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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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McPhee Walks Back Support Of Schmidt In Clearing Team’s Involvement With Illegal Substance

For the first time since the 20 game suspension of Nate Schmidt was handed down by the league, GM George McPhee met with the media to answer questions. He opened with a quick statement explaining that he is unable to talk about the specifics of the situation but, admittedly against his better judgment (“I probably shouldn’t even talk about this”), did to go into a bit of detail about how the Golden Knights handle supplements with their players.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Prior to this press conference, based solely on the statement the team released following the NHL’s announcement, the Golden Knights seemed to be strongly backing Schmidt, however, McPhee’s statements today did a lot to separate that support from any accusations of wrongdoing by the team in this situation.

The organization isn’t responsible for (pause)… It didn’t come from us. Everything we have, any supplements, any vitamins are all NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) approved, we know where our food comes from. So there are no issues with respect to the club. So now you are going to say the onus is on him but I can tell you in this process a lot of you can go for a protein shake at a health food store around here and test positive tomorrow. -McPhee

This is a pretty stark contrast to Schmidt’s statement six days ago.

The fact that I’m issuing this statement is surreal to me as I have only used supplements provided by my NHL team and I have always been extremely careful about what I put into my body. -Nate Schmidt

McPhee was pressed further on the discrepancy.

With what we supply in terms of food and supplements and vitamins and in terms of the way we test our players, and I’m certainly not going to give away all the ammunition of how we do things for other clubs, but we do a lot of testing and we do defensible documentation and we are in a good place with that. -McPhee

McPhee also offered a comment about what he told other players on the team, furthering his stance that the substance which caused Schmidt to test positive did not come from the Golden Knights.

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Schmidt’s Suspension Huge Here; Elsewhere? Not So Much

Have a feeling this picture is going to see some major use until November 18th. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It was supposed to be an easy assignment. Go through the newswire, finding out what other NHL cities were saying about Nate Schmidt’s 20 game suspension. It’s big news to Golden Knights fans, and the expectation was there would be hot takes coming from everywhere else as well? After all, it’s the first PED suspension since 2016, and it’s a case that pushes the league’s banned substance policy to the edge.

Three and a half hours of searching harder than 11-year-old me searched for plastic eggs with nickels in them on Easter, I only found four outlets discussing Schmidt’s suspension or the league’s substance policy.

What stood out to me was Nate Schmidt said he only used supplements supplied by the team. The majority of the players do take some sort of supplement. Their diets are so sophisticated and the training is so sophisticated. – TSN’s Dave Poulin

The former NHL center was stunned to find out the tainted supplements Schmidt took came from the team. Suggesting any blame shouldn’t be placed on the player.

I see him (Schmidt) as somebody with a great deal of character. And as somebody that’ll bounce back from that. -Eric Duhatschek, The Athletic

While I could keep going, I simply can’t bury the lead any further. The real story is the lack of coverage. Schmidt’s suspension is a troubling issue for the Golden Knights and the NHL. The team and the player adamantly denied any knowledge of performance-enhancing supplements but the league maintained its zero policy stance. No matter how little the trace was, it seems to me, there is real disconnect with the league.

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Where Does The Blue Line Stand Now With Schmidt Out Of The Picture?

It’s the obvious question to ask following the stunning news of Nate Schmidt’s 20 game suspension, what now? It gets even worse when you consider the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games, but for the purpose of this article (and because this isn’t the time of year for doom and gloom), we’re going to assume Theodore is on the ice on October 4th.

According to offseason quotes by George McPhee, the Golden Knights are expected to keep eight defensemen on the roster out of training camp. With Schmidt out, the roster has a total of 15 available players to fill those eight spots. Five names can probably be safely cast aside as longshots to make the roster (Zac Leslie, Dylan Coghlan, Jimmy Oligny, Jake Bischoff, and Nic Hague) leaving 10 players to fill the eight places.

Don’t be surprised if Gallant leans heavily on Engelland with Schmidt out. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It really comes down to Brad Hunt, Jon Merrill, Griffin Reinhart, Zach Whitecloud, and Erik Brannstrom fighting for three spots and one starting role. The odds on favorites are Hunt and Merrill with them splitting time as the six starter spot to go along with Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, and Nick Holden.

