I’ve been informed that I am being suspended for 20 games under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. While I haven’t been able to discover how I tested positive, I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and will accept this penalty. I want to apologize to my family, my teammates, and the Golden Knights organization and fans. I will work hard during my suspension to ensure that I put myself in the best possible position to contribute to my team when my suspension is over. -Valentin Zykov, via statement from NHLPA
The Golden Knights have been fortunate thus far this season in regards to injuries. At any given time they’ve never been without more than two forwards, missing only Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin at various times.
Of course, health is important for any team, but it’s especially crucial for the Golden Knights due to their lack of depth in the minor leagues.
Thus far, just three forwards have made both NHL and AHL appearances in the Vegas system. Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, and Nic Roy have only six points despite racking up 25 combined games. Between the entire trio, they’ve yet to find the back of the net in the NHL.
Meanwhile, at the AHL level, those same three forwards have tallied six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in just 22 total games. And, aside from 20-year-old Lucas Elvenes, Pirri and Zykov rank as the top scorers on the Chicago Wolves, and Roy comes in 6th. They are the best the system has, and we’ve already seen what they can (or can’t) do at the NHL level.
Luckily, it’s yet to bite Vegas as they haven’t been forced to dip into that depth. Of course, the addition of Chandler Stephenson pushes everyone down one rung on the ladder, but it’s still a serious issue.
Brandon Pirri had a hot run with the Golden Knights last season and certainly stands as a the best fill-in option, but beyond him, there’s not much there Vegas can rely on.
Elvenes is playing in his first professional season in North America, and is thriving, but he’s likely not cut out for the NHL grind yet. Zykov is playing with Chicago now, but the chances he ever returns to Vegas remain slim after his PED suspension. Then there are Gage Quinney, Curtis McKenzie, Tye McGinn, and Nic Roy. Roy was the clear front-runner of the group, and in his seven-game stint with the Golden Knights, offense wasn’t a word that came to mind.
35% into the season, it hasn’t mattered. Hopefully, it doesn’t in the remaining 65% either.
The Golden Knights 3rd line this season has been an absolute disaster.
And that’s putting it politely.
Six games with Pirri-Eakin-Glass. Four games with Pirri-Stastny-Zykov. Three games with Zykov-Eakin-Glass. Three games with Nosek-Eakin-Glass. One game with Pirri-Eakin-Stone.
That’s 17 games, and those 3rd lines amassed a total of one goal. A single goal scored by Cody Glass against the Calgary Flames, which if this were soccer, would have been an own goal credited to Mark Giordano.
*Glass played four games on the 2nd line. He scored one goal and had two assists in those games **All three of Nosek’s goals were scored shorthanded or with the 4th line
But they aren’t supposed to be an offensive line. Right? That’s the bill of goods that’s been sold since the Golden Knights installed Eakin as the 3rd line center midway through the 2017-18 season.
Well, they aren’t good defensively either.
Eakin ranks as one of the 15 worst forwards with at least 100 minutes played this season with a 41.3% Corsi. He’s the 21st worst skater in the NHL at shot percentage at 40.8%, and he ranks in at least the 200th worst of 292 NHL forwards in goals against per 60, expected goals against per 60, and scoring chances against per 60. He’s been less than stellar in the faceoff circle winning at just a 46.4% clip, the worst of any Golden Knight with at least 100 draws. He has a -7 +/- rating, the worst of any Golden Knight. He’s one of four VGK skaters with a 0.0 defensive point shares number (the other three are Tuch, Roy and Bischoff who have played a combined 10 games). And, he’s registered just three takeaways, the least of any player with at least eight games played.
Pirri is right there with Eakin in all of the advanced stat numbers with a Corsi of 42.2%, shot percentage of 36.4%, and an expected goals for percentage of 41.8%. He’s been on the ice for just two goals while allowing five, and that’s including his 28:16 of power play time. He’s a -3, and has a -0.2 point share number which means if you simply subtracted Pirri and Eakin from the roster completely stats say they’d be almost half a point better in the standings.
**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
By nature, I’m no conspiracy theorist.
I don’t believe in aliens. I think Oswald acted alone when he assassinated JFK. I’m pretty sure Elvis is dead, though when I see Nick Ferraro perform as the “Philly Elvis,” sometimes a shadow of doubt creeps into my mind (only kidding).
But I have to admit, what I’m seeing with Russian-born players and the Golden Knights has me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell is going on?
In the brief three-year history of the franchise, there have been three Russian players who were with the Golden Knights — Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev and Valentin Zykov. Their contributions have amounted to virtually nil. Two of the three have not had pleasant endings and Zykov could also find himself exiting with a less-than-favorable sendoff once his 20-game suspension ends.
First, let’s be clear about all of this. I’m not accusing George McPhee of sabotaging the NHL careers of the trio. Remember, this is the guy who drafted Alex Ovechkin when he was the general manager in Washington and no one’s going to deny that worked out pretty well.
