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Golden Knights Must “Churn” Roster In Order To Stay Good For Now And Later

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The Golden Knights are into offseason number three as they prepare for season number four. In season three, they began to work in some younger players like Nic Roy, Cody Glass, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague, but the playing time was limited and the roles were certainly reduced.

As they move forward, especially with the cap staying flat, the Golden Knights must find more ways to save cap space by getting larger contributions out of younger players.

You can’t sit still. There’s a balance between having a real strong nucleus that gives you a chance to win but there’s also the importance of having enough churn that you give opportunities for new players. -Kelly McCrimmon

The question that will be answered this offseason is just how much “churn” is enough.

The Golden Knights prospect system has a heap of players that appear to be ready to break into the NHL. From the four that did in 2019-20 to Jack Dugan, Lucas Elvenes, Peyton Krebs, Jonas Rondbjerg, Dylan Coghlan, and Jimmy Schuldt the options are certainly there for Vegas.

Every one of the players mentioned carries a cap hit of less than $1 million, which means replacing just about anyone in the everyday starting lineup means cap savings.

But, how much is too much? Especially when considering the Golden Knights are a clear Cup contending team and have aspirations of lifting it in the very near future.

In 2019-20, when the Golden Knights were pushed up to the salary cap limit, they pretty much always had at least two entry-level contracts on the NHL roster. It started with Hague and Glass, then morphed into Roy and Whitecloud as the season went on and into the playoffs.

I’d guess that Roy and Whitecloud have become permanent members of the NHL roster moving forward and any of the other six players mentioned could easily make a case as well. But there has to be a spot for them and at the moment there don’t appear to be many open.

That’s where this offseason comes into play and why Vegas fans should be expecting at least a bit of a shakeup, if not a mega one, in the Golden Knights standard 18-man starting roster. McCrimmon and McPhee not only want to see what they have in the system, but they’ll need to get production out of these younger players if they want to continue to improve their team without the advantage of a rising salary cap.

Expect to see at least one player from the top-six to head out and a high probability of one of the six starting defensemen from the Dallas series no longer in steel grey and gold come opening night of season four.

Churn is normal every offseason, but the Golden Knights are ripe for a bit more than usual with the collection of factors the front office is up against in this one. The cap is at the top of it, but also a seven-game scoring drought that ended a promising playoff run, and a new coach behind the bench for his first offseason.

The Golden Knights will remain a very good team, and one most will project to win the Pacific Division once again when play gets underway. However, don’t expect that team to look too much like the one that just exited the bubble in Edmonton.

Zach Whitecloud’s Emergence As A Consistent D-Man Is The Best Thing To Come Out Of 2020 For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into season three one of the biggest storylines for the Golden Knights was figuring out which young defenseman was going to grab the open role and make an impact in 2019-20.

In camp, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Dylan Coghlan raced to the top of the list making the decision a tough one on the front office and then coach Gerard Gallant. But an injury to Whitecloud and the need for a guy to play the left side helped allow Hague the first shot.

It took him a bit to get his feet wet and his offensive game never quite took hold, but he certainly held his own before the coaching change. Then, when Gallant was ousted and DeBoer came in, the switch was quickly made form Hague to Whitecloud. A few games and a pandemic later, and the Golden Knights had not only found the best of their five near-NHL-ready defensive prospects but they found themselves a player that appears to ready for a long career as a stalwart on the Golden Knights blue line.

I love the fact that we’ve had a young guy like Zach Whitecloud come in and we couldn’t give him enough. He never faltered, he never failed, he met every challenge, he’s established himself as a really good NHL defenseman so I think that’s really encouraging. -Kelly McCrimmon

Of course, Whitecloud’s season ended regrettably, but he was one of the most consistent defensemen for Vegas during the entire playoff run. His most impressive step forward was on the penalty kill where he literally became the Golden Knights’ top option.

Whitecloud led the Golden Knights with 66:05 of PK time in the playoffs, four minutes more than Brayden McNabb and 25 more than Alec Martinez, helping Vegas kill at an impressive 86%, the best of any team advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Whitecloud also upped his offensive game, with two goals, an assist, and 20 shots over his 20 playoff games. Plus, there were many times in which he would properly activate off the blue line to extend an offensive shift or create a dangerous chance himself.

He played his ass off and played big and played heavy and played big minutes for us. He’s got a bright future ahead of him here. -Pete DeBoer

His elevation to full-time player gives the Golden Knights a huge advantage on the blue line they have not had before. In each of the first two seasons, the defense was littered with players making north of $2 million and even a few pushing upwards of $5 million. Whitecloud is locked in at under $1 million for each of the next two seasons allowing the Golden Knights flexibility.

Also, being right-handed, Whitecloud currently stands as Vegas’ only full-time righty d-man which means he can literally be paired with anyone else on the current roster.

A lot from the 2019-20 season will go down as a disappointment, but if there’s one thing that Vegas can take out of it moving forward, it’s that they discovered Zach Whitecloud’s ability at the NHL level. A luxury they’ll lean on a ton as they toss and turn the roster trying to get better in the era of the flat salary cap.

