I remember it like yesterday, writing articles about meetings The Creator was having with the league making presentations in conjunction with Quebecor trying to sell the idea of expanding the league. Now, I’m about to take a shot at picking the 23 players who are going to make the roster when the Vegas Golden Knights play the first regular season game in franchise history. Crazy.
Enough about me, let’s cut some guys!
Vadim Shipachyov, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Oscar Lindberg, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Karlsson, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alex Tuch, William Carrier, Tomas Hyka
Due to the fact that the Golden Knights are expected to keep eight defensemen, there are some tough decisions on the back end of this list. The first nine are pretty well set in stone, the final four will be selected from a pool of seven.
The first who makes the list is Pulkkinen, and that has a lot to do with this skill set. His shooting ability is borderline elite in the NHL and he’s never really had a lot of time to prove himself in the league. However, the reasoning for his inclusion is more in the fact that he sticks out as a different style of player than the rest of the group. There are fast guys, there are big guys, but there’s no one else quite like him.
Next is Tuch. This one has a lot to do with the way he’s been playing on the ice, but it has even more to do with the fact that he’s one of the very few Golden Knights George McPhee paid to bring in. McPhee gave up a 3rd round pick to get Tuch from the Wild and he’s done everything in his power (including attending Development Camp) to make the roster. Wouldn’t be completely stunning if he’s sent to Chicago, but it would be a bit of a surprise.
That brings us to the final two spots. I selected Hyka and Carrier out of the group including Brendan Leipsic, Tomas Nosek, and Tyler Wong. Hyka has been playing great hockey both in game action as well as in practice. It seems like every time the puck is near him he’s making things happen. That was also the case for Wong in the preseason game, and in rookie camp, but hasn’t been quite as apparent since the veterans showed up. Leipsic is an incredibly similar player to both Hyka and Wong, but simply hasn’t flashed throughout camp or in the one preseason game in which he played. For smaller speedy players, they should stick out like a sore thumb on the ice, skating by people and scoring goals. One of these three did that better than the other two. Hyka has also never played an NHL game, which represents massive upside for a guy who’s had this much success in camp and was singled out by the Golden Knights prior to the Expansion Draft. It’s a risky move considering McPhee would have to hope Leipsic can sneak through waivers without losing him, but Hyka deserves the spot more than Leipsic at this point, so it’s worth the risk.
The other spot is essentially a toss-up between Carrier and Nosek. They are similar players but Carrier is a better skater. Neither has shown much in preseason games, but chances have been limited for both. My pick comes much more from what I believe the preconceived notions are on the players by the front office than how they’ve played in camp. Going back to the Expansion Draft, Carrier was one of many viable options from the Sabres, the list was a bit slimmer with the Red Wings. Most of the available selections from the Red Wings came with much higher cap hits and were less likely to pass through waivers. Nosek looked like a player that has some upside but could use some more development. Therefore, McPhee may have had his eye on Nosek as a player he could get to the AHL without losing him, something that may not be as likely with Carrier.
Note: James Neal is hurt. He would absolutely be on the roster, which would likely push Hyka down to the AHL. We’ve seen Neal skate once, and it was not with the team. It’s possible he makes it back for opening night, but odds are, they’ll take it slow to take advantage of the extra roster spot.
Similar to forward there are five slots that are pretty well set. The sixth, Merrill is awfully close as well, but if they decide to go with Shea Theodore instead, it could be Merrill on the way out instead of Stoner or Sbisa due to contracts. Merrill’s been the best of the three though, so he really should be on the team.
The blue line has been a point of contention since the Expansion Draft, but recently it appears to have cleared itself up a bit. Griffin Reinhart has shown nothing to prove he’s improved beyond the player he was in Edmonton or with the New York Islanders. He was worth the flier as a reclamation project, but there’s simply too many guys to take up a spot.
That leaves us with three names to fill two spots. Theodore, Stoner, and Sbisa. As we’ve been saying for the past three months, Theodore being waiver-exempt is going to end up causing him to be the odd man out of the NHL roster, at least out of camp. Plus, carrying eight defensemen means Gallant will have to scratch two of them every single night, it’s much easier to scratch Stoner, Sbisa, or Engelland than it is to do so to a 22-year-old in Theodore who you need to develop. Garrison, Miller, Schmidt, and McNabb are going to play when healthy, which leaves two dressed positions per night to be filled by four players. Throwing Theodore into that mix makes it even more difficult as McPhee will want him on the ice every night. Stoner has worn an “A” in two preseason games now, and Sbisa’s contract is simply too big to throw away into the AHL. Theodore will be in the NHL sooner than later (at the first hint of injury or trade), but sending him to Chicago makes the blue line situation a lot easier, and there’s zero risk involved.
Not much to say here outside of the fact that you should expect to see a much more of Pickard than we’ve seen out of Fleury backups in the past. Gallant mentioned that he always wants a fresh goalie in the net and that he’s not a big believer in streaks. It wouldn’t shock me if when all is said and done with the 2017-18 season, the start totals are closer to 50/50 than 70/30 like we initially suspected.