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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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Golden Knights And Jimmy Schuldt Headed For Sticky Situation

In his journey home following the fall of Troy, the Greek mythological hero Odysseus was faced with an impossible choice at the Strait of Messina. On one side of the tight channel of water between Sicily and the Italian mainland was Scylla, a six-headed monster known for snatching up sailors directly from the hulls of their ship. On the other side was Charybdis, a whirlpool that sucks in and drowns ships of all sizes. Odysseus knew the only way home was to go through, so he had to pick a way. After much consideration, he selected to sail closer to Scylla’s side, and while the ship made it through, the monster gobbled up six members of Odysseus’ crew. No matter which way he picked, it was going to be bad.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are headed towards their own Strait of Messina with the contract situation of Jimmy Schuldt. The 24-year-old Hobey Baker finalist selected Vegas, among a reported 30 offers, and signed his NHL regulated entry-level contract. He joined the team for a month, played in one game, and then had to watch from the press box as he was ineligible to participate in either the NHL or AHL playoffs. His contract expired following the season now just two days away from the start of Rookie Camp (three from on-ice), Schuldt remains without a second contract.

As Schuldt’s “ship” sails towards City National Arena, there’s Scylla, signing a contract too early and giving up money, on one side and Charybdis, holding out and missing the start of camp, on the other.

Schuldt is in the worst spot a player can be in negotiation-wise under the current CBA. He’s a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, meaning he can only negotiate with the Golden Knights (he’s not even eligible for an offer sheet) and he doesn’t have the ability to allow a 3rd party arbitrator to decide on a contract like other RFAs with more NHL service time. Thus, his only true leverage in negotiation is withholding his services. In other words, holding out of training camp.

That being said, missing camp for Schuldt is not like missing camp for Shea Theodore or William Nylander last year, or Mitch Marner this year. Schuldt hasn’t yet proven himself on the NHL level, and with a roster spot wide open, he needs to be in rookie games, preseason games, and in training camp to win the job.

By NHL rule, Schuldt cannot participate in any official team activities without signing a contract. So even if he wanted to come and prove himself before he signs the deal, the CBA forbids it.

Then there are the Golden Knights, who spent the entire offseason selling off pieces in order to become cap compliant. What they are left with is a roster still fully capable of winning the Stanley Cup, but in need of significant contribution from at least one rookie blueliner. Schuldt currently represents the best option to be that contributor. Scylla, signing Schuldt to an overpaid deal when he has no leverage, is on one side, and Charybdis, watching their best defensive prospect miss camp over less than 1% of the salary cap is on the other.

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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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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.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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?

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.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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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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Gusev And Schuldt’s Contracts Have Officially Expired, Time For New Ones

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With the calendar turning over from May to June it means the Golden Knights can officially begin negotiations with Nikita Gusev and Jimmy Schuldt who signed entry-level contracts late in the 2018-19 season.

This contract will expire June 1 and then we get working on the second deal. You can’t work on that deal now, it’s a circumvention of the salary cap. So to get him in here it burns the entry-level part of his contract so he can get into a different level of contract in the summer. -McPhee speaking about Gusev on 4/14/19

Gusev and Schuldt are both restricted free agents. Gusev has arbitration rights while Schuldt does not.

The first step in the process for restricted free agents is for the team to extend a qualifying offer. By doing this, they retain control on the player. The player then can either sign that offer or the two sides can negotiate a different deal.

Both Gusev and Schuldt received the largest entry-level salary possible which means they will each be extended equal qualifying offers. According to CapFriendly.com, that offer will be a two-way contract with an NHL salary of $874,125.

It’s unlikely either player signs the qualifying offer. Gusev can, and probably will, file for arbitration. Not because he and his agent expect to go to arbitration, but because it will set a deadline on their negotiation (sometime between the last two weeks of July and the first week of August).

Schuldt will likely take the Shea Theodore path of not signing the qualifying offer and negotiating a longer-term deal. However, due to a relative lack of bargaining power, Schuldt’s shouldn’t last into training camp like Theodore’s did a year ago.

Where might both of those contracts land? Well, let’s go to the history books.

Schuldt’s deal is much easier to look at because we have a few recent situations similar to his.

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Nate Schmidt Earns An Assist On The Jimmy Schuldt Signing

Newly signed Golden Knight, Jimmy Schuldt, played his college hockey in St. Cloud, Minnesota as the three-year captain of the St. Cloud State University Huskies. St. Cloud is a small town in the center of the “State of Hockey” with a population of around 70,000. There are only three NHL players to ever claim St. Cloud as their hometown, Kurt Sauer, Mike Sauer, and Nate Schmidt.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

So, it’s no coincidence that when it came time for Jimmy Schult to make his decision on where to sign following his college career, he looked to Schmidt for advice.

