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Conditioning And Skating Have Changed Pirri’s NHL Outlook

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Scoring goals has never been the knock on Brandon Pirri, he’s always been able to do that. Yet, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 he’s played for five different teams, has cleared waivers twice, and was released from a PTO in Florida prior to last season which led him to Vegas (really, Chicago). The question is, why?

I think the knock on Brandon was he wasn’t a very good defensive player and his skating wasn’t that good. Both of those aren’t an issue right now. His skating has gotten better, he’s gotten stronger, he’s in good shape. –Gerard Gallant on Hockey Central

The first part isn’t anything new, he’s simply always been seen as a defensive liability, but it was the other portion that piqued my interest. It wasn’t just this interview either that Gallant mentioned skating, strength, and conditioning as factors in holding back Pirri. He’s said it in press conferences and in a few other one-on-ones.

So, I asked Pirri, what changed? He said, “everything.” He changed his trainer, he changed how he trained, and he put much more time and effort into “training smart.”

I just feel stronger on my skates, and that’s everything. I’m not a big guy so I can’t outmuscle guys, so I find myself anticipating and getting body position which works to my favor. -Brandon Pirri

Gallant agrees.

He looks like a more confident player, his whole game has gotten better. I don’t know if he’s any stronger physically but he’s in good shape and he’s playing good hockey. -Gallant

Pirri has rapidly risen from fill-in to waiver yo-yo to a bonafide top-six forward for the Golden Knights and it’s all happened within a month. Gallant has even compared him to Jonathan Marchessault, who was a later bloomer himself, not getting his start in the NHL for good until he was 26.

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Latest On Nikita Gusev’s Future In The NHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nikita Gusev is a 26-year-old Russian forward, right-handed, 5’10”, 181 pounds. He currently leads the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in scoring with 59 points in 48 games. Last year, he was the runner-up in points in the KHL, just one behind now LA King Ilya Kovalchuk. He also won the KHL’s Golden Stick last year, which is awarded to the MVP of the league and has a great chance of winning it again.

Nikita Gusev is also NHL property of the Vegas Golden Knights. The rules are a bit fuzzy, but from our understanding, because Gusev was drafted (by Tampa Bay in 2012) and has never signed an entry-level contract he remains Vegas property indefinitely.

Gusev’s contract in the KHL expires at the end of this season, which could mean it is time for him to make the leap to the NHL. Last week, on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio, George McPhee was asked how confident he was that Gusev will end up playing for the Golden Knights.

Well, we’re not sure about that. It’s never really clear, it’s never that easy when you have players over in Russia. It’s just never easy. Sometimes you get them to come over, it isn’t very often that they never come over, but sometimes it takes a while. I can’t give you a straight answer on that because I don’t know, there’s always a little bit of a mystery to dealing with Russian players. -McPhee

Gusev is an elite offensive talent with incredible vision on the ice. He dominated the Olympics helping Russia win the gold medal, he’s torn up the KHL over the past four seasons, and he became just the fourth player to win the Golden Stick, joining current Dallas Star Alexander Radulov who won it four times, and KHL legends Sergei Mozyakin and Danis Zaripov.

If Gusev decides to come to the NHL next season, he instantly projects among the Golden Knights top six forwards and could be a massive offensive boost.

In August, McPhee traveled to Russia where he took in an SKA St. Petersburg preseason game. He also reportedly visited with another Russian prospect, Vladimir Tkachyov. When he returned, I asked about Gusev again.

We’re hoping he will (come to the NHL). We’ve had some conversations and it sounds like it’s something that he would like to do but we will see what next year brings. -McPhee on 9/6/18

Nothing will happen on the Gusev front until at least May, but while you keep your fingers crossed, enjoy a highlight reel and try to keep from drooling too much.

Why Brandon Pirri Was Sent Down And Recalled Within Two Hours

By George this one was crazy. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

UPDATE: The transactions which are referenced in this article have since disappeared from the AHL transaction list.

George McPhee, appearing on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports 1340 flat out denied it ever happened.

Well, there wasn’t a transaction, so I don’t know where that’s coming from. Nothing happened yesterday and nothing has happened today. We’ll see where we are tomorrow but I would expect that he’ll be in the lineup. -McPhee

As you can see from the screenshot above, there were transactions. The only way for a transaction to appear on this page is if this form has been submitted to the NHL offices. Why the transaction was there and has since disappeared, I do not know.

