The Vegas Golden Knights are doing the unthinkable: in the franchise’s first season ever, the Knights have reached the NHL’s Western Conference Finals and looked like the best team in the playoffs.
Vegas has seen nine former NCAA players grace its roster this season, but four in particular (representing four of the team’s top nine point-getters this season) have been blazing the way for the Knights’ mind-blowing run, and might just lead their team to a Stanley Cup.
RW Reilly Smith | Miami OH, 2009-2012
Draft: 69th overall by Dallas Stars in 2009
Reilly Smith: You have such long seasons and so many ups and downs that you try to stay as even keel as you can. pic.twitter.com/FYET9cQot7— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 20, 2018
College: 66 G / 56 A in three years
Pros: 98 G / 149 A
This year: 22 G / 38 A
The 2017-18 season was Smith's third 20-goal season in the NHL, and it marked the first 60-point campaign of his career.
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He's been a huge part of Vegas's up-tempo attack, and his assist on William Karlsson's gorgeous overtime winner vs. San Jose was just one example of how valuable he is to this young team.
LW Erik Haula | Minnesota, 2010-2013
Draft: 182nd overall by Minnesota Wild in 2009
Erik Haula pic.twitter.com/PqsDRjZfIY— NHL News Center (@NHL_News_Center) May 8, 2018
College: 42 G / 82 A in three years
Pros: 71 G / 73 A
This year: 29 G / 26 A
Vegas fans, young and old, will always remember Erik Haula's 2OT winner against the Kings in the first round. Vegas has experienced the whole gamut this season, and Haula's been a gigantic piece the whole way.
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The Finish winger scored 29 goals during the regular season, second-most on the team, and has a trio of goals in the postseason to match. Not too bad for a player who was a seventh-round pick nine years ago.
RW Alex Tuch | Boston College, 2014-2016
Draft: 18th overall by Minnesota Wild in 2014
Alex Tuch scored twice in Game 5 to bring the Golden Knights within one win of the Western Conference Final.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 5, 2018
He's your @GatoradeCanada Performer of the Night! #CoolAsIce pic.twitter.com/q0RsTOnYBs
College: 32 G / 30 A in two years
Pros: 15 G / 22 A
This year: 15 G / 22 A
Tuch, just a couple years after finishing his BC career, has been a beast for the Knights as a screener (he's 6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and someone who's really found his passing game during the season.
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He opened the scoring in Vegas's 7-0 drubbing of San Jose in the second round, and with four goals in 10 games this postseason, he's clearly stepped up his game after scoring 15 during 78 regular season games.
D Nate Schmidt | Minnesota, 2010-2013
Hockey Fanradio News— Verein Hockey Fanradio (@hockeyfanradio) May 7, 2018
Vegas steht im Conference Final:
Mit 3-0 fertigen die Golden Knights die Haie ab. Jonathan Marchessault, Nate Schmidt und Cody Eakin trafen dabei für Vegas ins Netz.
#nhlfi / Instagram pic.twitter.com/xfkWdGphWI
College: 12 G / 62 A in three years
Pros: 13 G / 66 A
This year: 5 G / 31 A (career highs)
Schmidt's never been much of a goal-scorer during his still-young NHL career, so when an initially disallowed goal from the point against the Sharks was reviewed and counted, he had to be relieved.
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The former Gopher's been an anchor for Vegas's blue line all season long, and his five postseason points (including two goals!) have come in handy.
And here are five more former NCAA players who've skated for Vegas this season:
D Brad Hunt | Bemidji State, 2008-2012
College: 24 G / 88 A
Pros: 5 G / 22 A
This year: 3 G / 15 A (career highs)
C Ryan Carpenter | Bowling Green, 2011-2014
College: 37 G / 42 A in three years
Pros: 11 G / 8 A
This year: 9 G / 5 A (career highs)
D Jon Merrill | Michigan, 2010-2013
Draft: 38th overall by New Jersey Devils in 2010
College: 11 G / 36 A in three years
Pros: 7 G / 32 A
This year: 1 G / 2 A
D Jason Garrison | Minnesota Duluth, 2005-2008
College: 9 G / 20 A in three years
Pros: 48 G / 111 A
This year: 0 G / 1 A
D Zach Whitecloud | Bemidji State, 2016-2018
College: 7 G / 29 A
Pros: 0 G / 0 A
This year: 0 G / 0