But being from, or playing in, St. Cloud is not the only connection Schmidt and Schudlt had. Schmidt was familiar with the position Schuldt was in as a college free agent with multiple suitors, as Schmidt went through it himself in 2013.

That was the biggest part of the process was having someone who had been through it already. It was tough for me and I didn’t have nearly as many teams as he did. I had more than a handful, but not 30, 25 or whatever the heck number he had. -Nate Schmidt

Schuldt’s agent, Tom Lynn, said it started with 29 of the 31 teams showing interest before he and Jimmy narrowed the list to 20, then 12, then five and eventually picking Vegas. All the while, Schuldt was leaning on Schmidt to help him make the decision.

I just try to be as subjective as possible and just let him know what it’s like to play here, what it’s like in our room. I never told him what he should or shouldn’t do, I just tried to lay it out to him the way I went through it. To help him understand it’s more than just this year, it’s more important than just getting a game. It’s more important the future with the organization, wherever it is that he would go. -Schmidt

Because of the way the CBA is worded, Schuldt’s first contract was going to be the same monetarily from any team he signed with. So, it came down to other factors regarding the organization, teammates, and the city Schuldt would eventually choose. Schmidt says he ranked the four things Schuldt should be looking for in this order: Fit, the character of the room, winning, the livability of the city

However, Schuldt consistently went back to a much different factor, one that would be a huge determinant of his future.

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GOLDEN KNIGHTS SIGN JIMMY SCHULDT (D)

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The Golden Knights have signed 23-year-old defenseman Jimmy Schuldt to a one-year entry-level contract.

Schuldt was the captain of the #1 ranked team in the NCAA and is a finalist for the Hobey Baker award given to the best college player.

He attended Development Camp in Las Vegas last summer. It was the fourth different Development Camp he had attended since enrolling at St. Cloud State University, the others were Montreal, Chicago, and New York (Islanders).

Schuldt is 6’1,” 205 pounds. He’s a very good skater and is terrific with the puck. He scored 10 goals each of the past two seasons at St. Cloud State and tallied 38 and 35 points the previous two seasons. He has a strong shot and is responsible in his own end, but what I remember most from Schuldt while he was at Camp in Vegas was his decision-making.

Due to the CBA, Schuldt’s contract is a one-year entry-level deal that will expire on June 30th, 2019. He is ineligible to play for the Golden Knights in the postseason, so we won’t be seeing much of Schuldt any time soon. Once his contract expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent (RFA) and remain under Vegas’ control. He can then sign a longer-term deal, which has likely already been discussed.

I think for me just the right fit, the right organization, the right culture. If the culture is the same throughout the players and there’s a lot of character that goes into it, those are the teams that have success. -Schuldt on 6/27/18

 

NCAA Free Agents VGK Might Have Interest In

Schuldt has been to multiple NHL development camps, but he was most recently in Vegas. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the past two years (2017, 2018), we’ve taken a stab at possible NCAA free agents that might be on the Golden Knights radar. To pat myself on the back, I predicted last year Vegas would have interest in Zach Whitecloud. Whitecloud signed a contract with Vegas the next day. How’s that for puck luck?

Since some college programs are finishing up their seasons let’s try and predict right again in 2019.

Jimmy Schuldt
Defenseman (6’1″, 205)
St. Cloud State

You’ve probably heard us hyping Jimmy Schuldt for some time. Well, he lived up to his senior season earning a candidacy for the Hobey Baker and is leading the #1 ranked team in the country to the NCAA tournament. The 23-year-old left-handed defenseman was a participant at Golden Knights camp last summer so we already know Vegas is interested. The St. Cloud Huskies are expected to make a deep run, so we’ll have to wait and see if McPhee pursues the highly-scouted free agent again.

Josh Wilkins
Forward (5’11”, 181)
Providence College

The 21-year-old is currently playing his junior season for the #8th ranked team in the country. Some overlooked the 5’11” winger due to injuries after being a highly-touted teenager. Last summer, Wilkins was injured and was forced to turn down multiple NHL camp invites, including one from the Golden Knights. Maybe, Vegas will circle around again after his strong campaign in Providence. Another factor to keep in mind is Wilkin is a teammate with Vegas prospect Jack Dugan. Both are having successful seasons and are the most productive players on the team.

Wilkins: 34 Games, 36 Points (14G, 22A)
Dugan: 34 Games, 32 Points (10G, 22A)

Maybe McPhee will take a look at their strong chemistry and develop both Friars together.

Nico Sturm
Forward (6’3″, 207)
Clarkson University

The 23-year-old German is finishing off a fantastic career at Clarkson. He’s considered the best defensive forwards in the NCAA and has that high hockey IQ all organizations are after. Sturm’s mature enough to fit in on the Chicago Wolves lineup right now. Most important, the center would feel right at home with Vegas’ because Clarkson’s mascot is also the Golden Knights. So, Sturm comes prepared with armor.

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