Engelland and Miller are the only two right-handed defensemen of the group of five highly likely to crack the starting lineup, but Holden has played most of his career on the right side. Thus, in theory, there are the beginnings of each of the three pairs.

That leaves Theodore, McNabb, and Hunt/Merrill as each’s partner. Last year Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant used both Theodore and McNabb with Engelland quite a bit. Assuming he returns to those familiar pairings, we’re left with four potential sets of pairings.

Option A
McNabb-Engelland
Theodore-Holden
Merrill/Hunt-Miller

Option B
McNabb-Engelland
Theodore-Miller
Merrill/Hunt-Holden

Option C
Theodore-Engelland
McNabb-Miller
Merrill/Hunt-Holden

Option D
Theodore-Engelland
McNabb-Holden
Merrill/Hunt-Miller

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Statistical Look At The Impact Of Losing Nate Schmidt For 20 Games

Jon Merrill isn’t Nate Schmidt, but as a replacement, he’ll be just fine. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The famous saying in sports when a team experiences something like a long-term injury or a suspension is “next man up.” Just wait, that term is going to be thrown around City National Arena more than “chip on our shoulder” was last year.

Sometimes the “next man” turns out to be a superstar like Lou Gehrig or Kurt Warner, other times it doesn’t work out so well. Most of the time though it falls somewhere in between, where the replacement isn’t as good as the missing player, but not a complete disaster. That’s where we expect the Golden Knights to land with the loss of Schmidt.

First of all, hockey is unlike many other sports where the loss of a player results in a direct replacement. Aside from goalies, a loss of a skater in hockey means a shift in the depth chart. In this case, the replacement of Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt, Griffin Reinhart, Zach Whitecloud, or Erik Brannstrom will not be expected to step in and have the same role and responsibilities as Schmidt. Instead, more than likely Deryk Engelland or Nick Holden will find themselves filling those shoes. So rather than replacing Schmidt with Merrill, it’s like replacing Schmidt with Engelland AND Engelland with McNabb AND McNabb with Theodore AND Theodore with Holden AND Holden with Miller AND Miller with Merrill.

Nonetheless, someone does have to step into the lineup that otherwise would have been in the press box watching the game.

To give a statistical look at what the Golden Knights look like without Schmidt, we start with the expected values Schmidt would have brought to the team both offensively and defensively based on last season’s stats.

Schmidt averaged 22:14 while scoring five goals and tallying 31 assists in 76 total games. He had 57 giveaways and 57 takeaways and registered 103 shots. His point shares were 2.2 offensively, 4.8 defensively, totaling 7.0.

He played 76 games, so we first multiply all the numbers (except TOI) by 1.079 to calculate them to an 82 game total. Then, we’ve divide by 4.1 (or divide by 82 then multiply by 20) to calculate his stats over the course of the 20 games he’ll miss. Here’s what we get.

 Per GameOver 20 Games
Goals0.061.3
Assists0.48.2
Shots1.427.1
Takeaways0.815.0
Giveaways0.815.0
OPS>0.020.6
DPS0.061.3
Point Shares0.091.8

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Nate Schmidt Suspended For 20 Games For Violating Performance Enhancing Substance

Yikes. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The NHL announced this morning that Golden Knights top defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended for the first 20 games of the regular season for violating the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Per NHL rules, Schmidt will also be forced to miss all eight of the Golden Knights preseason games. He is however permitted to participate in training camp activities with the team.

The Golden Knights wasted no time strongly condemning the league for a suspension they believe is unwarranted. This statement was released just one minute after the league announced the suspension.

We were notified that the NHL has suspended Nate Schmidt for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. While we respect the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and are committed to its success, we strongly disagree with the suspension. We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional. Based on our conversations with Nate, analysis from independent medical experts and sworn testimony from the parties involved, we believe it is clear Nate was not able to reasonably ascertain how the substance entered his body. Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time. -Golden Knights Official Statement

Schmidt released a statement of his own as well via the NHLPA website. In it, he explains that he has already appealed the suspension.

