With the trade deadline fast approaching, the buzz around the Golden Knights is almost squarely focused on the third line. It’s a line with only one stable piece, the center, Cody Eakin, and filled with imperfect wingers such as Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter, and Oscar Lindberg.
Most, including all three who write on this website, believe for the Golden Knights to reach the top of the mountain, something needs to change with that line. Whether it’s an addition from within, a piece added at the deadline, or reinforcements from the current top six, here at SinBin.vegas, we see the third line as the primary weakness for the Golden Knights.
The head coach, who happens to be the reigning Jack Adams award winner, does not agree.
I want them to keep doing what they are doing. People make a big deal of it that supposedly they don’t score enough. I don’t. We’ve got guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. Those guys have to come out and play their roles. I love a lot about our hockey team, I’m not too concerned at all. -Gerard Gallant
Dude hasn’t played enough for Brandon to get a picture. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
In somewhat of a surprising move, Gerard Gallant moved Valentin Zykov up to the first line to play with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Zykov has been waived as many times as he’d played in a Golden Knights uniform, yet there he was playing on a line that was considered one of the best in the NHL a year ago and the decision wasn’t forced by injury.
In the game against Florida, he was on the ice for a career-high 17:32, recorded three shots, created multiple scoring chances, and registered three hits. He was also a -1, had three giveaways, and posted a 50% Corsi For. The Golden Knights did not score with Zykov on the ice.
Yet, here we are, heading into a Tuesday night game against the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, mired in a four-game losing streak, and Gallant has once again put Zykov back on the line with Karlsson and Marchessault.
Having watched the game live I remember thinking Zykov had a few good chances, helped create a few others, but overall was far from memorable in the game. But when I saw him back on that line in practice and I figured I must have missed something. He must have done well enough to keep the spot. So, I went back and watched all 16 shifts Zykov took and not only do I agree with Gallant, but I thought he was the best player on the line… by far.
Of the 16 shifts, I counted 12 that I would consider him having a positive impact, with four of those 12 being majorly positive. Karlsson’s positive shift number was eight, Marchessault’s was five in the same 16 shifts.
What really jumped off the page for me while watching was his ability to get the puck off the wall and onto a teammates stick quickly. Here are a few examples…
Both of those instantly opened up the ice for William Karlsson. Nothing came of either, but these type of quick accurate plays are what the Golden Knights do when they are at their best.
It wasn’t just off the walls either. Here’s a terrific pass through the neutral zone to spring a break and eventually lead to two of his three shots.
Almost every shift he made a pass that advanced the puck quickly. Unfortunately, most of the time Karlsson and Marchessault were unable to do much with it. Here are a couple more examples of that.
The Golden Knights moved up one round in the 2019 Draft essentially giving away Brad Hunt for next to nothing. The move has much more impact on the roster than next to nothing though.
First, the trade opens a roster space for the time being. With Reilly Smith and William Carrier on IR and the Golden Knights roster at the limit of 23, the move of Hunt brings that number down to 22. Thus, when either Smith (maybe as soon as Wednesday) or Carrier are ready to return, no other corresponding move will be necessary. When the other one is ready to return, another move will be needed.
Second, this trade appears to further cement Valentin Zykov on the Golden Knights roster. Zykov has played in just one game and it was in an “emergency” situation as the Golden Knights literally did not have any other forwards available. Zykov was picked up for a reason and odds are the Golden Knights are probably not going to give up on him having seen just one game and a handful of practices.
After Wednesday’s game, which Zykov will probably not play in, the Golden Knights are off for almost two weeks. Smith is almost assuredly going to be ready on February 1st and Carrier who has been out with an illness will likely be back as well. Therefore, the final roster decision will likely be made before Zykov plays again.
Gallant said there was “no pressure” to use Zykov before the bye week and went on to say, “he’ll get his chance eventually.” There’s quite a bit of reading between the lines going on, but it would certainly be a bit of a surprise to me if Zykov is the one to go when the bye ends.
Finally, the Golden Knights now only have seven defensemen on the roster. Historically, meaning through more than 130 regular season games, they prefer to carry eight. So, the obvious first thought (at least to anyone who reads this website) would be Erik Brannstrom. It’s certainly possible down the road, but with the roster clutter remaining as is, it’s highly improbable he gets the call in the next few weeks. If there’s an injury, things could change though and there’s no question moving Hunt increases Brannstrom’s odds of seeing NHL ice this season.
That being said, McPhee probably will eventually bring up another defenseman to fill that hole, even if it’s after the roster expands on February 25th. It might be Brannstrom, at least for nine games, or it might be Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague, or Zach Whitecloud. Or, there could be another trade in the works before the deadline. However, something will change on the blueline, even if it’s nothing major.
So all in all, while it may seem like a fairly insignificant move, eventually something had to happen and McPhee at least turned it into something. Clearly, as the Wild were willing to make a trade to get him, Hunt would not have cleared waivers. From a hockey perspective, it’s always better to get something to move on from Hunt even if the return was peanuts.
As for Hunt, this is a good situation for him as he should step right into the Wild lineup, at least while Matt Dumba is injured. He will be missed in Vegas much more for his personality than his hockey (and that’s not to say he’s bad at hockey). Brad was always the nicest, most positive, person in the locker room and in the community. Last year Steve Carp wrote a terrific article illustrating this point wonderfully.
