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Praise Be To Foley, Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Website

Iole: Centers Of Attention

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

LAS VEGAS — In that magical first season, the Golden Knights went with William Karlsson, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare 1-4 as their centers.

In this season’s playoffs, assuming Jack Eichel recovers, that group will be Eichel-Karlsson-Chandler Stevenson and Nicolas Roy, potentially with Nolan Patrick, Keegan Kolesar and Jake Leschyshyn in the hole. It’s quite an improvement and impressive depth.

That’s the center depth of a Stanley Cup champion, but don’t start scoping out spots for the parade just yet.

There is no guarantee that Eichel will return this year, or that he’ll be the impact player he is when healthy. He underwent a surgery shortly after the Knights acquired him from Buffalo that no NHL player has ever undergone.

UFC fighters Chris Weidman and Aljamain Sterling both had it and recommend it, but because it worked for them does not necessarily mean it will work for Eichel.

But if Eichel comes back and resembles the player he once was, this will be a deep and potentially dominant group because it will create matchup issues aplenty. Stevenson has raised his game this year as the team’s No. 1 center to this point, and if you drop him to No. 2 or No. 3 where his matchups are better, it figures he can maintain if not improve upon his start.

If Karlsson is the Knights’ No. 3 center, I would dare say there may not be a better No. 3 center in the NHL. And Roy has done far more than a credible job centering Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault while Karlsson has been out. Like Stevenson, he’d be a matchup issue for other teams’ No. 4 centers.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup are strong down the middle. When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back to back titles in 2016 and 2017, they did it on the backs of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But Nick Bonino was a quality third-line center for those Penguins with Phil Kessel on his line, and Matt Cullen was a smart, effective fourth liner.

The Lightning have won the last two Cups, with Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. When Washington defeated the VGK in 2018 for the Cup, they had Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov as their centers.

Of the teams that are considered serious Cup contenders, their centers are:

Edmonton: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Toronto: Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
Florida: Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett
Tampa: Point and Stamkos.
Boston: Patrice Bergeron and Charlie Coyle.
Carolina: Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck and Jordan Staal.
Colorado: Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri.
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal and J.G. Pageau.
Pittsburgh: Crosby, Malkin and Jeff Carter.
Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dobois.
Dallas: Roope Hintz, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

That list is far from complete, but it’s pretty good evidence that to be a significant contender, a team needs two, if not three, quality centers.

The Knights won’t know how Eichel will be for several more months. And to fit him under the cap when he returns, it could conceivably require them to pare from that depth. Assuming he returns during the regular season, the Golden Knights will have to do something, so could they try to move Karlsson for a draft pick and go with a foursome of Eichel-Stevenson-Roy-Patrick? It wouldn’t be popular and it would come with great risk, but Karlsson is signed at $5.9 million a year through 2027.

He is a terrific two-way player and would be in demand if the Knights looked to move him. With the players they have at the position already, GM Kelly McCrimmon may decide to sacrifice Karlsson because he’s deep at center either way, he’ll get something in return to build the system and Karlsson would be the most attractive player the Knights could offer. Kolesar can also play center and wouldn’t be out of place centering a fourth line.

For a team that was perilously thin at the position for most of its existence, the Knights are suddenly amazingly deep down the middle.

That should make them a legitimate Cup threat. Pete DeBoer has shown himself to be a terrific coach and because of that, we’ve seen significant development from Roy and Kolesar already. If DeBoer can coax more out of them in the second half of the year and the playoffs, that will only aid the cause.

The foundation is there for a long playoff run. But it’s unlikely they add any more bodies down the stretch to supplement what they have because they’re so taxed cap-wise, so they’ll need to make do with who they have now.

Things have to go their way, but you can see the pieces shaping up the right way.

**You can find all of Kevin’s tremendous boxing and MMA work at Yahoo Sports here.**

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38 Comments

  1. Wow, Pistol Pete, I mean Dr. Pistol Pete is about to give you a blog beat down about ADR! Watch for it. You just made the PP Naughty List!

  2. No, you keep Karlsson and you move Smith at the trade deadline for future prospects and to unload the salary. I mean, face it, Kelly was intent on beefing up the offense down the middle. Why would he dilute the outcome? Makes no sense.

    1C-Eichel
    2C-Stephenson
    3C-Karlsson
    4C-Roy

    • Pistol Pete

      Agree although I would expect some rotation of Karlsson and Stephenson to get the best chemistry. The Misfits have been together a long time. No guarantee with Stephenson’s start this season that he will outperform Karlsson winning him 2C.

  3. Vic

    “We’ve seen significant development from Kolesar already”? Are you sure you’re watching the same games I’m watching?

