As the rookies wrap up camp with a pair of games in El Segundo against the Kings this week, all eyes turn to big league camp and specifically, 22-year-old defenseman Shea Theodore.
Theodore enters training camp as one of the most talented blueliners on a Golden Knights roster chock full of defensemen. The former Anaheim Duck had his best season as a professional a year ago including tallying eight points in 14 playoff games during the Ducks run to the Western Conference Finals.
But before the glory of the postseason, Theodore found himself in a peculiar position on the bubble of the Ducks roster. Good enough to make an impact and deserve a spot, but still on an entry level contract and thus waiver exempt to be sent back to the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. In fact, after beginning the season in the AHL, Theodore was moved between the AHL and NHL a whopping 10 times before claiming his spot on the Ducks postseason roster.
On your entry level contract, you have to understand that it’s a possibility, it’s just how it works. It sucks at times, you feel like you are playing well and then you find yourself down in the American League just because you can’t get picked up on waivers. But I kind of just take it how it is. -Shea Theodore
Then came the Expansion Draft, and despite being exempt from selection, Theodore found himself on the move again, this time via trade to the Golden Knights. As the youngest NHL ready prospect on the roster, and with talent for days, Theodore should be a mainstay on the top two defensive pairings at T-Mobile Arena for the next decade. But due to NHL rules for young players, his time as a Golden Knight may not start when Vegas drops the puck.
There are definitely endless possibilities that can happen. I’m one of the only guys on a two-way contract, so when you look at the logjam of numbers of guys we have here, I’m one of the only guys they can send down without using waivers. At the same time, I have to use that as motivation where if I’m playing well enough to prove that I deserve a spot, the rest will take care of itself and I won’t have to worry about it too much. -Theodore
Players on their first NHL contract are “waiver exempt,” meaning they can be sent down to the minor leagues without any risk of being picked up by another team. This is the final year on Theodore’s entry level deal, but due to the uniqueness of the Expansion Draft, he’s the only impactful player with such exemption. Therefore, even if he plays great during camp and should earn a spot, the more important factors will be roster numbers and the play of the other defenseman as to whether or not he’ll be headed to the Strip or to Chicago when camp comes to a close.
To be fair, you’d like to say it’s going to be the best six guys, but we’ll see. Sometimes you have to think short-term and long-term and do what’s best for the organization from that stand point. -George McPhee
Even though Theodore is plenty mature enough to understand the business behind the decision if that’s the way the chips fall, he readily admitted it would be a bit of a let down if he’s not headed to American Airlines Arena on October 6th to play in the first game in VGK history.