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Forward Depth Has Become An Issue

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The Golden Knights forward lineup is about as potent as any team in the NHL. They have two bonafide first lines, a third line that includes another top-six quality player, and a fourth line that should continue to get the job done.

No matter how Gerard Gallant opts to run out his 12 forwards, they’re going to be good. After that first 12 though, it gets thin, and quickly.

A lot can change between now and October 2nd, but as it stands, the most likely forwards to be in the lineup against the Sharks are as follows.

Centers

William Karlsson
Paul Stastny
Cody Eakin
Tomas Nosek

Wingers

Reilly Smith
Jonathan Marchessault
Mark Stone
Max Pacioretty
Alex Tuch
Brandon Pirri
William Carrier
Ryan Reaves

That leaves this group as the 2019-20 reserves.

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Pick A Pair: The Best D-Pair Match For Every VGK Defenseman

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When the Golden Knights take the ice on October 2nd there will likely only be one change along the blue line. Out went Colin Miller and in comes the winner of the rookie defenseman battle between Jimmy Schuldt, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan.

However, the way they line up may have to change with the new makeup of the defense. With Miller in Buffalo, the Golden Knights are left with just one right-handed defenseman among the guaranteed mix. That leaves plenty of options in how Gerard Gallant and Ryan McGill will set the pairs.

Here’s an attempt to breakdown what each defenseman does best and who they might match up best with.

(Each player is listed with their best match as a partner, other options they could succeed with, and players to avoid. The match is to maximize that player’s skills, it is not necessarily to create the best pair. Other options are ranked in order from best option to worst. Players to avoid are listed in no particular order.)

Nate Schmidt

Schmidt is the swiss-army knife of the Golden Knights defense. He really does it all and it allows for him to be partnered with pretty much anyone. As a mobile puck-mover, he can be paired with a stay-at-home player or he can be put with another puck-mover to create a dynamic pair. Schmidt is able to contribute offense, but he’s also one of the most reliable players the Golden Knights have in their own end. Schmidt has played on both sides, and played with Engelland and McNabb for the majority of last season. However, they have paired him with Theodore on multiple occasions, including in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s never really gone well, but there’s been a willingness to try it.
Best Match: McNabb
Other Options: Schuldt, Engelland, Merrill, Theodore, Hague, Whitecloud, Coghlan, Bischoff, Holden
Avoid: None

Brayden McNabb

The defensive stallwart, McNabb almost has to play with a skater. That being said, McNabb has really been at his best with Schmidt as his partner. Late in the year last season, they put him with Theodore, and while Shea thrived it often led to McNabb being caught in vulnerable defensive positions which was highlighted by the OT goal that ended Vegas’ season. Throughout the two year history, the Golden Knights have really only used McNabb with Theodore, Schmidt, and Engelland and one of those pairs was a nightmare. McNabb has spent the entirety of his Golden Knights career playing on the left side.
Best Match: Schmidt
Other Options: Theodore, Schuldt, Coghlan, Whitecloud, Hague,
Avoid: Engelland, Bischoff, Merrill, Holden

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Is Fighting In Hockey Almost Extinct?

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Last season, Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves fought four times and was voted the victor in each by the fans. Three regular season scraps and one postseason go-around with Evander Kane was a light schedule for Reaves, who normally averages seven fights per year.

So, is it a sign Reaves is bored of whooping every opponent’s ass? Or is it just a continuation of the steady decline of fighting in the NHL? ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski examined it further.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to boomerang back. I think we’re going to see decline, after decline, after decline, to the point now that we have new historic lows across the board in hockey fighting.”- Greg Wyshynski, ESPN NHL Reporter

Player safety has been a big reason for the drop off but it’s also becoming difficult to carry fists in a salary cap world. Love him or hate him, Reaves is unique. He has stood the test of time and is preparing for his tenth NHL season.

He’s arguably the toughest guy in the league, but the fact he can play the game and contribute that’s what makes him valuable. That’s where the game is nowadays. There were a lot of players that were pushed out, he was not one of them. Rightfully so. He can contribute to the game and not just for what we’re known for doing. -Shawn Thornton, Former NHL Player

Thornton spoke with me in late February, after the Golden Knights hosted the Florida Panthers. Overall, the retired NHL heavyweight was glad to see the decline in fighting.