    • THE hockey GOD

      ^^^what he said^^^^

      Kevin, nice article , except no 55 ? (that opinion will draw the ire of many fans, and the counter is “power forwards take time to develop (if at all))

      And except for use in first sentence , of word magical ?? There is no such thing as “magic”. Magic is for clowns who like to go to Penn and Teller show, sit in front row, and out all the ‘performers” on stage.

      The FO did a tremendous job in making wise selections and they earned the awards that they achieved. This is not the Disney channel, there were no Targarayans, three dragons, bumpkins, giants, and white walkers, power rings, staffs of Moses, etc etc etc. This was solid and smart selections, wheeling and dealing, at hands of very skilled management crew with ownership willing to make things happen. But then again, you did get FO credit, kudos for that.

      • The FO has done great except for

        Tatar
        Lehner
        DeBoer

        • Pistol Pete

          DeBoer! Two conference finals running?

          • Like Lehner, DeBoer has been given the boot time and time again for a reason. DeBoer takes good teams goes to the playoffs and in a year or two they’re shit. That’s the DeBoer legacy. He can change my mind, Lehner too – with a Cup win right here in Vegas.

  4. FG

    Keegan Kolesar is -3.7 goals above expected, good for sixth worse in the league (#791). Centers are great, but how often and which wing players are going to score in the bottom six? Answer: rarely ever.
    Who knows if Patrick will ever play again? He likely has another concussion.
    You forgot Brooks, Amadio, and Howden!

    • Pistol Pete

      R-R with DeBoer I think we need to factor in experience. He’s still fairly young. NHL coaching is a tough balancing act and he’s still learning, learning from mistakes and growing his techniques. He’s been to two conference finals in his first seasons with the VGK and so far we are not seeing any deterioration of those results especially considering the injuries.

      • Daryl

        All teams have had injuries this year…. VGK is beating the inferior teams as they should, eve with injuries. PDB has declined every place he has been. Things could change, but so far this year, PDB is following hsuit with his other jobs

  5. Pistol Pete

    R-R thanks for the your rundown on Brossoit and Thompson. I have your same concern over Brossoit’s numbers…not that impressive. As you pointed out though, he’s an experienced NHL backup which are apparently hard to come by? Still one might assume there were other choices available. Not sure how much the price was right? On Thompson, they just must think it’s too much if a risk at this stage of his development to bring him up as backup. Unfortunately that may not bode well for his immediate future ie. they figure he’s not good enough yet?

  6. Pretty interesting the guy writing the article you all are responding to doesn’t even know how to spell Chandler Stephenson last name so not sure how much he knows about the team. They are not going to get rid of either Karlsson or Smith they have more dead weight to go before even considering that option. They are BOTH great 2 way players which can’t be said for many of the others. I sure hope the 10 mill investment works out but he is not the savior or necessarily the solution to win the Cup. If the entire team steps up they can win it won’t be all Eichel’s doing that is a certain assuming of course he is well enough to play back surgery is no walk in the park and no guarantee.

    • I for one would not say winning a Cup would be all Jack’s doing. He is but one piece that has been missing albeit an important one—#1 C, big and fast who can make plays, score and further drive a winning morale for the team. Assuming he’s able to get back to his full self he should provide that extra scoring punch in the postseason (assuming they get there this season) and could well improve the PP.

    • THE hockey GOD

      “mill” is not used correctly, if you are going to shorten a word do it like this “mill.”

      not “mill”

      because a mill is defined as a building equipped with machinery for grinding grain into flour.

      🙂

      • D

        Shut the fuck up, I’ve only ever commented here to tell you that, so I figure why break the streak?

  7. sb

    MGT is not likely to move Smith out. You don’t add by subtracting proven contributors. The players that will be moved start with Carrier, Janmark, McNabb and Dadonov. These are valuable depth guys for sure. But I’ll take one Eichel over these three or four. Also, don’t be surprised to see MGT keep one to two players on IR to squeak through the regular season to get to the Playoffs – think Tampa. The tip off on this was McCrimmon stating that Eichel could be 3 to FIVE months from returning and that other players could eventually wind up on IR. He was not concerned in the least about the Eichel/Cap problem. Those guys have a strategy to handle this. Have some faith in these outstanding Managers and Mr Foley.

    • Daryl

      Strategies like last year when we had to play COL extremely short and then play the entire playoffs on fumes because of playing certain players too much???

    • THE hockey GOD

      The American Hockey League’s best goaltender was sitting at home in the summer of 2020 waiting for his next opportunity.

      Logan Thompson, passed over by NHL teams after his junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings, took a rare path through Canadian college hockey to enter the professional ranks. Once there he had a strong season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays and decided to see what other teams would come calling.

