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Tag: Jake Bischoff

VGK Assistant Coaches Explain How/Why They Select D-Pairs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For just the second time this season, the Golden Knights will see a new defensive pair along their blueline. Following the injury to Nate Schmidt, Nic Hague was placed into the lineup playing alongside Deryk Engelland. He held that position for seven straight games, recording two assists, six shots on goal, and averaging 14:28 per game.

Tonight, however, Hague will watch from the press box as Jake Bischoff is slated to make his NHL debut. Bischoff made the Golden Knights roster out of training camp last year, stayed with the team for about three weeks, but never drew into a game. This year, he was sent to the AHL out of training camp before being recalled eight days ago to replace Jimmy Schuldt.

Like Hague, his defense partner will be Deryk Engelland as the two slot in as the Golden Knights third pair.

Recently, speaking at a fan Q&A hosted at Jaguar & Land Rover Las Vegas, assistant coaches Ryan McGill and Mike Kelly were asked about what goes into the decision-making process of picking defensive pairs.

First of all, we like to try to put experience with a little bit of inexperience. Just to give them a little bit of a safety valve. Number two, you want to have somebody that can move the puck up the ice quick or that can be involved with the play with another guy that can watch his back. -Ryan McGill

McGill is the assistant that handles the Golden Knights defense.

But the biggest thing trying to find chemistry. If you don’t find chemistry you can’t have those players together all the time. -McGill

Kelly, who has worked alongside Gerard Gallant for nearly a decade, piggybacked McGill’s comments.

If something happens on the ice where it didn’t go well for the younger guy, he makes a mistake, he’s going back to the bench with the guy he’s playing with. You like to have someone who is a good person with experience whispering in his ear saying ‘don’t worry about it kid.’ -Mike Kelly

The Golden Knights have always had a heavy focus on leadership, character, and other unquantifiable intangibles. Through two years and eight games, it’s hard to argue against its success.

You put them with people that you think it’s going to work with and you kind of look the other way, cross your fingers, and hope it works. Most of the time it does. Sometimes they are going to hit a rocky patch but you know if they are with a Deryk Engelland you know they are hearing the right words. -Kelly

Every rookie that’s come through the Golden Knight d-corps, Hague, Schuldt, Whitecloud, and Theodore, has found their way to Engelland’s side.

Now it’s Jake Bischoff’s turn. Here’s to hoping there aren’t too many “don’t worry about it kid” comments needed from Engelland tonight in Pittsburgh.

The Options Are Endless To Replace Schmidt, With Nick Holden’s Versatility At The Center Of It All

The main storyline heading into Golden Knights training camp was the battle between the five rookie defensemen to see who would win the roster spot and ultimately find themselves in the NHL. Camp came and went, and when Gerard Gallant submitted his opening night lineup, it was six veterans on the blue line and a pair of rookies in the press box.

Then hockey intervened, and now it’s become unavoidable. Tonight, Tuesday, and likely for the next 10 games or so the Golden Knights will be forced into playing at least one rookie on defense.

But before we get into which one will get the call first (and second and third), it’s imperative to understand how the Golden Knights veteran defensemen stack up.

First, there are the two studs, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb. Historically, the Golden Knights prefer to have a “shut-down pair” which they rely upon to take the lion’s share of the minutes against the opposition’s best line. With the new preference of Theodore playing on the right, McNabb’s history on the left, and nearly 20 games of experience playing together, those two will likely be a pair for the foreseeable future. They’ll probably be pushing 22 minutes apiece per night, and they’ll be asked to stop the #1 line of the Sharks, Bruins, Coyotes, Flames, and whoever else the Golden Knights play until Nate Schmidt returns.

Next, there’s Deryk Engelland, the crafty defensive-minded veteran who has averaged 20 minutes a game each of the first two years of the Golden Knights existence. He’s right-handed, plays on the right side, and really needs a puck-mover as a partner to have the most success. His most likely partner is Jon Merrill, at least at first. Merrill has the ability to move the puck, he was listed in the Golden Knights top-four defensemen to start the year, and he exclusively plays the left side.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Which brings us to the fifth and final veteran blueliner, and the player who’s success or failures basically determines the arrangement of the Golden Knights defensive unit until the return of #88. His name is Nick Holden, and he’s the “ambidextrous” (not really, but he has a long history of playing both sides of the defense over the past three years) defenseman that has become the fulcrum of the Vegas blue line.