In my opinion, intimidation is a part of life. When you’re in an arena that’s two hundred by eighty-five with no out of bounds, it’s amplified. I think there will always be a space in hockey. Sometimes it’s a pressure cooker and a fight will be the thing that pops the top off… but there’s no more room in the league for a one-dimensional guy, and I’m actually very okay with that. -Thornton

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McPhee Bobbles Another Russian, This Time In A Much Different Way

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In exchange for selecting Jason Garrison, and his exorbitant contract, in the Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights received a 2nd round pick (which they traded for Keegan Kolesar), a 4th round pick (which they selected Paul Cotter) and Nikita Gusev.

Three assets in exchange for not only taking a bad contract off the hands of a contending team, but also laying off players like Yanni Gourde, J.T. Brown, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, and others.

It was a cross between the expansion situations with Columbus and the New York Islanders and that of Minnesota and Florida, but it most resembled the pickle Anaheim found itself in.

With the Ducks, Vegas received Shea Theodore for laying off Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson and picking up the bad contract of Clayton Stoner. Anaheim’s available options were better, but Garrison’s contract was much worse.

So, from Tampa Vegas got a pair of picks and an asset who was sitting over in Russia waiting for the time to come to make the leap to the NHL. No matter when that happened, he would become a Golden Knights.

If you go through every trade Vegas executed at the Expansion Draft, it’s reasonable to believe that Gusev’s value at the Expansion Draft was somewhere between a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. The exact value depends on how badly Tampa needed to get rid of Garrison’s contract as well as how much they valued their exposed players.

Since that day, George McPhee and the Golden Knights tried to diminish Gusev’s market price, while the Russian has done nothing but raise it. Finally it came to a head yesterday when the Devils sent a measly package of a 2nd and a 3rd round pick to end the Gusev in Vegas saga.

When Vegas acquired Gusev, he had just finished a breakout season putting up 71 points in the 2016-17 season. It was the first time he scored more than 40 points in the KHL. On the international stage he had dominated the World Junior tournament years prior and put up impressive numbers at the World Cup but his track record as short.

Since, he’s won back-to-back KHL MVP’s, broke the record for assists in a season, won a Gold medal, dominated at the IIHF World Championships and cemented himself as the best player outside of the NHL. (Read more about that here.)

In other words, he went from a player who appeared to be headed in the right direction to one who burst into a full fledged superstar everywhere but the NHL. Whatever his stock was in June of 2017, it has surely risen dramatically since.

Then there are the Golden Knights who did the opposite. At every pass, they diminished his value.

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Will Deryk Engelland’s Role Be Reduced in 2019-2020?

Now that the wait is over and fan favorite Deryk Engelland signed his new contract to stay in Las Vegas, it’s time to discuss his future impact. First off, let’s note that Engelland will receive less money in 2019-2020 but will have a chance to make up for it.

At 37-years-old you’d assume his overall presence would begin to drop off. After all, his time on ice dwindled from 20:17 ATOI in 2017-18, to 19:53 ATOI in 2018-19. I’m being sarcastic, that’s not much of a difference. Same can be said for his penalty kill minutes, it’s virtually equal to VGK’s first season and I could argue he was as good if not better in 2018-19.

Just take a look at Engelland’s 2019 Postseason penalty killing performance.

Game 1: 4:26 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/5 San Jose Power Plays

Game 2: 9:19 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/8 San Jose Power Plays

Game 3: 4:16 PK Minutes (Team Leader), 1 Goal/3 Power Plays

Game 4: 4:31 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/4 San Jose Power Plays

Game 5: 3:15 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/3 San Jose Power Plays

Game 6: 2:45 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/2 San Jose Power Plays

Game 7: 7:56 PK Minutes (Game Leader), *4 Goals/9 San Jose Power Plays

Total: 36:28 PK Minutes, 5 Goals/34 Power Plays, 0.13 San Jose PPG when Engelland was on the ice.