Following the game, I asked Gerard Gallant about the transactions…

Can you offer any clarity to the Brandon Pirri situation that occured this afternoon? -SinBin.vegas

I worry about playing the players and transactions work themselves out. He’s on my roster, I’m playing him. -Gallant

We are going to continue to dig on this to see what else we can find.

ORIGINAL STORY

Before tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks, the Golden Knights sent Brandon Pirri to the AHL and then recalled him within two hours. All along he remained in Las Vegas and eventually played in the night’s game.

The question is, why?

There were speculations of trades, belief that salary cap was involved, even the Chicago Wolves schedule came up as a point of conversation. But all along the transaction was simply made to exploit a tiny rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that effectively resets the waiver clock for Pirri.

Let’s start with the original rule that has been at the center of the Pirri waiver situation. First, here’s the actual rule from the CBA.

Subject to the provisions of this Article, the rights to the services of a Player may be Loaned to a club of another league, upon fulfillment of the following conditions, except when elsewhere expressly prohibited:

(a) Regular Waivers were requested and cleared during the Playing Season Waiver Period; and

(b) the Player has not played in ten (10) or more NHL Games cumulative since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared, and more than thirty (30) days cumulative on an NHL roster have not passed since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared. -NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement

What that says is if a player has cleared waivers, which Pirri did on 10/4/18, he can be recalled and play in up to nine games OR be on active roster for up to 29 days without having to once again re-clear waivers.

Brandon Pirri was recalled to the Golden Knights on 12/18/18. Prior to tonight has played in eight games since being recalled. He’s been the on the roster 19 days.

Thus, if he played in two more games OR was on the active roster for 11 more days he would once again be subject to waivers in the event the Golden Knights wanted to send him down to the AHL.

That brings us today. Due to injuries and illness, the Golden Knights only had 12 active and available forwards on the roster with Pirri. Reilly Smith, William Carrier, Erik Haula, and eventually we learned Cody Eakin, were all unavailable to play in tonight’s game. Thus, without Pirri, the Golden Knights would only have 11 available forwards.

Enter a different CBA provision called “the emergency recall.”

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Updated Golden Knights Prospect Rankings

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following the World Junior tournament which was laden in Golden Knights prospects, six to be exact, we decided now was a good time to update the SinBin.vegas Golden Knights Prospect Rankings.

On this page we rank every Golden Knights prospect under the age of 23 including and add a paragraph of reasoning for each player each time the rankings are updated.

There are a total of 24 prospects ranked and a newcomer had slipped his way into the new Top 5. The biggest risers on the list are Lucas Elvenes who jumped six spots and Reid Duke who move up five.

To see the list in its entirety, click here.

For a little taste, here are players ranked 6-10.

T6) Zach Whitecloud (D)
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent on March 8th, 2018
Age: 22 (November 28, 1996)
Most Recent Team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Previous Ranking: #4

As somewhat of a veteran among the Wolves defense, at age 22, Whitecloud continues to look like the same player we’ve seen since he signed with Vegas. He’s good defensively with a little bit of offensive skill. He moved down on the list because of the way the Golden Knights treated him during the time when Nate Schmidt was out. Jake Bischoff made the roster over Whitecloud and Bischoff couldn’t get into a game. The more and more you see of Whitecloud the more you see a solid NHLer who just needs his breakthrough moment.

More on Whitecloud
9/12/18 – In the last rankings, he was declared the most pro-ready prospect, that honor has been taking from him by Erik Brannstrom. Whitecloud looks like he’s going to become a solid, safe, defensive option that could help an offensive-minded defensive partner thrive. Playing with Brannstrom, Whitecloud took care of the Golden Knights end while helping Brannstrom bring the puck forward and make plays. Think Deryk Engelland, but like 30 years younger. (Sorry Deryk)

7/28/18 – The most pro-ready prospect in the entire Golden Knights pool is Zach Whitecloud. He spent the final few weeks of the season with the Golden Knights and even played in an NHL game with Vegas in which he was +3 vs. Edmonton. In Development Camp he was physically the most ready player, but he also displayed great poise and leadership on the ice. When his time comes, and it may not necessarily be out of training camp, he’s not going to be a flashy player, but he will be reliable. He projects as a solid stay-at-home defenseman with potential upside offensively as he matures. His place near the top of the list is more based on how close he is to playing in the NHL than it is the likelihood he becomes a superstar player. That being said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Whitecloud puts together a long and successful NHL career.