So if you want to paint McPhee as a modern-day Harold Ballard who detested the Russians and perhaps saw their existence in the NHL as a necessary evil, you’d be missing the mark by a country mile.
That said, the fact none of the three have made a positive contribution to the franchise makes you wonder if something is amiss in the evaluation process or in the projection of what these guys could do.
Shipachyov didn’t produce, was sent to the minors, balked at being demoted and was eventually released after playing just three games and scoring one goal. He and his family never found a comfort level in Las Vegas nor was he able to find a comfort level on the ice. He is currently back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing with Dynamo Moscow and he leads the team in scoring with 21 points.
Gusev never got a chance to show he couldn’t play with the Knights. He was unable to break into the lineup during the playoffs, his time on the ice limited to practice. And when the Knights found his asking price to remain with the team was too steep, he was off to New Jersey. He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.
Zykov, who had two goals in 10 games last year playing limited minutes (he averaged 11:37 TOI during his 10 games last year), worked hard over the summer, made the team out of training camp and had two assists in his first seven games playing on the third line before he got popped for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.
I’m not going to get into the whole issue about how it went down, how Zykov essentially got thrown under the bus by some of his teammates and how McPhee reacted. That has all been covered.
I will say it would be disingenuous to think what happened to Zykov and what happened to Nate Schmidt a year ago are the same. The fact is, we’ve never known what was found in Schmidt’s system to trigger the positive test and we’re probably never going to know what exactly Zykov was taking (he and his agent said they were over-the-counter supplements).
Until the NHL becomes more transparent with its drug policy and the testing is more rigorous, you’ll never get the truth.
So, what happens when Zykov serves out his suspension? Do the Knights welcome him back? Do they claim he breached his contract and subsequently cut him loose and eat his $675,000 contract? Do they send him back to the AHL?
"This doesn't make anybody look good. Both for Z and the team. Without knowing the details it's hard to comment much further than that but we've always had that next man up mentality whether it's injuries or any other adversity we face and this is no different." -Pacioretty
As we head towards the playoffs the composition of the Golden Knights “perfect” lineup is going to become a major topic of discussion. Assuming full health, and it appears the Golden Knights should have it barring any new injuries, the top six should be locked in as it was prior to Max Pacioretty’s injury. It looks like this:
That leaves six players to fill just three spots. Those players are Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, and Valentin Zykov.
To me, because there are two slots open on one line and only one on the other, the focus should be on creating the best fourth line possible and then using the leftover player to fill out what already should be a promising line of Eakin and Tuch.
Because the Golden Knights prefer to roster a fairly standard fourth line (meaning it’s much more of a checking/possession/don’t give up goals line) Pirri and Zykov aren’t great fits. They’ll come back into play when we consider the final piece on the third line.
Rather than give my opinion on how it should line up, I’d rather use numbers. So, using NaturalStatTrick.com’s “Line Tool,” I’ve gone through each potential option to see how they’ve performed as a trio when together.
On December 29th the Golden Knights claimed Valentin Zykov on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers. First Zykov got held up by immigration, then it took four games before he finally got in the lineup. He was scratched the next five games before finding himself back in the lineup.
Zykov eventually found himself on the Golden Knights top line playing with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. That lasted three games before he was demoted to the third line for a game and eventually out of the lineup. He’s been a healthy scratch since February 12th, missing 13 straight games.
Today, in his daily press conference, I asked Gerard Gallant about if he has been considering putting Zykov back into the lineup. His answer was telling.
I’m trying to put a team in that’s trying to win. He played fine when he was in there, it’s just he’s a young player. The best way to explain it is, he’ll be ready when we need him and we’ll see where it goes. It’s tough for him, he’s a good kid and he’s worked hard it’s just that he hasn’t had a lot of experience in the NHL and we’re in the winning business right now and it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty. -Gallant
Earlier in the year, Gallant mentioned how he didn’t like how long he kept Oscar Lindberg, Brad Hunt, and Jon Merrill out of the lineup.
However, it doesn’t seem like Zykov will be getting the same treatment. Instead, he may find himself in the roster in the final few games after the playoffs are locked up, but Gallant isn’t ready to start thinking about that.
Every game matters to a point but we’ll see where we go. We’re still in a playoff hunt. We haven’t made the playoffs or clinched any playoff spot yet. So we’ll just play our team and get as many points as we can. If it gets down to the last three or four games and things look real good for us then we’ll see what we can do. -Gallant
The question now becomes did Zykov do enough to find his way into the mix next year. The Golden Knights forward group is going to be a crowded one in 2019-2020, but Zykov makes just $675,000 and Vegas is likely to be pushing the cap. He’ll have a full training camp under his belt, plus half a season practicing with the NHL club, but it wouldn’t be shocking if we’ve already seen the end of Valentin Zykov in meaningful action as a Golden Knight.
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.