*You all know why there’s an asterisk

So just on defensive special teams alone, Engelland’s return is a positive one. However, the issue could be on even-strength. How will the Golden Knights coaching staff deploy the elder statesmen this season? Is it possible Jon Merrill, Nick Holden(if still on the roster), or Rookie d-men see more time on 5v5 than in 2018-19. That direction would balance Engelland’s minutes under 18-19 minutes a game. Which could be more beneficial for the team.

A big part of my game is killing penalties-Deryk Engelland

Another element to Engelland’s 2019-2020 usage will be who he is paired up with. Over the past two seasons, it’s been a consistent dose of Engelland and Shea Theodore. I’d assume with the uncertainty of the younger defenseman, that pairing would remain the same to start training camp and the season. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, and frankly I don’t think it will. With the possibility of a rookie in the lineup nightly, Vegas may want to break in the young blueliner with an experienced, reliable defenseman like Engelland. It worked for Theodore.

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In a perfect world, Engelland would see less even-strength minutes and continue to be a rock on the penalty kill. Keep in mind the Golden Knights paid him less money to stay which could be a sign the organization sees Engelland playing a lesser role this season. Or it’s just another shrewd business move by the front office.

Either way, subtracting 5v5 minutes means fresher legs on the PK. It’s an easy, obvious approach to distribute minutes and get the most out of the 37-year-old in 2019-2020. It’s almost too obvious if a half-wit like me can figure it out. Clearly he’s valued and trusted on the ice by the coaching staff which would lead you to believe they expect the same #5 out there. And how can you fault them after two successful seasons with Vegas?

Russian Agent Threatening Nikita Gusev’s Return To KHL

According to Yuriy Nikolayev, the agent that represents Nikita Gusev in Russia, a deadline has been set. If the Golden Knights do not sign or trade Gusev by this date, the Russian forward will return to the KHL.

Vegas hasn’t traded forward Nikita Gusev to another club yet, although I know there have been offers. I am constantly in touch with a company representing Nikita’s interests in North America. Vegas knows Nikita’s preferences and wishes. Now the ball is on their side. The rights to Gusev in the KHL belong to SKA St. Petersburg. There is a certain deadline, after which I will be forced to go to specific negotiations with the “army” club (SKA St. Petersburg). –Yuriy Nikolayev to Championat.com

Gusev’s North American agent is J.P. Barry of CAA. It is common for Russian players to have different agents for each league. One to represent them in the NHL and another to represent them in the KHL.

Whenever news comes out of agents it is important to consider motive. First and foremost, the agents are looking out for the best interest of their client. Gusev clearly wants to play in the NHL and it appears both Nikolayev and Barry are trying to make that a reality.

However, there’s always a purpose behind a threat. Nikolayev mentioned a specific date (would be nice if we knew that date) at which he will be “forced” to start negotiating with SKA St. Petersburg. Whether that date is something set by the KHL or if it’s been arbitrarily set by Gusev’s camp it certainly feels like another negotiation ploy to put even more pressure on the Golden Knights.

Then there’s money. If Gusev signs in the NHL, does Nikolayev get any compensation? Does he benefit more financially if Gusev signs again in the KHL?  These are questions I do not currently have answers to but certainly could impact the decision for Nikolayev to put out this threat.

Yet again, the Nikita Gusev saga continues to get more and more complicated and there seems to be no end in sight.

Well, other than this deadline.

22 Shifts Of Jimmy Schuldt

When the Golden Knights hit the ice again for real on October 2nd, there will be a rookie defenseman wearing steel grey and gold.

With the departure of Colin Miller, George McPhee confirmed as much and the candidates to win the job are Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Jake Bischoff, and Jimmy Schuldt.

Schuldt was the only one of the five who played for the Golden Knights in 2018-19. Of course, it was just one game, but Schuldt’s impact was certainly felt and it was his first chance to stake claim to the job he likely has the inside track to winning.