 

T6) Dylan Coghlan (D)
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent on September 20, 2017
Age: 20 (February 19, 1998)
Most Recent Team:  Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Previous Ranking: #6

He’s become a stalwart in Rocky Thompson’s Wolves lineup. As a right-hand shot, he certainly has value to the Golden Knights eventually as they are short on RD’s. He’s in a very similar spot as Whitecloud, hence the tie, as there’s a bit of a logjam of defensemen and seemingly no room for any of them to ge through. Brannstrom, Hague, Whitecloud, Bischoff, and Coghlan all seem to deserve a look but maybe only one or two will be likely to get it this year after rosters expand. There are a lot of factors of who gets that shot first and when, and it’s not all to do with talent. I wouldn’t expect to see Coghlan in a VGK uniform any time soon.

More on Coghlan
9/12/18 – Coghlan had a bit of a quiet camp, but when he was paired with Hague he looked solid. Wasn’t sure if he would ever develop into an NHL prospect before, it may be safe to say he should get a chance at some point. As a right-handed defenseman, he’ll likely enter the mix next year and beyond. Keep an eye on this guy, he might be the undrafted steal of the 2017 class for Vegas.

7/28/18 – As an invitee to both 2017 Development Camp and Training Camp, Coghlan impressed and parlayed it into a contract before heading back to Kennewick, Washington for the WHL season. While there, he had a massive offensive year for a defenseman, putting up 63 points in 69 games. He’s going to have to get a bit better in his own end, which is part of the reason he was passed over in back-to-back drafts, but his offensive ability is exciting.

 

8) Ivan Morozov (F)
Acquired: 2018 Entry Draft, 2nd Round, #61 overall
Age: 18 (May 5, 2000)
Most Recent Team: SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
Previous Ranking: #10

The first real chance we’ve gotten to see Morozov was a good one. He looked very good at times as the 4th line center for Team Russia. His selection to this team was impressive in the first place as Russia historically does not like to choose 18-year-olds for their U20 team. However, Morozov helped make an impact and looks like a terrific 200-foot player. His backchecking was probably the most exciting part of his game as he constantly would come back into his own zone, break up a play and then get the puck moving forward. Still want to see a lot more of him, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the top 3 or 4 the next time I update this list.

More on Morozov
9/12/18 – Did not attend Rookie Camp

7/28/18 – Unable to attend Development Camp following the Draft, Morozov remains a bit of an unknown. However, he has recently signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg (yeah, the Shippy one) and was selected with Vegas’ only pick in the top 75 of the 2018 Draft which indicates he’s highly regarded. He has quick hands and should be a strong two-way center if/when he makes it to the NHL. A trip to World Juniors would do well for him to move up this list where he probably belongs.

 

9) Lucas Elvenes (F)
Acquired: 2017 Entry Draft, 5th Round, #127 overall
Age: 18 (August 18, 1999)
Most Recent Team: Rogle BK (SHL)
Previous Ranking: #15

There is obviously an inherent bias towards guys directly after World Juniors, but I will admit, I went in with a keen eye on Elvenes looking for one thing, playmaking at even-strength. Finally, I saw it and I saw it in bunches while Sweden was still in the tournament. He looked dangerous almost every time he was on the ice and with a maligned Swedish forward group he was probably the second or third best forward on the team. Playing in the SHL appears to have him looking for the puck a bit more and becoming more active in the play. I’m still not 100% sold this is an NHL prospect, but he’s a lot closer now than I thought four months ago.

More on Elvenes
9/12/18 – Elvenes has been flying up the charts on prospect ranking charts all over the place, but not here. He moves up a bit because he showed out very well on the Golden Knights power play, but at 5-on-5 he continued to be invisible. In practice he looked like he was primed to go out and have a huge impact on the games, then he didn’t. Not even close to time to give up in him, but he’s got to figure out the even strength on the small ice.