Youth is a problem for VGK, hopefully Valentin Zykov can help fix that. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The average age of the Golden Knights current active roster is 28. If you weight it by time on ice that number jumps to 29, the 3rd highest in the league, tied with San Jose and Los Angeles.
The team has eight players that are at least 30 and another nine that are 27 or 28. There are only three guys under the age of 24 that have seen the ice for the Golden Knights in 2018-19 with Alex Tuch being the youngest at 22.
That distribution is a massive reason why Valentin Zykov was not only claimed by the Golden Knights, but also why other arrangements (Brandon Pirri to AHL) were made to allow him to stick around.
Age-wise he fits into a group where we don’t have a lot of players. Our only young players on our team are Theodore and Tuch. So it’s good business by us to give this a chance and take the opportunity to evaluate him. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM on VGK Twitter
Since then, things have only gotten worse as the Pacioretty for Tatar and Suzuki trade made the Golden Knights older, Pirri has been the only call-up to have an impact (he turns 28 in April), and young guys like Reid Duke, Tomas Hyka, Jake Bischoff, Zach Whitecloud, Dylan Coghlan, and others haven’t had an impact.
# of Players
Played in NHL in 18-19
*Table includes all players in VGK system. Included: Nikita Gusev. Not Included: Vadim Shipachyov, Philip Holm, Teemu Pulkkinen, David Clarkson
The emergence of scoring wizard Brandon Pirri, coupled with injuries to Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty, and the waiver claim of Valentin Zykov has left the Golden Knights in a roster pickle, with 25 players and only 23 available spots.
There are a few questions on just about every Golden Knights fan’s mind and we’ll attempt to answer every single one in this article. Read on.
As of this moment, the Golden Knights roster stands at 23 with Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty on IR.
Pacioretty skated with the team in practice yesterday, is expected to do so again, and will likely play either tomorrow or Sunday. Miller skated before practice yesterday, will likely do so again today, and shouldn’t be much more than a week or so away from making his return to the Golden Knights lineup.
Valentin Zykov was claimed on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Per NHL rules, if the Golden Knights want to keep Zykov, he must remain on the NHL roster for the remainder of the season.
Brandon Pirri has scored six goals in seven games with the Golden Knights and has played on the 2nd line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny in all seven games. Per NHL rules, Pirri is allowed to be sent back to the AHL without clearing waivers if he does not play in 10 games OR is on the active roster for fewer than 30 days. Thus, if he plays three more games or is on the roster for another 15 days, he would have to once again clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL.
Through 43 games, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards on the roster to have been scratched by Gerard Gallant without being on IR. Reaves, Pacioretty, and Bellemare were each scratched once and they all are believed to be injury or family/medical related. Carpenter has been scratched three times, Nosek has been scratched four times, and Lindberg has been scratched 23 times. However, in the past six games that Gallant has had to choose two of those three, he has scratched each one of them two times. The most recent player to be scratched was Nosek.
Reading Into It
I was specifically warned against doing this, but what’s the point of the Internet if not to do things people tell you not to and make them angry (Sorry, I’m not sorry Turk).
Let’s start with Zykov as he’s the biggest unknown of all of this. The Golden Knights could instantly clear one spot on their roster by immediately putting Zykov back on waivers. That would allow either Pacioretty or Miller to come off IR and the roster remain at 23.
However, Gallant made a comment in a recent press conference that he started watching film on Zykov “the first time he went on waivers” which indicates that Vegas may have wanted him originally. They did not have priority so he went to Edmonton, then when he hit waivers again, Vegas claimed him and got him. Thus, it makes sense that this is not a short-term rental that won’t be given a chance, but instead that McPhee/Gallant see something they like and they want to give him a shot.
He’s expected to finally make it into the country today after having some immigration issues. He’ll probably practice a few times with the team before getting in a game, but if he remains on the roster when Pacioretty comes back, it should be expected that he gets at least some game action with the Golden Knights.
So, let’s say we expect him to stay, at least for a little while. When Pacioretty comes off IR someone is going to have to be taken off the roster to comply to the 23 man limit.
The easiest option would be for another injured player to be placed on IR. At the moment, the Golden Knights do not have any other players we believe to be injured. In January of last season, when VGK was in a similar bind, Jon Merrill was placed on IR with what was described as an “undisclosed injury,” to make room for Luca Sbisa who came off IR. Clearly, it is against the rules to declare a player that is not injured, injured, however, don’t be completely stunned if there’s a surprise injury that we were unaware of that leads to an IR stint which opens a roster spot for Pacioretty.
If that were not to happen, then McPhee would have to choose one player to be sent back to Chicago. The most likely options are the three forwards previously mentioned (Carpenter, Lindberg, or Nosek), one of the commonly scratched defensemen (Merrill or Hunt) or Brandon Pirri. Before we move on, let’s address Pirri.
Can you really send Pirri back to the AHL?
The short answer is yes, they absolutely can, and the reason is not that he’s not good enough to be on this team. The main reason is that if he doesn’t hit that 10th game, he’s the only guy on the roster (aside from Tuch and we know that’s not happening) that can go to the AHL without risk of being lost on waivers.