For those who’ve forgotten, Schuldt was an undrafted free agent who signed out of St. Cloud State following his senior year. He was a Hobey Baker finalist in each of his final two seasons and put up 118 points and 38 goals over his 156 games as a Husky (the most ever by a defenseman in program history). Schuldt was highly sought after as 30 of the 31 teams reportedly offered him a contract out of college.

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Schuldt’s one and only game was the final game of the regular season at the Staples Center in LA against the Kings. He played 21:03, tallied one assist, recorded one shot, and racked up a -1 rating. He took 22 total shifts in that game and recently I went back and watched them all.

Obviously, one game, especially a player’s first career NHL game, is not enough to judge a player, but for Schuldt, it’s all we’ve got and Gerard Gallant was not shy to use him.

Schuldt’s offensive game is what stuck out most over the course of his 22 shifts making positive offensive plays on more than half of them. It was the other end that was a little shaky. Let’s start with the good though.

The most memorable play was the one that put him on the scoresheet. A pass from the high slot perfectly onto Valentin Zykov’s stick set up an easy tap in goal and the first point of Schuldt’s NHL career.

The pass is beautiful, but the pinch before it might be just as influential on the play. Schuldt reads the rebound and jumps up the ice to win to the puck and keep it alive. His pinching ability on the game was excellent only failing to win the puck once.

His offensive positioning was a little more aggressive than the Golden Knights blueliners usually use though. A number of times he was caught too low in the zone and the defenseman was able to either pass or chip the puck around/over him to start breakouts. None of them led to goals, but there were a few moments in which a transition break was started and Schuldt was left behind.

His next best play came on a defensive zone draw which was one cleanly to him.

Schuldt nicely loses the attacker before pushing the puck up to Brandon Pirri. Then, continuing through the play, Schuldt collects a turnover and knocks a nice little backhand pass to Pirri creating a scoring chance. That’s the exact type of play Gallant and Ryan McGill like to see out of Golden Knights defenseman. Schuldt moves the puck quickly and safely to start a transition chance and creates an extra option in the offensive zone when then puck is turned over. Very Nate Schmidt esque.

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VGK Were In On Micheal Ferland In Free Agency

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On Wednesday the Vancouver Canucks signed Micheal Ferland to a four-year deal with an AAV of $3.5 million per year. Ferland is winger who plays a 200-foot game, forechecks hard, plays in all situations, and has the ability to play up and down a lineup.

At the trade deadline, Ferland’s name was consistently tossed around in the rumors and the Golden Knights were apparently hot after him.

Fast forward to free agency, when Ferland was looking for a new contract as a UFA, and somehow, once again, the Golden Knights were in the mix.

I like Ferland, the only question you have about him is his health, his injuries, but there was a lot of interest in him. I heard Calgary was in on him, I heard Vegas was in on him, someone told me St. Louis was very interested in Ferland and Vancouver gave him the 4th year and they got him. Of all the guys who waited later, I think he was the guy who most teams were interested in. –Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts Podcast

With what money?

Of course, we aren’t sure exactly what the Golden Knights offered, but it’s reasonable to think it was somewhere in the $2-$4 million ballpark. The exact range the Golden Knights are looking at with Nikita Gusev.

If they were willing to sign Ferland, they must have had a plan to make another move to offset the cost against the salary cap.

It makes sense why the Golden Knights would be interested as he’s essentially a safer Gusev. He’s done it year in and year out, plus he’s much more of a stylistic fit for Gerard Gallant than Gusev appears to be. But again, if they had an interest in him, there must be a blueprint to sign a 3rd line wing between the range of $2-$4 million.

Signing Ferland would have almost certainly meant the departure of Gusev, but missing out may signal something else. The offseason now rolls on, and the Gusev situation just keeps getting weirder and weirder without any conclusion seemingly in sight.

Patrick Brown Could Be Next Diamond In The Rough

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Whether it’s through an Expansion Draft, Entry Draft, waivers, free agency, or a trade, the Golden Knights have a type. They like a well-rounded, 200-foot player who plays in all situations, but beyond all, they really value “character.”

On July 1st, the Golden Knights signed Patrick Brown, a 27-year-old right-handed center/winger who has spent a majority of his career in the AHL. He’s scored 125 points in 334 AHL games plus another 14 in 24 playoff games.

