trade deadline — another move that proved beneficial in the Golden Knights’ playoff run to the Stanley Cup.
They also haven’t been shy in trading those former prospects taken in the first round. Of the Golden Knights’ six first-round picks in team history, Brendan Brisson (2020) is the only one remaining in the organization.
In short, nothing is safe or guaranteed.
But in the event the Golden Knights do make that selection at the end of the first round, there are some intriguing names that could be available.
Otto Stenberg — 18, C, Frolunda-JR (Sweden)
It happens in the draft almost every year. There’s always one player that’s a surefire first-round pick who falls to the end of the round or into the second round.
There are mocks that have Stenberg going as high as a top-20 pick and others have him near the end of the round. If he falls to 32, Stenberg is the Golden Knights’ type of player. He plays a strong 200-foot game and has shown a knack for timely scoring. He had 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) for Sweden in the Under-18 Junior World Championships this year.
If Stenberg falls that far, the Golden Knights would have to love the opportunity to swoop on the opportunity.
Ethan Gauthier — 18, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Gauthier, the son of 11-year NHL veteran Denis Gauthier, doesn’t possess the 6-foot-3 frame that his defenseman dad had, but the 5-foot-11 winger has skills that can make him successful.
He had 69 points (30 goals, 39 assists) in his second season with Sherbrooke. The No. 1 pick in the 2021 QMJHL draft, Gauthier was traded to Drummondville this offseason. He scored 23 goals at even strength, showing he can score proficiently in all situations.
If he has a tenacity that anywhere rivals his dad, Gauthier will be a hard-working player who will find his way into the NHL in the future.
Lukas Dragicevic — 18, D, Tri-City (WHL)
If the Golden Knights want a project with tremendous upside, Dragicevic would be the choice.
Dragicevic is a right-handed defenseman who scored 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists) and led all players in scoring on Tri-City this past season. The next highest-scoring defenseman on the Americans had 37 points.
But there are concerns with Dragicevic’s skating, which could make him a work-in-progress. Put him in an organization where Bruce Cassidy’s system gets the most out of defensemen at both ends of the ice, and he becomes someone worth monitoring.
Kasper Halttunen — 18, RW, HIFK (Finland)
At 6-foot-3, Halttunen is one of the tallest skaters in the draft. He might also be the second best international goal scorer in this class behind projected top-10 pick Matvei Michkov.
Halttunen was dominant in the junior ranks in Finland. He had 18 goals in 18 games in Finland’s junior league this year, and 24 goals in 41 games the year prior. As captain of Team Finland’s Under-18 team at the world championships, Halttunen finished with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 16 games.
He’s a big body who is considered to have one of the best shots in the draft class.