      Ultimately, a familiar face did. Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ former GM and still owner at the time, wanted to know if Thompson wanted to come to Las Vegas. Thompson did. So much so that he hopped in his car and drove for 24 hours in the middle of a pandemic to show it.
      The two-day, 1,500 mile-trip from Brandon, Manitoba — Thompson said he drove about 15 hours the first day before resting — was the first sign of the Silver Knights goaltender’s willingness to push through obstacles. Combined with his competitive spirit, it’s helped fuel his rise from overlooked to awards-worthy to potential NHLer.

      A lot of goaltenders were given more opportunities than Thompson. Few can say they’ve done as much with theirs.

      “I think that’s kind of what made me mad and lit a fire underneath me,” Thompson said. “I always have something to prove.”

      Numbers game

      The reason Thompson was passed over in his mind is simple. “My numbers were never sparkling,” he said.

      In four seasons with the Wheat Kings, he never had a save percentage above .908 or a goals-against average below 2.63. Nothing that would pop off a page or cause a scout to take notice.

      Thompson’s name was never called in the draft. Even a rookie camp audition with the Golden Knights for his former GM — he started the franchise’s first rookie camp game against Los Angeles — didn’t lead to anything. The message, as he took it?

      “I wasn’t good enough and ‘Go to school,’” Thompson said. “And that’s what I did.”

      He went to Brock University for the 2018-19 season, which led him to fall “in love with the game again.” He put up a .934 save percentage and led the Badgers to a school record in wins.

      Former Brock coach Marty Williamson said in March he could tell Thompson was at a different level when he came to play for him. Thompson brought energy to each practice. He worked hard to save every shot in drills, even in the middle of the week when a game wasn’t coming until the weekend.

      It’s something he’s never stopped doing. Thompson is so competitive he once fought during a game while with the Stingrays.

      “I mean, a guy like him, he doesn’t like to lose,” Silver Knights goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite said. “He’s always competing against the other goalie at the other end. When he brings that energy to the rink, our guys feed off of that.”

      Steep climb

      Thompson’s outstanding season at Brock hardly portended future professional success. Far from it.

      U Sports, the national governing body of college athletics in Canada, isn’t considered a strong feeder system for the NHL. Most Canadian players with a professional future sign contracts out of junior hockey.

      There are exceptions — Silver Knights assistant coach Joel Ward had an 11-year NHL career after playing for the University of Prince Edward Island — but they are few and far between.

      Goaltender Robert Dopson from Wilfrid Laurier University made two appearances totaling 45:25 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1994. That was three years before Thompson was born. No other U Sports goalie played an NHL game afterward until March 12.

      That’s when the Golden Knights were in Minnesota and Thompson was serving as their backup thanks to an injury to Robin Lehner. The game was tied 1-1 entering the third period, but Marc-Andre Fleury gave up three goals in the first 7:41 to fall behind 4-1.

      Thompson could see the team’s coaching staff whispering to each other from his spot on the bench. He started to realize what that meant.

      “I kind of looked the other direction,” Thompson said. “I didn’t really want to go in. I was nervous.”

      Forty seconds of game time later, after a Knights icing, Thompson skated to the net for his NHL debut. He stopped both shots he faced in 8:15 and nearly received an unlikely win.

      The Knights scored twice to make it 4-3 and right wing Alex Tuch nearly tied the game before the final buzzer.

      “I got a chance (and) I was really thankful for it,” Thompson said. “It was exciting. Hopefully there’s more opportunities to come.”

      Getting notice

      Thompson’s first NHL action only came two months into his first season with the organization.

      It didn’t take long for him to turn heads with the Silver Knights. He was 16-6-2 his first full AHL season with a 1.96 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

      The key? Not necessarily his glove hand or his post-to-post movement. Brathwaite said the first thing he noticed about Thompson was his determination.

      “You haven’t been drafted,” Brathwaite said. “Now you’re getting this opportunity to go and prove that you belong. And I think that’s something that he’s doing right now is every day just working hard and trying to show everyone that he can play at this level.”

      Thompson won the AHL’s goalie of the month award in February and March before being named goaltender of the year in June. Other winners of the year-end honor include current NHL goaltenders Jonathan Bernier, Jake Allen, Matt Murray, Alex Nedeljkovic and Kaapo Kahkonen.

      The Silver Knights have needed Thompson more than ever this season. They’ve had injuries, call-ups and a four-game leave of absence by coach Manny Viveiros after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

      Thompson hasn’t blinked despite the rotating cast around him. He has a .920 save percentage and 2.93 goals-against average while leading the league in shots faced (415) by 66.

      “It’s a nice feeling when you know you got a backbone between the pipes,” forward Colt Conrad said. “He’s making some big saves for us. It gives you more confidence when you know you have a solid goalie.”

