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Golden Knights ready for first round of NHL draft

DEER LODGE, Montana — It feels like a lifetime ago, but for a brief period during the NHL pause, it appeared the draft would take place in June.

The league even sent out a memo in May to teams stating its case for why it should happen then rather than after the Stanley Cup was awarded.

Ultimately, the idea was scrapped. But the Golden Knights did most of their preparation this spring and are eagerly awaiting their chance to be on the clock.

That will finally happen Tuesday when the first round is held online starting at 4 p.m. The virtual draft continues with rounds two through seven at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“It’s been a long wait,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “The guys have done all of the work in the arenas until the middle of March. We did a pile of work during the pause during April, May and June because there was an understanding or an expectation perhaps that the draft could be in June.

“For (assistant director of player personnel) Bob Lowes and his staff, it’ll be exciting to have the draft finally here.”

The Knights’ scouting staff set up their draft war room at owner Bill Foley’s Rock Creek Cattle Company ranch and spent the past few days bunkered down to finalize their board.

The Knights own the No. 29 pick in the first round and five selections overall.

The draft originally was scheduled for June 26 and 27 in Montreal but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The New York Rangers won the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick and are expected to select Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere.

During the spring, the Knights conducted interviews with multiple prospects. McCrimmon said their final rankings were completed in anticipation of a June draft.

Since then, scouts have watched video the past two months to refresh their memories about players. They’ve also conducted mock drafts to get a feel for the players who might be available when the Knights make their selection.

Some European leagues started play recently, providing additional opportunities for viewings. But McCrimmon said that won’t significantly impact a player’s draft position.

“We’ve done our list,” McCrimmon said. “There’ll be discussions, and maybe based on those discussions a player moves up a couple of spots or down a couple of spots. Or maybe there’s been some recent information or that type of thing that would maybe see a couple of positions here or there.”

Using the composite rankings from NHL Central Scouting and several notable draft evaluators, here are 10 players who might interest the Knights in the first round:

Forwards

Tyson Foerster, Barrie (OHL) — The right wing posted 36 goals and 80 points and was the most valuable player in the CHL Top Prospects Game. Foerster’s shot is his best tool.

Marat Khusnutdinov, SKA Saint Petersburg (MHL) — The undersized center/wing is lauded for his puck possession and defensive awareness. He had 38 points in 44 games in Russia’s junior league.

Jan Mysak, Hamilton (OHL) — The center from the Czech Republic made the move to North America after the World Junior Championship and posted 15 goals and 25 points in 22 games.

Jake Neighbours, Edmonton (WHL) — The left wing plays bigger than his 6-foot, 195-pound frame and was tied for fourth among WHL draft-eligible players with 70 points.

John-Jason Peterka, EHC Munchen (Germany) — One of three Germans projected to go in the first two rounds. The winger scored seven goals in his country’s pro league.

Defensemen

Justin Barron, Halifax (QMJHL) — Regarded as a smooth skater, he missed time last season because of a blood clot and is out indefinitely following a medical procedure on his shoulder.

Helge Grans, Malmo (SHL) — The right-hander has good size and offensive instincts. He jumped to sixth among European skaters in the final Central Scouting rankings.

Shakir Mukhamadullin, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) — He is projected as a stay-at-home defender and has good size at 6 feet, 4 inches. His experience playing against pros is a plus.

Ryan O’Rourke, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) — The steady left-hander posted 37 points in 54 games and scouts like his well-rounded game. His leadership qualities also stand out.

William Wallinder, Modo Jr. (Sweden) — At 6-4, he’s viewed as a strong skater with top-end athleticism. However, his skill set is still raw. He will take time to develop.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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