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Like 2019-20, VGK Enter Season With Rookie Defensemen Waiting To Make The Jump To NHL

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

When the Golden Knights’ group of six defensemen were healthy and in the lineup together last season, the team was almost unbeatable. Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague are all set to return for 2023-24 and expectations remain incredibly high for what the group can do when they are all on the ice.

It seems unfathomable at the moment, and if there were a game tomorrow not a coach in the world would choose any other lineup, but, if the Golden Knights are going to repeat as champions, there’s a strong chance one of the six has been unseated by June 2024.

That’s because of the collection of younger blueliners just about ready to push through to the NHL level waiting in VGK’s system.

Former 2nd round pick Kaedan Korczak and 3rd round pick Lukas Cormier are the highest touted prospects, but Daniil Miromanov, Brayden Pachal, and Daniil Chayka all look like they have the skills to help an NHL team team.

Right now, none of these guys are ready to take a job away from one of the reigning champion incumbents. At some point though, the Golden Knights are going to have to make room for them, and that point could come much sooner than later.

The situation VGK currently find themselves in is actually quite similar to the one they experienced in 2019. At that time, Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud were D partners in the AHL and both appeared on the brink of breaking through. On opening night though, neither was in the lineup and only one was even on the NHL roster. The Golden Knights went with a starting lineup including Theodore, McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Jon Merrill, Nick Holden, and Deryk Engelland.

It took just one game before one of the rookies was in demand. Schmidt suffered an injury and Hague slotted right in. Over the course of the next month, Hague showed himself valuable enough to replace Engelland. Then, when the coaching change from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer was made, Whitecloud was favored over Hague. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Whitecloud was an every-game starter and Hague had nailed down the 7th defenseman role, the first to step in no matter which of the first six came out.

It wasn’t a clean transition and it’s unclear how much of it the Golden Knights planned for. Hague bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL the entire season while Whitecloud had to wait for a coaching change and then came in and out of the lineup multiple times.

The same progression is likely to start again soon. There may not be a clear candidate to come out of the lineup as there was that year with Engelland on the brink of retirement, but for the long-term (and possibly short-term) strength of the franchise, finding room for younger defensemen is crucial.

Luckily for the Golden Knights, the collection of defensemen waiting in the wings is fairly eclectic. Korczak and Chayka are big stay-at-home style players while Cormier and Miromanov are both offensive weapons that could help the power play. Pachal is in between but has NHL experience, leadership qualities, and familiarity with the team.

It may happen on its own, but heading into 2023-24, the Golden Knights must seriously consider finding roster space in the regular season to see what they have in their stable of young defensemen. Like the time came for Hague and Whitecloud to replace Engelland and Holden, there will come a time when at least one of these guys is a clear upgrade over a current starter. It certainly doesn’t look that way today, and maybe not at any point this year, but for the Golden Knights to have the best chance of repeating, they must consider all available options.


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  1. Richie-Rich

    At 36, this likely is Martinez last season, at least as a Golden Knight. Martinez could be categorized as a solid stay-at-home defenseman who is probably the best shot blocker in modern hockey history. He is UFA at the end of this season. With so many good defenseman on the bubble, Martinez and his $5.25 million hit is likely a trade piece. What could we get for him? Well, you’d trade him to a team that is looking for a solid defenseman for a year or two to mentor some young players. You wouldn’t trade him to a playoff competitor. Let’s face it, this team is primed to go to the playoffs. Something disastrous, actually multiple disastrous events would have to happen for VGK’s playoff hopes to be derailed.

    At the end of this season only Ahac, Miromanov, and Korczak are RFA. There’s no reason to worry about these three going anywhere until possibly after the 2023-2024 season.

    Pachal isn’t UFA until the 2025-2026 season. Again, nothing to worry about here either.

    We have plenty of defensemen to rotate in and out of the lineup to keep players fresh and to compensate for any injury, even 2 on IR!

    You would have to believe that Pachal is currently the coaching favorite to fill in.