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Zero Golden Knights Among NHL 19 Top 50 Players

Following a season in which the Golden Knights had 12 players hit career highs in points, 10 set career highs in goals, and as a team made a run to the Stanley Cup Final you would think individuals from one of the best story in sports would start getting some recognition.

No respect at all I tell ya. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The geniuses at EA Sports don’t agree. They released their top 50 ranked players for the upcoming NHL 19 game, and there’s not a single Golden Knight to be found.

No William Karlsson, who finished 10th in MVP voting. No Jonathan Marchessault, who scored eight goals and tallied more than a point per game in the postseason. No Nate Schmidt, who was the key cog in helping the Golden Knights stifle the Kings, Sharks, and Jets in succession. And worst of all, no Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, that put together the best season of his career and carried an expansion team to the Final.

Instead, players like Jakub Voracek, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews, and Frederik Andersen made the list.

In fact, 10 goalies ranked higher than Marc-Andre Fleury. Ten!

The game drops on September 14th, when we’ll learn the ratings of all Vegas players, but until then, we leave you with the one Golden Knight who did have his NHL 19 rating revealed.

You’re not alone Nick, the disrespect for the Western Conference Champions is real.

Blueline Needs To Chip In To Replace Departed Offense

Theodore scored the first playoff goal in team history. Might need a lot more of that in Year 2. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When you think of scoring and the Golden Knights, rarely do names like Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, or even Shea Theodore come to mind. Aside from the occasional Colin Miller blast, the Golden Knights weren’t exactly known for offensive from the blueline. Last season, Golden Knights defensemen scored 37 goals. Good enough for 18th most in the NHL.

Nashville: 56 Goals
Columbus: 51 Goals
Arizona: 50 Goals
Philadelphia: 50 Goals
Tampa Bay: 48 Goals
Florida: 44 Goals
Anaheim: 42 Goals
Minnesota: 42 Goals
St. Louis: 42 Goals
Colorado: 41 Goals
*18. Vegas: 37 Goals

Thankfully, the Golden Knights never needed to rely on blueline scoring. However, more output would help the team return to the playoffs. Colin Miller led all Vegas blueliners with 10 goals and 41 points. He was handsomely rewarded with a new $15M contract extension.

As it stands right now, Vegas defensemen are projected to score around 40 goals in 2018-19. Not far off from last season’s totals.

2017-18 VGK Defensive Scoring
Colin Miller: 10G, 31A
Nate Schmidt: 5G, 31A
Shea Theodore: 6G, 23A
Deryk Engelland: 5G, 18A
Brad Hunt: 3G, 15A
Brayden McNabb: 5G, 10A
Luca Sbisa: 2G, 12A
Jon Merrill: 1G, 2A
Totals: 37 Goals, 142 Assists, 179 Points

When you subtract Luca Sbisa’s contribution and add Nick Holden’s offense, it’s a virtual wash.

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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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The One Where Nate Schmidt Is Still On The Caps

Sorry Washington, the pick is Schmidt, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nate Schmidt has quietly, unless you are anywhere within earshot of him physically, become one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL. He is relied upon each and every night to shut down the opposition’s top line and throughout the postseason he has two goals, four assists, a +7 rating and has taken just one penalty.

He’s a player any team would love to have. At this time last year, the Washington Capitals had him, and if they had it their way, they would have never lost him in the Expansion Draft.

We made our selection, and then (Capitals GM Brian MacLellan) called and asked if there’s any way we could do a deal for him to get Schmidt back, and I said, I don’t see anything, but we’ll try to come up with something to give you a chance to say no. So we made a proposal that I didn’t think would work, and it didn’t work because our guys like Schmidt. So we overreached on the ask, and that’s the way it went. -George McPhee

Yeah, in a couple discussions, I don’t think they fully disclosed who they were going to take, and they brought up a couple names that they were thinking about. And as we progressed, at some point they said we’re going to go with Schmidt. So I tried to get deals done to protect Schmidt, and it just didn’t make sense for what they were asking. So consequently, we had to let him go. -Brian MacLellan

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