Whitecloud’s Contract Likely Spells End Of The Road For Two Original Golden Knights

In their first official roster activity since the NHL season was put on halt, the Golden Knights locked up defenseman Zach Whitecloud to a two-year contract at $725K AAV.

Whitecloud becomes the third Golden Knights defenseman to be locked into next season since early February. First, Vegas acquired Alec Martinez and will pay him $4 million against the cap in 2020-21, then they extended Nick Holden on trade deadline day for a cheap $1.7 million for two seasons, and now Whitecloud.

That leaves the Golden Knights blueline fairly stocked. Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt are under contract for each of the next five seasons, Brayden McNabb, Holden, and Whitecloud each have two years left now, and Martinez’s deal expires at the end of next season.

That’s six NHL defensemen under contract for the 20-21 season with Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan all waiting in the wings in the AHL. Plus, Jimmy Schuldt will become an RFA whenever free agency opens this summer meaning he’ll likely stick around for another year as well.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

So, where does that leave the two defensemen currently on the roster both set to become UFAs? Well, the previous nine games before the pause told the beginning of the story (neither Merrill nor Engelland played defense in any of them), Whitecloud and Holden’s extensions tell the middle, and now the end will have to wait until July 1 (or whatever the equivalent is this year).

Under Gallant, Merrill played 38 of the Golden Knights’ 49 games. Engelland was in Gallant’s lineup for 44 of 49. Under DeBoer, Merrill has played 11 of the 22 (with one as a forward) and Engelland just five. Clearly, both Merrill and Engelland had fallen out of the Pete DeBoer led Golden Knights lineup prior to the pause.

Now, with six defensemen under NHL contract and four more pushing for time there’s simply not space for both Engelland and Merrill, if there’s even space for one.

Plus, looking over the roster and the salary cap balance sheet, if there’s one place for Vegas to upgrade with a massive piece, it would be on defense (paging Alex Pietrangelo).

Things get even trickier for Merrill and Engelland when you consider that none of the six NHL contracts are waiver-exempt next season. Also, Nic Roy will require waivers next season as well. Vegas spent the majority of the season juggling their roster this year because they could. Glass, Hague, Whitecloud, and Roy could all go back and forth without any risk. That’s no longer the case for Whitecloud and Roy, which means the expected roster already has 18 (and 19 if you count the backup goalie), waiver-eligible players. There’s simply no room for another one.

The move of signing Whitecloud should be celebrated as it was done for an incredibly cheap price and it gives the Golden Knights even more cap flexibility heading into an offseason with an uncertain cap. But, for those who are fans of original Golden Misfits, the deal likely signals the end of at least one and probably two of them.

Carp: Whitecloud Makes His Presence Felt On Blue Line

**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.**

I remember when the Golden Knights signed Zach Whitecloud out of college two years ago. He was an NCAA free agent, having played at Bemidji State, Brad Hunt’s alma mater.

I met him for the first time in Buffalo where he had joined the team after signing. My thoughts at the time were: “O.K., no big deal. Seems to be a nice kid. Maybe down the road he helps their defensive depth. And it didn’t cost the team anything but money.”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He actually got to play in an NHL game in 2018, against Edmonton late in the season. The Knights were on their way to the playoffs. They had clinched the Pacific Division. Gerard Gallant was looking to rest some guys with the postseason set to begin the following week. What harm could it do to give Whitecloud a taste of the big time?

Boy, have things changed since then.

Whitecloud has become a mainstay on the blue line. He’s playing well. Gallant is no longer his coach. Peter DeBoer is now calling the shots.

Back in 2018, the team’s D-corps consisted of Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Jon Merrill, Luca Sbisa, Hunt and Jason Garrison. Today, Schmidt, Theodore and McNabb are still regulars, Engelland and Merrill can’t crack DeBoer’s lineup, Hunt’s in Minnesota, Miller’s in Buffalo, Sbisa’s in Winnipeg and Garrison plays in Sweden.

He also has beaten out fellow rookies Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Jimmy Schuldt, and Jake Bischoff for a spot on the Knights’ roster.

Whitecloud has been in the VGK lineup since Feb. 1 and it looks like he’s not going anywhere. He picked up his first NHL point in Friday’s 4-2 win over the Sabres and he appears to be comfortable competing at this level.

You can chalk it up to one of those slick George McPhee moves where he got one over on his GM colleagues around the league. A small investment appears to be paying big dividends.

It’s all about keeping it simple, paying attention to detail and doing my job every night. Work hard in practice and learn from my mistakes. -Whitecloud

DeBoer has him with Nick Holden as the third D-pair and having a veteran like Holden certain helps. Whitecloud has also played with the recently acquired Alec Martinez, another veteran.

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Gallant Says Schmidt And Theodore Play Best On Right Side; Where’s That Leave Coghlan And Whitecloud?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights traded Colin Miller it appeared to leave a massive void in right-handed defensemen. With Miller in Buffalo, it left the Golden Knights with just one right-handed defenseman on the NHL roster, Deryk Engelland. Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, and Nick Holden all shoot with their left hand.