7/28/18 – A member of Team Sweden for the second consecutive World Junior Summer Showcase, Elvenes needs to build on his last international appearance. He put up four assists and a goal in two games last year with the Swedish U20 team but his game hasn’t translated on the North American ice at Development Camp. He didn’t flash much at all during the scrimmages either year. Playing on the smaller ice may be a factor.

 

10) Reid Duke (F)
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent on March 6, 2017
Age: 22 (January 28, 1996)
Most Recent Team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Previous Ranking: #14

This massive jump up the rankings has almost everything to do with the call-up he received from the Golden Knights. Of course, he didn’t end up in an actual game, but as a 22-year-old getting the call after playing in the AHL goes a long way. He’s been very good with the Wolves and looked like he belonged in practice with VGK. When they first signed Duke I thought, well this is cute but there’s no way this guy ever plays in the NHL. He’s slowly won me (and seemingly the organization) over and I’ll now say the exact opposite, I’d be stunned if he doesn’t play in the NHL.

More on Duke
9/12/18 – Like Kolesar, Duke is expected to be a bit better than the rookies due to his age. However, there were times he appeared to be playing at a different speed than everyone else out there. That’s not necessarily a part of Duke’s game we’ve seen before. He felt in control of the game most of the time he was on the ice and definitely made his linemates better. Still a bit of a longshot to get a chance with the stacked VGK forward group, but maybe one day the “First Knight” will break through.

7/28/18 – Forever the answer to the trivia question, the first Golden Knight is back from the shoulder injury which kept him out a majority of last season. Duke took an off-ice leadership role at Development Camp but the on-ice success was missing. As a 22-year-old playing with 18 and 19-year-olds Duke was expected to stand out in a big way. He didn’t. He went scoreless in 14 games with the Chicago Wolves after returning from injury. All this being said, Duke has had his downs in his career and he’s always seemed to rebound. Probably higher on this list than he should be at the moment, there’s just something about this guy that makes it feel like he’s eventually going to break through.

 

For the rest of the list, click here.

Erik Brannstrom In Amazing Company With World Junior All Star Nod

This kid is going to be a star. It’s just a matter of when. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following a four-goal in five-game performance at the World Junior Championship as captain of Team Sweden, Erik Brannstrom was named by the media to the tournament All Star team.

Along with Canadiens draft pick Alexander Romanov, Brannstrom now finds himself on a pretty darn impressive list. Here are the players who have been named to the same All Star team while they played in the World Junior Championship.

2005Dion Phaneuf *Ryan Suter *
2006Luc BourdonJack Johnson
2007Kris Letang *!Erik Johnson
2008Drew Doughty *^!Victor Hedman *^
2009Erik Karlsson *^P. K. Subban *^
2010Alex Pietrangelo *John Carlson !
2011Ryan EllisDmitry Orlov !
2012Brandon GormleyOscar Klefbom
2013Jacob TroubaJake McCabe
2014Rasmus RistolainenNikita Zadorov
2015Gustav ForslingJosh Morrissey
2016Olli JuoleviZach Werenski
2017Thomas ChabotCharlie McAvoy
2018Rasmus DahlinCale Makar
2019Erik BrannstromAlexander Romanov
*NHL All Star ^Norris Trophy !Stanley Cup Winner

Look at the names on that list! Doughty, Karlsson, Subban, Carlson, Hedman, Letang, Pietrangelo, Trouba, and it goes on and on. Even names from recent years like Thomas Chabot, Charlie McEvoy, and Rasmus Dahlin have already had major impacts at the NHL level.

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The Real Paul Stastny Has Arrived

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When James Neal opted not to re-sign with the Golden Knights back in July, the team lost one of its smartest players.

But not to fret. The Knights acquired a player with a very high hockey I.Q. when they signed Paul Stastny.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The veteran center knows how to play the game. He does things the right way. He understands the subtleties of hockey and he makes his linemates better, which is what any playmaking center is supposed to do.

But when he got hurt in Buffalo back on Oct. 8 and missed 30 games, everyone forgot all those characteristics. He was out of sight and out of mind.

He has been back for 10 games now and with his return, the Knights have returned to the top of the Pacific Division standings. He is centering the second line and despite an ever-changing cast on his flanks, Stastny is producing as are his linemates.