Holden played 36 games on the right side last year while playing 25 on the left. He started this year off on the left of Deryk Engelland. He’s played with Engelland (Holden on left), Theodore (Holden on left), Merrill (Holden on right), and McNabb (Holden on right) in just the last six meaningful games he’s been in the lineup. In the preseason this year, he played with Bischoff (Holden on right) and Schuldt (Holden on right). Thus, he’s played with skaters, puck-movers, plodders, big guys, little guys, offensive guys, stay-at-home guys, or however else you want to label a defenseman.

I think we all feel comfortable playing with each other and fortunately, I think every guy’s played with everybody. Out of necessity last year with Schmidty out and even this year in training camp we were kind of interchangeable. -Holden

That’s why he’s the key piece moving forward. If Holden is not at least serviceable, the entire d-corps will falter. The side, the partner, how far up the lineup, it all matters for Holden. So, for me, finding the right spot for Holden is even more important than selecting which of the four rookies is in the lineup.

No rookie left training camp with a clear edge on anyone else. Sure, we all ranked them the best we could, but we really were splitting hairs. So, whichever one is in the lineup, you’ll probably be getting somewhat of the same caliber of performance. The difference between them is where Holden will end up, and with him, we’ve seen good, we’ve seen bad, and we’ve seen somewhere in between, and the Golden Knights need more good than bad while their best d-man sits out.

Which leads us to the options. These are listed in no particular order, except for the fact that Hague is listed first because he’s the most likely player to get the first chance.

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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McPhee Says Miller Move Opens Door For Rookie D-Man To Make Roster

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s taken quite some time, but it looks like the rookies are finally fully cooked and ready to play in the NHL.

With the move of Colin Miller the Golden Knights roster currently stands with just five NHL players under contract and likely a sixth when Deryk Engelland re-ups in Vegas.

While the trade was made to help with cap compliance it was also made to provide some hope for the young defensemen we have in the organization. We really believe we have some terrific young defensemen, different flavors, bring different things to our lineup.  -McPhee

There are five players with a legitimate claim to that open spot. They are Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan.

So this is going to be a year where we’re going to add a rookie on the blue line and we have different flavors and I’m not sure which one at this point will do it, but it brings some enthusiasm and some freshness to your lineup and we believe will make us better because these kids are good, they are good players. -McPhee

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What I Learned About 11 Golden Knights Prospects While In San Diego

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the past weekend, I spent four days in San Diego watching the Chicago Wolves play three games in the Western Conference Final of the AHL’s Calder Cup. My focus was specifically on the Golden Knights draft picks and the players Vegas has under control for beyond this season.

To make this easiest to write, and hopefully to read, I’ve listed every player that either played or I was able to talk to while in San Diego, that has time left on their contract with VGK or are RFAs.

Cody Glass (1st Round, 6th overall in 2017, $863,333 AAV through 21-22)

Anyone who reads/follows me closely knows I haven’t been as high on Glass as the rest of the world seems to be. I’ve come to the realization that the reason for this isn’t because I necessarily view him as a player much differently than most, but that my expectations are substantially higher. As the 6th overall pick in a draft class that includes Elias Petterson, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Nico Hischier, and many others that have already had major impacts in the NHL, my expectation for Glass is massive. Top-six forward, impact player, one of the faces of the franchise. That’s what I’m looking for, and still, even though the next paragraph is going to make it sound otherwise, I’m not sure he’s going to be that guy.

Glass literally does everything on the hockey rink that you want to see from a center. The skill that jumped out most to me over the three games was his backchecking and breakouts. Every time his line turned it over in the offensive zone, he was flying back to negate any transition chance. His skating speed really showed in that sense, but also showed once the Wolves recovered the puck and began their transition back into the offensive zone. He’s terrific carrying the puck out of the D-zone, through the neutral zone, and into the O-zone. I’ve seen him do it with ease at the CHL level, but to see it look exactly the same at the AHL level gives me a strong belief that it’ll continue in the NHL.

