It was nice to see the original Golden Knight, Reid Duke, get called up from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves on Wednesday.
He was having a pretty good season to date with the Wolves. In 22 games, he had six goals and seven assists.
Duke was the fourth call-up by the Knights to date, joining Jake Bischoff, Tomas Hyka and Daniel Carr.
Injuries to Paul Stastny, Erik Haula and Max Pacioretty played a partial role in some of the moves. The Knights have been without Stastny since October 9 after he got hurt in Buffalo the day before. Haula has been out since injuring his knee in Toronto on November 6. Pacioretty missed a few games last month and didn’t play Tuesday against Washington, but returned to the ice Thursday against Chicago.
So you always want to have that 23rd body available, if nothing else than for practice.
Carr did nothing wrong. He is a victim of the waiver exemption rules. He had to go back to Chicago or risk being eventually claimed by another team or being with Vegas permanently.
But I also think there may be another reason why George McPhee opted to do what he did.
One reason for the call-ups may be to give these guys a little familiarity with the way the Knights do things, how Gerard Gallant coaches and see what they can do in the event they are needed down the road.
GMGM is always thinking ahead and while calling up Duke may not be a big deal short-term, he may want to see if Duke has the ability to contribute if he’s given a significant role. McPhee could have called someone else up (read on to see who). But he chose to bring up Duke, who perhaps should be rewarded for his fine play in the AHL. But he has teammates who have performed as well, if not better, who have yet to get a call to Vegas.
So, here’s the question: does Duke ever get into the lineup? Or is this merely a chance for McPhee to bide his time until Stastny returns?
Stastny has been practicing and all signs point to him rejoining the Knights soon. Perhaps his return comes late in the upcoming four-game east coast road trip in New York against the Rangers a week from today or the following night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
Duke was a healthy scratch Thursday against Chicago and again Saturday in Los Angeles. Maybe he gets in tonight against Dallas. But after hearing Gallant’s response when I asked him about Duke, I’m not too optimistic.
I’m worried about winning games. I’m not worried about individuals coming into our lineup. He’s coming up here because some guys have been hurt and we’re short bodies. I don’t know if he’s going to play. It depends on our roster. We’re playing real good right now. I’m not going to mess up our lines just to put somebody in. -Gerard Gallant
And based on the ice time given the previous call-ups, it doesn’t look good for Duke to get over the boards. Of the three previous call-ups, Hyka played 17 games, averaged 11:46 TOI, had one goal and three assists before being sent back down to Chicago. Carr played six games, averaged just 9:50 TOI and had one goal. Bischoff never even suited up.
So I get where Gallant is coming from. Hyka and Carr both had prior NHL experience and Gallant may have felt more comfortable in giving them a shot instead of maybe playing Oscar Lindberg.
And speaking of Lindberg, good for him for finally lighting the lamp with his first goal of the year Saturday in the 5-1 loss to the Kings. He was one of Vegas’ best players on the ice at Staples Center and he’s probably staying in the lineup tonight against the Stars because of his strong play Saturday.
To Duke’s credit, he’s handling his “promotion” well. In some ways it’s similar to when he joined Chicago right after the Knights signed him in March 2017. He practiced with the Wolves but never got in a game. However, Duke said back then it was a great opportunity to learn from the older players and make the transition from juniors to pro hockey. He said virtually the same thing Friday about his call-up to the NHL.
I’m very thankful to be called up here. It’s a great thrill and I’m just looking to learn all I can and help the team if I get the opportunity.-Reid Duke
Duke has the right mindset. He doesn’t control his ice time. Gallant does. But he does get to benefit being around an NHL locker room, watching how guys prepare on a daily basis. He gets to skate with them in practice, get a feel for the higher tempo in which things are done at this level. And even if he doesn’t play, at least he gets a small taste of NHL life.
He went through this last year after his shoulder injury sustained in a rookie scrimmage against the Kings in September forced him out of action until the spring of 2018 where he played 14 games with the Wolves. A lot of his rehab was spent in Las Vegas and he tried to take advantage of it.
I wasn’t playing last year and I had a great opportunity to be around the team and see how they come to the rink every day, their work ethic, their attention to detail. I got to watch a lot of hockey and learn the ins and outs of the team. -Duke
The good news for Duke is he’s only 22 years old. Time is on his side. I have no doubt he’ll play in the NHL at some point. He’s got good size (6-0, 191 pounds), he has a good feel for the puck and knows how to find the back of the net. He’s also tough and won’t be intimidated. But he may have to wait a little longer to play that first NHL game.
He’ll probably get sent down in a few days. So who would be next to get the call from Chicago not named Hyka or Carr?
* Brooks Macek — He leads the team with 15 goals. His shooting percentage is 34.1 percent, which is Karlsson-like (circa 2017-18). If the Knights need a winger, he’s a likely possibility.
* Gage Quinney — I thought he might have gotten a chance by now, especially when Haula went down. He’s got 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 23 games and he’s reliable at both ends of the ice, much like Carr showed when he was up with the team.
* Brandon Pirri — If the Knights need some scoring, he’s your guy. He leads the Wolves with 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) and he has lots of NHL experience. He’s somewhat of a liability defensively and that’s always been the rub against him.
And what about Erik Brannstrom, you ask?
I go back to what I wrote a few weeks ago. When and if the Knights call up Brannstrom, it’s for good. They’re not going to yo-yo him between Vegas and Chicago. He’s making great progress learning from Rocky Thompson and he’s going to be wonderful when he gets to the NHL. I have no doubt about that. But GMGM isn’t going to bring him up just for the heck of it.
Of course, waiver exemptions, the calendar, and the Golden Knights 23-man roster will play a big factor in any future call-ups. Macek and Quinney are waiver exempt, so they can go back and forth freely. Pirri is not, so like Carr, if he’s on the Knights for 30 days or plays in 10 games, he’d have to re-clear waivers. But of course all of this disappears on February 25th, the NHL trade deadline, when the roster limits disappear, and McPhee is free to call up as many players as he would like.
Last year, McPhee didn’t really utilize the expanded roster as the only recall was Tomas Hyka and he was returned a week later. May this year be different? Only time will tell.
As for now, enjoy the NHL life, Reid Duke. Hopefully you get a spin. If not, maybe it will be better to wait. That way your dad will have his passport and be able to come watch you in Vegas the next time around.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**