When you take a hard look at the Golden Knights roster you’ll quickly realize there aren’t many question marks when it comes to lineup construction. The top-six is all but guaranteed to remain intact, the entire blue line is locked in, and there’s no longer a goalie competition for either the starting role or the backup.
There are at least 15 players out of the allowed 20 that will dress on October 12th we can essentially write in with a Sharpie marker. There would actually be a 16th if Alex Tuch were healthy, but his injury leaves at least one more spot open for discussion.
Of course, the lines and pairs could shift, but here are the names that I’d be willing to go out on a limb and guarantee (if healthy) are in the lineup in 27 days at T-Mobile Arena.
Thus, there are reasonably five slots that could be interchangeable.
At forward, there are five players currently under one-way NHL contracts. William Carrier, Brett Howden, Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, and Patrick Brown. Then, there’s Nolan Patrick who is an RFA but will likely have a contract prior to Opening Night. Throw in the waiver-exempt Peyton Krebs, Jack Dugan, and Lucas Elvenes and we’re looking at a group of nine players with a chance of suiting up against the Seattle Kraken.
Roy is probably the closest player in this group to having a guaranteed spot in the lineup, especially considering his strong postseason and massive goal in Game 4 against the Canadiens. The other three spots truly represent the only roster competition in VGK Training Camp.
Kolesar would seem to have the next strongest case considering he was protected against waivers for the entire 2020-21 season. His game certainly progressed over the year and there’s really no reason to believe they’d be willing to risk him on waivers this year when they were in an even tighter spot a year ago.
Carrier has been a fixture in the Golden Knights lineup but his $1.4 million cap hit could put his place in jeopardy. It’s possible they look to sneak Carrier through waivers, like they did Nick Holden a year ago, to bury most of his salary and then allow him to come back to the NHL roster in the event of injury.
Brown is likely to head back through waivers as he’s cleared each of the past few seasons and is expected to do so again.
That brings us to the final two, Patrick and Howden. Both offseason acquisitions, the Golden Knights gave up assets to bring in each. Neither are expected to have a cap hit greater than $1 million but both require waivers to reach the AHL. It wouldn’t look good for Vegas to lose either before they play a game, so it’s probable that both stay on the active roster throughout camp and into the start of the season. It’ll likely come down to their performances in camp to decide which (if either) gets the call to start on Opening Night. They truly represent the only legitimate position battle across the entire VGK roster in training camp.
Because of this, I’d expect to see both get plenty of opportunities in the preseason games. It shouldn’t be surprising to see either, or both, up the lineup early in preseason playing with top-six linemates. DeBoer is going to have to make a tough decision so he’ll want to use this next month to gather as much information on each player’s role in his system as possible.
As for the rookies, it’s going to take something monumental in camp to force them to waive one of the names above. Not saying it can’t happen, or that Krebs specifically isn’t capable of it, but my money would definitely not be on Krebs, Dugan, or Elvenes suiting up on October 12th.
On defense, there’s a real argument that all six spots are settled already, and if I had to pick a side, I’d say Nic Hague will indeed pair with Whitecloud to round out the VGK blue line. But, Dylan Coghlan, Jake Bischoff, and Kaedan Korczak all have a real chance to push for that role.
Once Coghlan inks his contract, he’ll be in a similar spot as Hague, too good to place on waivers. The biggest hurdle for Coghlan is the fact that he’s right-handed. Assuming health, the right side of the Golden Knights defense is pretty well locked in with Pietrangelo, Theodore, and Whitecloud. It wouldn’t be that shocking if Coghlan outplayed Hague, but in reality, to win a starting job he must do it by such a margin that DeBoer is willing to shift Theodore back to the left side (likely to play with Whitecloud). Not impossible, but far from probable.
Bischoff has been about as steady a performer as can be since he’s gotten to Vegas. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the Golden Knights, he’s likely to clear waivers. Maybe, just maybe, he can really push Hague for that last spot. If he does, it would probably mean a trade would have to be in the works to ensure the Golden Knights don’t lose someone for nothing to make space for Bischoff.
Finally, there’s Korczak. Due to his age and waiver-exempt status, he’s quite the long-shot to be in the Opening Night lineup. However, talent-wise there’s absolutely a case to be made and one he can strengthen with a great next four weeks. In the end, I really don’t see a way Korczak can overcome the seemingly immoveable obstacle of being waiver-exempt.