I liked how he played along the walls, I loved his vision, his positioning, his movement in the offensive zone. Pretty much everything he did, I thought, yep, this guy is pretty darn good. But still, over the course of three games, there wasn’t enough shown in his ability to create offense. It’s the only thing I can knock him for, but at the same time, it’s the thing I value most in a high draft pick forward. Aside from the occasional chance created directly off an entry (which I do believe will continue in the NHL), there wasn’t a ton created beyond rebound chances. Again, I’m aware that my expectations are gigantic, and I’m asking a lot out of him having played a month in the AHL, but I still didn’t see enough of what I needed to in order to completely change my mind and say he’s going to be a superstar in the NHL.

Cody Glass is going to be an NHL player, and I’m probably going to be on the bandwagon calling for him to make the roster out of camp, but I’m still on the fence of whether I think he’s closer to a Cody Eakin or a William Karlsson. When all is said and done I’m confident he’ll fall somewhere in between these two, however, my opinion still shades more towards 21 than 71.

Nic Hauge (2nd Round, 34th overall in 2017, $791,667 AAV through 21-22)

I came into the weekend expecting to come out saying Hague is the surefire #1 defensive prospect in the Golden Knights system. That’s not what I ended up seeing. That’s not to say Hague was bad, because he certainly wasn’t, it’s just that the fears I had, which I’ve been told by multiple high-ranking people that I shouldn’t have, didn’t go away.

The biggest among those is whether or not his skating is good enough to keep up with the elite skaters at the NHL level. The place it showed up most was in gap control. When a player would enter the zone, sometimes not even moving that quickly, far too often Hague would be more than a stick length away from him (which is a long way with his long arms and stick). Then, once he did enter, it took too long to close down that space which often led to an easy pass or on multiple occasions a dangerous shot. It’s important to note that I watched him play against the same team, on the road, three times, so there could be a gameplan piece here that I’m missing (and when speaking to Rocky Thompson about Hague he didn’t seem to have any issues with the way he was defending). However, that style won’t work in the NHL and his recovery plan (reaching out with that long stick and poking pucks away) won’t work as often against Nathan MacKinnon as it did Corey Tropp or Sam Carrick.

I still love Hague in the offensive zone and on the power play though. His instincts at the blue line are tremendous and he’s going to be a threat to do some damage when he does eventually make it to the NHL. Really looking forward to watching him play in the preseason against NHL level forwards, but at this moment, he no longer ranks as the “most likely defenseman to make the NHL roster in the Golden Knight system” on my list.

Zack Whitecloud (Undrafted, Signed as free agent, $925,000 AAV through 2019-20)

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Give The 8th Defenseman A Look Before It’s Too Late

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Throughout the brief history, the Golden Knights have never shown a fear of mixing up the roster. Whether it’s shipping a guy back to Russia, the multiple trades involving Tobias Lindberg, utilizing waivers, dealing with contract situations, or something else, George McPhee’s roster always seems to have a storyline.

However, up until late January of the second season, there was a fairly hard and fast rule the GM liked to follow, and that was always rostering eight defensemen on the NHL squad. Since giving away trading Brad Hunt the Golden Knights have had just seven blueliners with all seven being in the rotation.

This is all fine and well if the team is healthy. Nick Holden, Jon Merrill, or Colin Miller are all terrific options and not many teams have a defenseman sitting in the press box on a nightly basis as good as any of those three. But, it’s the depth behind them that should be a bit of cause for concern.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As of right now, and this isn’t going to change, the Golden Knights eighth defenseman is either Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, or Nic Hague. Between the three of them, there’s a total of one game of NHL experience. That game belongs to Whitecloud, who played the most meaningless NHL game possible, the final game of the year when the Golden Knights literally had nothing to play for.

Last year, only two of the 16 playoff teams used more than seven defensemen during their postseason runs. Both of those two happened to be Golden Knights opponents though: the Kings and the Jets. Only the Lightning, Leafs, Blue Jackets, and Penguins used the same six throughout the whole postseason though.

It may be unlikely that the Golden Knights actually have to end up relying on an eighth guy, but with the situation Vegas is in now, they would be well served to prepare for this scenario.

By this I mean calling up one or two of these blueliners for the final five games of the season and giving them a little experience, even if it’s meaningless in the scope of the season.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The thought of Hague or Bischoff playing their very first NHL game in the Western Conference Final scares the bejeezus out of me, and it should McPhee too. Not many teams have five games to burn before the real games start. It would serve two makers to get at least one of the AHL guys in there.