    If Lehner’s contract becomes an issue this could trigger some sort of Martinez move. I hope it does not come to that. Anyone hear anything about Lehner? Are they moving to invalidate the contract for violations by Robin?

    Good off season post Ken!

    • Pistol Pete

      Good point about Martinez R-R. This is likely to be his last season creating a spot for one of the prospects. Who knows though McCrimmon could offer him another year. He’s awesome for his age, what, scoring in games 4 and 5 in the finals or was it 3 and 5? Petro looks every bit as durable too. He should be effective as a 36-37 year old imo.

      • Richie-Rich

        I am much more comfortable this year than last. The VGK rolled the dice on Eichel and won. The poor goaltending moves of the past were erased. Thompson played extremely well and was an NHL all-star. Aidin Hill was such a great addition. Brossoit was solid as well.

        I think the foundation of last years turnaround has to be credited to Bruce Cassidy. I am loathe to give credit to McCrimmon yet, but my days of bashing him are behind me.

        I am much more excited about this season and cannot wait to be in my seats in Section 11 to watch those flags raised!

    • sb

      Martinez has a modified no trade contract. He isn’t going anywhere. He will play the regular season and the Playoffs and he won’t be extended. Both Marty and Marchy will be the VGK’s own rental players right through the Playoffs.

  2. Pistol Pete

    VGK has the best D corp in the NHL with #5 and 6 young and a good prospect pool in Henderson. Nice spot to be in for sure. It will take injuries for a prospect to be called up and probably a good idea vs. playing Hutton? Excellent job by McPhee and McCrimmon stocking the organization with D. VGK the most underrated FO in the league.

  3. Vic

    Forgotten man…Ben Hutton. Always there when called upon.

    • Pistol Pete

      Agreed on Hutton, just thinking one of the six goes out, leave him scratched to give a prospect ice time. Cassidy might run it by him and he’d understand. He’s been such a soldier I could Cassidy keeping him in too.

      • Sorvino

        I think we lose Hutton at some point on waivers which would be a shame, but could be a good thing for his career. Would be nice for him to land on a rebuilding team like Chicago.

        • sb

          McCrimmon and McPhee know what value is. Hutton is #7, next man up on D. He’s probably the best $750k D-man in the NHL. After Marty is not extended this July, Hague moves up with Petro and Hutton slots in with Whitecloud. Korczak is #7 in 2024-25.

  4. Sorvino

    Great points made by Richie Rich, Pistol Pete and Vic. The best front office in professional sports made a great move by bringing in Bruce Cassidy.

    Just seven weeks away from the regular season.

  5. Ive said it before and I’ll say it again….the road to Lehner being shown the door is in the language of the contract regarding behaviors…it is the moral turpitude clause…hopefully the front office utilizes it ASAP!

    • sb

      Lehner has money problems. He intends to stay on LTIR and collect $10 million in 2023 and 2024. He needs the money and won’t risk being bought out. VGK MGT knew this with certainty when they resigned Hill at $4.9 mil. Lehner will never play in the NHL again.

  6. Jose

    And perhaps, in 3 to 4 years, Lukas Cormier could replace Shea Theodore and Brendan Brisson could replace Chandler Stephenson.

    If presently having a lower tier collection of prospects is what it cost to build a Stanley Cup team that it was well worth it.

    Of the top 40 point leaders from last year‘s regular season only four were drafted after the second round. So if we need to start getting some higher calibre prospects, we have got to keep our first and second round picks.

  7. Harmon

    If two of Korczak, Chayka, Cormier or Pachal soon become competent bottom pairing defenceman at minimum with entry-level type 750,000 to 950,000 salaries to replace Martinez and McNabb at some point it would be ideal for salary, cap purposes.

  8. Lucifer

    I am loving the salary cap position that the Knights are in. Comfortable enough that they can carry a 22 or 23 man roster. This is very significant for when the team incurs injuries.

  9. Lucifer

    Hey Ken, thanks for continuing to provide content for us to discuss in the dog days of summer.

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