      Future

      Thompson doesn’t hope to stay one of the AHL’s best goalies forever.

      He’s No. 3 on the Golden Knights’ depth chart and coach Pete DeBoer said in training camp he’d be confident if the team needed to turn to Thompson in an NHL game. When that time comes remains to be seen with Lehner and backup Laurent Brossoit healthy.

      Brathwaite, who appeared in 254 NHL games, said he believes Thompson can play in the big leagues if he keeps working on his game and stays healthy. Thompson still can refine his skating and make sure he plays up to his 6-foot-4 frame consistently.

      Thompson seems to have taken that message to heart. If he’s made it this far, what’s one more step?

      “I just got to keep playing down here,” Thompson said. “I’ll keep getting that experience and keep taking steps in the right direction and doing what the goalie coaches want me to do and make a couple little adjustments to my game. I think if I keep doing that, I think there’s a good chance I can stick in the NHL.”

      Age: 24

      Birthplace: Calgary, Alberta

      Height/weight: 6-4/207

      Position: Goaltender

      Catches: Right

      Number: 36

      2021-22 stats (AHL): 6-4-2 in 12 games, .920 save percentage, 2.93 goals-against average

  8. You mentioned bad acquisitions what matters is those that shouldn’t have left??

  9. Tim

    I’ve been reading some interesting hockey articles and were in the mix. First Mathias Janmark should keep his suitcase packed, second it looks like there trying to trade Brandon McNabb. and here’s an interesting one Zach Parise to the Golden Knights to be the 5th captain on the team. All these moves seem to make sense to me and since Parise played for DeBoer in New Jersey there is a connection.

    • Blitz

      Parise for McNabb makes sense if it could go down. Parise is only making 750k this year, but is a UFA next year. McNabb makes 2.5mil. Janmark makes 2mil. Parise replaces Janmark, Hutton (750k) replaces McNabb. You save 3 mil and get better on offense and slightly worse on defense, but IMO Hutton would be a close replacement, just from the handful of games i have watched him. It might even be even.

      All players in this are UFA’s so this is only for this year. Cool idea. I am not sure NYI would want to get rid of Parise, he was a pretty good find for them. I don’t know much about them though, maybe they need a d guy worse than parise or maybe he doesn’t work in their system. They are in last place by alot, maybe they don’t care any more.

    • Tim would you care to paste the links to those articles? Sounds interesting. Thanks in advance!

      • Did not realize Parise is that old (37). 0 G/3 A/-3 (17 games). Sounds like NYI is preparing to waive him? Would like to learn more about the rumors to trade Janmark and McNabb though.

  10. T

    NO WAY you get rid of Karlsson! hes an amazing 200 foot player. Plays on the PP and PK and if he would just shoot more he could net 25 goals a year. I realize they need to clear cap space if fully healthy so I would say BYE BYE to Dadonov and Janmark (7 mil saved) I like both players but the young kids have proven they can play at this level.

    • I have the sense when Wild Bill returns he will go into high gear to stay 2C above Stephenson, however he could be traded as I mention below. I kind of agree with you on keeping Karly and assuming they keep Smitty that would probably require moving Dad. Lots of possibilities!

      Imo:

      Patch/Eichel/Stone
      Smith/Karlsson or Stephenson/Marchy
      Dadonov/Stephenson or Karlsson/Janmark
      Somebody/Roy/Somebody (many possibilities on the somebodies)

      Maybe Janmark gets traded. It’s always possible Karlsson is traded (there has been some talk of it)–that would likely move Roy up to 3C.

  11. You

    Rantanen is a winger bud.

  12. Pistol Pete

    As I implied previously, Stephenson has to maintain this pace to be in Karlsson’s league. Could happen and in any case God Bless him for doing what he’s done as it’s been a big piece of the VGK staying above 500.

    In terms of 82 games = one season:

    Karlsson: 272 pts/5.78 seasons = 47 pts/season (+13.84/season)

    Stephenson: 110 pts/3.43 seasons = 32 pts/season (+13.7/season)

    Stephenson’s high season is 35

    Karlsson’s high season is 78 and has three other seasons higher than Stephenson’s 35 (56/46/39)

    Karlsson’s last 4 seasons are 78/56/46/39 showing his decline. Can he get his production back up. He’s in his prime so one should not see why not.

  13. Daryl

    Stephenson’s numbers look great and I really like the guy, but his numbers will drop off drastically if/when he moves to 3C. Even if he were to drop to 2C his numbers are going to drop. It will be interesting to see how things play out

    • Dustyn Cottino

      That’s why I like the idea of moving Eichel to 2C and keeping Stephenson with Pacioretty and Stone.

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