First, it gets their feet wet in case DefCon Blueline does indeed pop up in the playoffs. A little experience goes a long way. Heck, even a bunch of practices with the NHL team wouldn’t hurt. Second, it would allow Gerard Gallant a chance to run through all seven NHL defensemen to give them a night or two off.

Rocky Thompson, McPhee, and Gallant know which one of the three they think they’d trust the most if the time does indeed come, but why not get a little more intel? Personally, it doesn’t matter which one it is to me, but let me be the first to raise the flag to say this should happen, like tomorrow.

Cryptic But Telling Quote From Gallant On Young Players Making The Roster

It still feels like Hague has a bit of ground to make up on Brannstrom, but there’s plenty of time to do it and the roster spot is open for someone to take. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With just under two weeks left before Opening Night, the Golden Knights still have three young defensemen still in camp competing for a spot on the roster.

Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague, and Jake Bischoff have distanced themselves from the pack and with Nate Schmidt suspended and Shea Theodore likely to miss the start of the season, it appears a roster spot or two is open for a rookie.

Brannstrom will play in his fourth consecutive preseason game paired with veteran Nick Holden tonight. Hague and Bishoff will each play in their third, paired with each other in all three.

Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant was asked in today’s press conference if he and the organization prefer to have a player playing in the AHL rather than a healthy scratch on the NHL roster. He essentially passed on that question saying it’s George McPhee’s decision but did offer something of note when pressed further.

It’s always been we’re taking our best players. It’s not like the situation we had last year, if that’s what your trying to get to, it’s not like that situation, we want to win it’s a completely different scenario than it was last year. -Gerard Gallant

Last year the Golden Knights were expected to be among the worst teams in the NHL, and they were managed that way as well. Rather than risk losing a player on waivers, they sent Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore to the AHL to start out the season. There was also the Vadim Shipachyov situation. It ended up resulting in Jason Garrison and Griffin Reinhart on the opening night roster.

This year, however, especially with Schmidt and Theodore missing, there’s a different feeling to how the initial roster will be constructed. At this point, it seems inevitable that at least one of Brannstrom, Hague or Bischoff will make the team.

The leader appears to be Brannstrom, but Hague has been electric on the power play, and Bischoff appears to be the most responsible of the bunch. There are still four preseason games and about a week of practices left for McPhee, Gallant, and company to make the call, but you can pretty much go to the bank with the idea that there will be a rookie defenseman on the roster come October 4th.

(Unless Shea Theodore signs and returns to camp between now and then.)

Golden Knights Defensemen Power Rankings

Brannstrom is on his way to forcing McPhee and Gallant into keeping him around. (Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

We are now over a week into training camp and have seen a pair of preseason games in which 32 different skaters have taken the ice for the Golden Knights. The impending suspension of Nate Schmidt and the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games with the contract negotiations has the blue line wide open heading into October 4th.

I like carrying eight defensemen and we’ve done it because some of the young guys weren’t really ready to be called up, so we wanted to carry eight. We’re carrying eight again next year. The good news is, we’ve got guys that can be called up this year. -George McPhee

Of course, there are still nearly three weeks of practice and six preseason games to sort it all out, but let’s take a look at how we think it shakes out as we speak.

This is a ranking of each defenseman in the Golden Knights system by the current level of play. This does not take into account things like suspension, holdout, waiver exempt status, contract, or likelihood to make the roster. These are my rankings, not necessarily how I believe the team would rank the players. (Nonetheless, admittedly, a lot of my beliefs come from decisions made by the front office and coaching staff on players.)

1) Nate Schmidt

Nate is in a class of his own on the Golden Knights blue line. He’s the only player currently even close to being considered a 1A defenseman, and even that can be debated either way. However, with the suspension, he’s unavailable for 20 games, so he won’t be an option for the Golden Knights come October 4th.

2) Brayden McNabb

Looking back on the contract, McNabb was an absolute steal for George McPhee. With Schmidt’s absence, McNabb will step into the role as the Golden Knights top defenseman. He’ll be relied upon to stop the opposing teams’ best players night in and night out for the first month and a half and will be the key penalty-killing defenseman as well. McNabb is much maligned at times, but the guy is a legit high-end shutdown defenseman and when paired with the right player, he and his partner can shine.