However, that’s not to say the Golden Knights don’t have players who can play on the right side. In fact, Gerard Gallant confirmed a pair of them he likes on that side.

From what I remember (Schmidt) played real good on the right side last year so that’s where he’s going to play again this year. When he plays good over there that’s where you want him to play, where he plays his best hockey, similar to Shea Theodore. -Gallant

He did leave a bit of room for leeway though.

But I’m not saying they can’t play the left side in some situations. Just in case that happens I don’t want you to come back to me and say “why are you playing him over there?” It changes, but they both play well on their off-side. -Gallant

Here’s where things get tricky. The two best rookie defenseman through two weeks of camp have been Dylan Coghlan and Zach Whitecloud. Both are right-handed and both play primarily on the right side.

Last year, Engelland played 72 of 72 games on the right. Schmidt played 40 of his 62 on the right while Theodore played just 21 of his 80. But, late in the year, Gallant made the switch pairing Theodore with McNabb and Schmidt with Engelland swapping Nate and Shea. His comments on Monday indicated that he likes both on that side, leaving just three left-side spots available.

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Test Time For Zach Whitecloud, Other Rookie Defensemen

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since becoming a part of the Golden Knights organization, a plethora of rookie defensemen have gone through a lot preparing for their moment. Development camps, training camps, preseason games, and an AHL regular and postseason, it’s all been done to develop them to pass the test when the time comes.

For Zach Whitecloud, he’s been studying for this training camp to win this open job since the moment he signed his contract with the Golden Knights.

During the broadcast of one of the rookie games in Irvine, VGK Insider Gary Lawless told the story of the first time Whitecloud attended a game as a member of the Golden Knights. He sat in the press box as a healthy scratch and before the game began asked Gary for a piece of paper and a pen. Over the course of the next two hours, Whitecloud went on to fill up both sides of that sheet with an abundance of notes.

I wanted to make sure I was taking notes of what the defensemen were doing, what the different calls were, where forwards would be in what spots, just in case if I were to be put into a game in an emergency situation I knew where I could put pucks because I hadn’t gotten my reps. -Whitecloud

He was literally acting like he was sitting in a college lecture, writing down notes so he could prepare for the upcoming test. Since then, he’s played in an NHL game, he’s gone through a full professional season in the organization, and he’s back for training camp looking to take the leap he’s dreamed of since he first put on hockey skates, to become a full-time NHL player.

Last year coming in it was my first full camp with the team and going through that process and navigating that was a learning experience. -Whitecloud

This year, he’s no longer here to learn.

You always want to compete at your 100% level. If you aren’t doing that, you are wasting people’s time. You are wasting management’s time, you are wasting your teammates’ time, you are wasting the fans’ time if you aren’t competing 100% to go in and earn a job. -Whitecloud

One problem. Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Jake Bischoff, and Jimmy Schuldt have all been studying for the test too.

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Rookie Game Takeaways – Game 1 vs. Colorado

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s been a busy weekend of throwing magenta ping pong balls and raising a butt-ton of money for charity, which has left us at SinBin.vegas a bit behind. But, if Golden Knights hockey happens, you best believe we’re going to watch it, and thanks to this fantastic thing called the Internet, we’ve been able to go back and watch the rookie games we’ve missed, (Here’s the link) and now I’m here with takeaways from the Vegas rookie loss to Colorado.

  • The best player on the ice for me was Zach Whitecloud and to be honest it wasn’t all that close. There were flashes from many other guys, which we’ll get to in a moment, but Whitecloud was a steady calming force on the back-end, consistently making the right read and play. His gap control continues to impress and his skating is so solid that he’s able to keep his positioning in any situation that’s thrown his way. He was reliable on the penalty kill and helped allow Nic Hague to get forward time and time again. Whitecloud plays a VGK style of defense, which is a different way to say, simple yet effective. Not that this should come as a surprise, but there’s absolutely a shot he wins the job and finds himself in the Golden Knights starting lineup on October 2nd.
  • Behind Whitecloud, there were two other major standouts, Paul Cotter and Jonas Rondbjerg.
    • Cotter, playing center with two non-roster players (Pavel Gogolev and Charles Antoine-Roy) consistently drove offense. He has an incredibly high compete level that reminds me a bit of Jonathan Marchessault. Cotter believes that every puck is his and he’s not afraid to bully his way through someone to take it from someone or to get it back. The best skill he displayed though was his vision through the neutral zone. Three or four times Cotter carrier or passed the puck through the neutral zone to lead directly to scoring chances. Great first step towards his goal of being in the AHL rather than OHL this year.
    • Rondbjerg has the Golden Knight style of hockey written all over him. He’s a ferocious forechecker who uses his stick well to rip the puck off defenders. There had to be five different instances that the Golden Knights lost the puck in the offensive zone and Rondbjerg either got it back himself or helped to get it back to keep a play alive. Then there’s his backchecking, which might be even better than his forechecking. He’s non-stop getting back into his own zone and he has the foot speed and the stick to go along with his willingness to defend. Gerard Gallant is going to love this kid, and if he finds even an ounce of finish, so are VGK fans.

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

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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?

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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