An undrafted free agent out of Boston College, Brown signed with the Carolina Hurricanes in May of 2014. Each of his first three seasons as a pro he bounced between the Charlotte Checkers and the Hurricanes, playing a total of 28 games in the NHL. Then, he found his niche.

Brown was named an alternate captain of the Checkers in 2015-16 before being named captain of the team in 16-17. He’s held that title for each of the past three seasons including through the Checkers run to the Calder Cup this year.

Patrick served as captain in Charlotte again last season and was the heart and soul of the team. He is a tremendous leader on and off the ice and is a reliable, hard-working player. We are excited to keep him in the organization again next season. -Don Waddell, Hurricanes GM on June 6th, 2018

Brown was one of the first forwards called up to the Hurricanes during the 2018-19 season and even found himself in the playoffs after Andrei Svechnikov was hurt in a fight.

This is yet another example of the Golden Knights finding hidden gems to fill their AHL roster with while also creating depth at the NHL level. As Ryan Carpenter, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Daniel Carr, Brooks Macek, and Tomas Hyka walk out the door, one of the players to fill that void will be Brown. Plus, if you ask another new Golden Knight, Nicolas Roy, Brown’s teammate in Charlotte, Brown might make some noise with the new opportunity.

Our captain Patrick Brown has been in the AHL for most of his career but he’s a really good player, a really good teammate, leader. He brings a lot too, playing the same style as me, good offensively and defensively, but I think he’s been overlooked a little bit. He’s a really good player. –Nicholas Roy on Popternative

Obviously, the Golden Knights saw something they liked in the Calder Cup Final as Brown captained his team to a win over the Wolves. He seems to now fit into a group of current Golden Knights with Tomas Nosek, Nicolas Roy, Curtis McKenzie, Gage Quinney, Valentin Zykov, and Stefan Matteau. There’s probably room for one, if not two, of those guys to make the NHL roster.

Don’t be shocked if Patrick Brown makes a push towards that 4th line center spot when training camp rolls around. But even if he doesn’t, Rocky Thompson and the Wolves are going to be glad to have him.

Can We Stop With The Maybe’s On Nikita Gusev?

Nikita Gusev has never played a game in the NHL. There’s no getting around that. But Nikita Gusev was not dropped onto the Golden Knights from some other unknown planet.

Gusev won the MVP award in the KHL, the world’s second-best league, each of the past two years. He led the league in points in 2018-19 by 13. He broke the record for assists in a season with 64. He’s been more than a point per game player for four years running. He’s won a Gagarin Cup and he’s scored 68 points in 66 playoff games. He even shredded as a kid, scoring 192 points in 120 games in the Russian Junior league, the MHL.

And these are just his Russian accomplishments.

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Gusev helped Russia win the gold medal in the Olympics a year ago, scoring the game-tying goal (and the one before it) in the gold medal game and assisting on the game-winner and led the tournament in points.

He scored 16 points in the IIHF World Championships this summer, second only to William Nylander, matching Nikita Kucherov and Jakob Voracek, and outdoing Mark Stone and he’s put up 1.11 points per game in all international competition.

In 2011 at the World Junior Championships, Gusev scored nine points in seven games, which was outdone by only five players (two of which are Mark Stone and Evgeny Kuznetsov).

Literally, every place this guy has played hockey, he’s scored. And he’s done it alongside or against hundreds of players that have played in the NHL, and have had massive success.

In World Juniors his numbers matched Clayton Keller (2016), Auston Matthews (2015), Matthew Tkachuk (2015), William Nylander (2014), Filip Fosberg (2013), Anthony Mantha (2013), Nikita Kucherov (2012), Mark Scheifele (2012), Johnny Gaudreau (2012), Mark Stone (2011), and Jason Zucker (2011).

All of those guys are either bonafide NHL stars or on their way to becoming one.

In international play, his numbers compare to Alexander Radulov, Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Leon Draisaitl, Anze Kopitar, Mats Zuccarello, and William Nylander.

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