The initial plan was to have Stastny center for Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch. But he has also played with Erik Haula, Reilly Smith and Brandon Pirri. Currently, the line is Stastny, Tuch and Pirri. Pirri has six goals and three assists. Tuch, who has 14 goals, the latest an empty-netter to seal Tuesday’s 2-0 New Year’s Day shutout of the Los Angeles Kings, has registered at least one point in five of his last six games.

Stastny said it’s all about communicating.

It’s not that hard to adjust (to playing with different players). You talk on the bench and make sure everyone is on the same page. -Stastny

Pirri, who has bounced around the NHL and has played with a lot of good players, said Stastny is really good at adjusting his game to fit his linemates’.

His character is so good. He makes my life and Tuchy’s life so much easier. He tells you where he’s going to be and he gets you the puck. He’s a playmaker and all you have to do is get open and he’ll get it to you. -Pirri

But it’s not just the obvious that makes Stastny so effective. It’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that he does over the course of a game.

Here are two examples:

Midway through the first period Tuesday, the Knights had lost possession in the Kings’ zone. No big deal, right? You try and win back the puck and you start over. Stastny did just that by getting to a loose puck, then making a subtle but sweet backhand pass to Ryan Carpenter who turned it into a quality scoring chance.

Jack Campbell made the save on Carpenter. But because Stastny knew where to be on the ice, he was able to get to the puck, then knew what to do with it.

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Ex-VGK Players Miss Vegas More Than You’d Expect

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Players will move on from the Vegas Golden Knights each offseason. It’s just a part of hockey. The crumby business side of things. But one roster, one group of misfits, that became the 2017-18 Western Conference championship team will never move on from Las Vegas or the hearts of Golden Knights fans.

This past week, former Vegas players Luca Sbisa and Tomas Tatar made their first appearances back to Vegas since their painful Game 5 loss in the Stanley Cup finals.

It’s funny, this building is wild, it’s crazy. It felt like a playoff game again. -Luca Sbisa, Islanders defenseman

After their brief return to their old place of business the two players were all smiles happy to bump into their old teammates, coaches, trainers, and heck even us.

A lot of memories. A lot of relationships that I keep in touch with. I love those guys over there, but it’s always fun to play against them. -Sbisa

With limited action this season, the former Knight normally isn’t requested by the media after a game. But when I requested him, he came out with a warm smile on his face. Glad to have the old gang of misfit reporters, like myself, to chat and reminisce about last season.

It’s different. I’ve never stepped foot in this dressing room. Obviously, I was used to the other side. Definitely nice when we touched down here, I felt like I was just going to drive to home. Instead I went to the hotel. -Sbisa

Like the entire 2017-18 roster, Sbisa is proud of his accomplishments with the Golden Knights. The d-man was a steady player when healthy, and an outstanding person off the ice.

It’s hard to be mad about whatever happened here, it was just a great run and we all enjoyed it. – Tomas Tatar, Canadiens forward

Like Sbisa, Montreal forward Tomas Tatar spoke highly of his experience in Vegas, although short, and called it one of the best moments of his career.

It’s always nice to be back. As soon as we landed it reminded me of a lot of good things. Like you said that run that we had, even though I came late, it’s a memorable thing and that other locker room is a great group of guys. I miss them that’s for sure. They were really nice to me and you just give a little extra effort when you are playing your old team and I enjoyed it. -Tatar

One former teammate that welcomed Tatar and Sbisa with open ice hits was the big and lovable Ryan Reaves. Both players had brief tie-ups with #75 in their separate games against Vegas. Perhaps just a few love taps.

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Do The Golden Knights Miss Colin Miller? You bet!

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When Nate Schmidt returned to the Golden Knights’ lineup last month after serving his 20-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, everyone assumed everything would be fine in the VGK universe.

Of course, everyone was assuming that Colin Miller would always be in the lineup too.

That was a safe assumption considering Miller had never missed a game, regular or postseason. He, along with William Karlsson, were the Knights’ Iron Men. Gerard Gallant could put their names in the lineup in indelible ink and not worry.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But Miller got hurt Dec. 17 against Columbus. He sustained an upper-body injury and he hasn’t played since. The Knights lost to the Blue Jackets that night and have struggled with Miller sidelined since. They didn’t look good in beating the Islanders last Thursday, squandered third-period leads to Montreal Saturday and Los Angeles Sunday and in doing so, left two valuable points on the table. Those two points would have looked pretty good this morning as you peruse the NHL standings.