3) Colin Miller

Yes, Miller is rated above Theodore, and not because Theodore is not in camp, but because Miller is the more complete player at this moment. Give it a few years and Theodore will probably soar past him, but right now Miller has become acceptable (and probably even more than that) in his own end and he’s an absolute weapon in the offensive zone. He boasts the hardest shot on the team and he’s bound to have a mega offensive season playing a much more prominent role than a year ago.

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Offseason Outlook: Defensemen

Through the course of the playoffs, the surprise unit for the Golden Knights were the defensemen. They completely shut down the Kings, they stifled the Sharks, and they bent but didn’t break against the Jets. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, it kind of fell apart for the Vegas blueliners.

So, as we head into the offseason the burning question for George McPhee and the Golden Knights front office is whether or not they need to add to bolster their defense or of the missing piece is already on the roster.

Here’s a look at who the Golden Knights currently have under their control.

Nate looks like he’s become a star in the NHL. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Established and Signed
Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt

While this list contains 310 games played and three players who played all 20 playoff games, there are really only two fully reliable options as full-time starters moving into 2018-19. McNabb and Schmidt are expected to be stalwarts on the Golden Knights blue line this season and moving forward. They may not be paired together again next season, but they’ll certainly be in the top four.

Engelland is a bit of a mystery as he probably had the best season of his career at the age of 35. The question is can he continue playing at that consistent level as he heads into the final few seasons of his career.

Then there are Merrill and Hunt. Hunt is a player that’s bounced around the NHL and AHL and has never really gotten a full-time shot to prove himself. The reason for that is because he’s a bit of a liability defensively due to his size. He’ll have to play well in camp once again to make the roster, but even if he doesn’t, Hunt will be a good option in the event that a puck-moving defenseman becomes unavailable during the season. Merrill is a bit of a different story as he’s more of a defensive-minded player but has the ability to pinch in and help out offensively. The Golden Knights signed Merrill to an extension last season which indicates they believe in him, but it’s still not probable that he’s a 60+ game defenseman next season.

Established and under VGK control
Colin Miller, Shea Theodore

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When Will We See The Golden Knights Top Prospects In Vegas

After reading scouting reports, watching highlights and attending a day of development camp, it’s time to take a shot at the best case scenario for when each Golden Knights prospect may make it to the NHL.

We’re not going to fast track anyone. It never hurts a kid to play a an extra year or two in juniors. It’s better to overcook them than throw them in there raw. It’s like having a kid in 8th grade and suddenly throwing him into 11th grade. It’s too much, not only on the ice but socially for some of these kids. So we’ll be open minded, if someone’s ready, we’ll play him, but there’s a good chance all of these guys will be headed back to amateur this year. -George McPhee on 2017 Draft Picks

Alex Tuch (Acquired via Expansion Draft trade from Minnesota)

The plan is to begin the season on the Vegas Golden Knights roster. Tuch believes he’s prepared for Vegas.

I’m confident in my abilities to make the team next season. I’m concentrating on being in the lineup for that season opener. I’m going to come into training camp and really show them what I’ve got. I’m excited to get going. -Tuch

Tuch is still on an entry-level contract so the organization has the power to option him to Chicago. However, team officials seem eager to get Tuch in the mix. Probably, one of the reasons the 21-year-old is in town this week.

They gave me the option, I thought it’d be a really good idea to go over there and get a lay of the land a little bit. I also want to help some of those draft picks that will be coming in. I think I can be a leader. -Tuch

It’s going to be a numbers game come October, and because the Golden Knights have the option to send him to the AHL, that’s what may wind up happening out of necessity rather than desire or skill. But, if he’s not on this one, expect to see Tuch on opening day rosters for years to come.

Reid Duke (Signed as free agent on March 6th)

Most entry-level free agents don’t have the same expectations high-round prospects do. Duke is different though. As we’ve mentioned before this team signed the former Wheat King for a reason. He was clearly one of the leaders on and off the ice at Development Camp and is spectacular with the media. Duke has done an excellent job handling the pressure of being the franchise’s first player. His letter to NHL prospects on NHL.com showed the confidence and intelligence scouts raved about. Making the Golden Knights this season would be major surprise. Duke will need a year or two to develop in the AHL but the organization will give him every opportunity to succeed. He’s a clear fan favorite, but he also seems to be an organizational favorite, and a guy they would like to see make it to the NHL in Vegas, if nothing more than to prove they were right for making him the historic first Golden Knight.

Cody Glass (Selected 6th overall in 2017 Draft)

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