Vegas has 44 points, one behind second-place San Jose and just three behind Pacific Division-leading Calgary. Yes, they’d be in the postseason if the playoffs started today. But given the way things are shaking out, every point matters. And those two points are going to have to be made up on the road somewhere — maybe at Nashville or Winnipeg — where the Knights will not be favored by the oddsmakers.

So what’s the point?

This team needs Colin Miller back on the blue line, pronto.

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Gallant Says He Learned Something New On How He’s Handled Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Gerard Gallant has been a coach in the NHL for 445 games, winning 222 of them. He’s been the head man of three different teams, won the Jack Adams Award, and brought his team to within three wins of lifting the Stanley Cup. Yet, heading into game 446, he’s still figuring things out.

I look back at how (Oscar Lindberg) missed a bunch of games in a row and I said to him in the last week or so that you know what, I probably shouldn’t have done it that way. I don’t like doing it that way, sitting a player that long, but that’s the way it happened and moving forward I probably wouldn’t do that again. I’ll probably give a guy a chance a lot quicker to get back in the lineup. You look at those situations and you learn something new every day. -Gerard Gallant

Prior to his re-insertion into the lineup on 12/4 against Washington, Oscar Lindberg had been a healthy scratch for six straight games. Before that, he played in two but was scratched for the previous nine. All in all, Lindberg has sat out of 20 of the Golden Knights 36 games and before the current seven-game stretch of being in the lineup, he hadn’t played more than four in straight all season.

We recently wrote about how Lindberg’s strong play has forced Gallant to make a few lineup moves, but the revelation that he doesn’t like the idea of sitting a player out that long is interesting to say the least, especially when you consider the fact that Lindberg has played well under the circumstances.

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William Carrier – Goal Scorer: Has A Nice Ring To It, Doesn’t It?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**

When you look at the Golden Knights stats, all the familiar names are at the top.

There’s William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. There’s Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch. Max Pacioretty’s name is up there too.

But you probably weren’t counting on seeing Cody Eakin with 11 goals. And it’s highly unlikely you figured Ryan Reaves would have six goals at this point.

Yet, there’s one name that sticks out when we’re talking about lighting the lamp: William Carrier.

In just 36 games, the rugged left wing has seven goals. That’s more than his entire NHL career going into this season.

Carrier scored all of one goal last season — back on Oct. 27, 2017 in a 7-0 rout of Colorado. He only played in 37 games due to a series of injuries that had him in and out of the lineup.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Carrier takes his first shift Thursday against the New York Islanders at T-Mobile Arena, it will match his number of appearances from a year ago.

And consider when Vegas selected Carrier from Buffalo in the expansion draft, he had scored just five goals for the Sabres his rookie season of 2016-17. So it wasn’t like we were talking Auston Matthews here.

But George McPhee sees things through a different lens than the rest of us. He knew Carrier was a fast skater. He could win footraces to loose pucks. By doing so, he enhanced his ability to create scoring chances.

There was a stat that came out Tuesday that Carrier led the NHL in wrap-around opportunities and that’s due in part to his speed. But also it has something to do with strength. Carrier’s a strong guy and he’s hard to knock off the puck.

But Carrier also has softer hands than everyone thought. He has decent touch near the net and while no one will mistake him for a sniper like Marchessault, he knows what to do when he gets the puck on his stick. He is shooting at a career-best 10.8 percent (seven goals on 65 shots).

He has found a comfort level playing on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s line. And whether it is Reaves or Tomas Nosek skating on the other wing, Carrier has worked well with both, even though Reaves and Nosek are polar opposites when it comes to style of play.

The line’s been playing pretty good. We complement each other really well and we’re looking to score. -William Carrier

But seven goals?

I think a lot of it is maturity. I’m a year older. I know what to expect and I’m more comfortable out there. I think I’m having a little more puck luck this year. Last year, I was getting great chances but the puck wasn’t going in for me. This year, it is. -Carrier.

Bellemare has a theory as to why he and Carrier work well together:

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