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Golden Knights With The Most To Gain/Lose With The Coaching Change

Somehow almost every player I picked ended up in this picture. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Often times when teams swap coaches they see a shift in usage among players on the roster. Some guys see dramatic upticks in their ice time while others watch their’s decrease or even diminish entirely.

Of course, we still don’t know who the next coach will be, but we do know who benefitted most from Pete DeBoer’s system and who didn’t. So, here are the four players with the most to gain and the four with the most to lose as the Golden Knights switch coaches.

Most To Gain

William Karlsson

It’s no secret Karlsson’s best days in the NHL were under Gerard Gallant. The forecheck-reliant, free-flowing, transition-heavy style fit Karlsson’s game perfectly. Not only was he at his best offensively, but he and his line of Misfits were always the best defensive line as well. Under DeBoer, it often felt like Karlsson was overthinking the game which led to hesitancy in the offensive zone in favor of making the “right” play to keep them safe defensively. This seemed to sap his confidence which has proven to be a huge factor in Karlsson’s success. The new coach will likely improve his power play numbers as well. In his first two seasons in Vegas, Karlsson notched 15 PP goals in 164 games. The last three years, he had five in 186.

Jack Eichel

It’s not like Eichel struggled under DeBoer, he clearly didn’t, but there’s a pretty good chance a new coach will tailor his system more to Eichel’s skillset than we saw from DeBoer. Center was a demanding position defensively under DeBoer, and that simply isn’t Eichel’s strong suit. He’s likely to be matched with at least one stellar defensive winger, which under a less defensive-minded system could free up Eichel in the offensive zone. Also, there’s a good chance the new coach is less reliant on working the puck from low to high which very well may unleash more of Eichel’s creativity.

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Golden Knights 2021-22 Locker Cleanout Press Conference Audio

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights conducted their season-end media availability today at City National Arena. This is the complete unedited audio of every press conference.

0:00 – 31:47 – Pete DeBoer

31:47 – 1:07:24 – Kelly McCrimmon

1:07:24 – 1:23:10 – Alec Martinez

1:23:10 – 1:39:20 – Max Pacioretty

1:39:20 – 1:48:27 – Shea Theodore

1:48:27 – 2:01:44 – Jack Eichel

2:01:44 – 2:13:20 – Zach Whitecloud

2:13:20 – 2:26:48 – Mark Stone

2:26:48 – 2:38:01 – Jonathan Marchessault

2:38:01 – 2:47:46 – William Karlsson

2:47:46 – 2:57:56 – Brayden McNabb

Zach Whitecloud Explains Hardest Part Of Returning From Lengthy Injury

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Zach Whitecloud is having the best season of his young NHL career. He’s already exceeded his career-high in points, he’s playing a much larger role both at five-on-five and on the penalty kill, and advanced offensive metrics have him up there with some of the best defensemen in the league.

This is, of course, when he’s been able to be on the ice.

Whitecloud has suffered two fairly serious injuries this year. His first came in late October when he blocked a shot with his wrist. That one kept him sidelined for just about a month. He was then having a run of success when he suffered a broken foot which kept him out for another four weeks.

Speaking today with the media, Whitecloud shared a bit about what it’s like to be out of the lineup for a while and then be thrust right back into NHL games. Interestingly, the toughest part for him when returning to play isn’t anything physical.

When you are out for three weeks, a month, you are not used to having those fast pace motions in your life. You don’t have those types of stimulus coming in. We are used to things coming at us fast and reacting and getting hit while making plays. We’re trying to think about making a play while also thinking about three other things. When you don’t have that in your life it takes a little while to get it going again. -Whitecloud

Whitecloud said you can’t mimic this type of test on the brain in practice and for him, it takes a number of live reps to get comfortable with making these quick reads again.

It’s not that you are squeezing your stick too tight or that you are nervous, you just don’t have that stimulus in your life. -Whitecloud

Part of the reason we all love hockey is the speed of the game. There’s simply no other sport like it and in many ways, there aren’t many things in life that require the pace of brain activity that hockey does. So, it’s really no surprise that when a player goes from the methodical process of rehabbing an injury to making reads and taking hits in an NHL game, it takes a while for their minds to catch back up.

Part of that is keeping the game simple. Making it easy on yourself, making it easy on your teammates by making simple plays and not overcomplicating it because you can put yourself in some bad spots. -Whitecloud

With the Golden Knights experiencing so many injuries this season, this is sure to be something to keep an eye on as each one returns from injury. Most of us focus on the physical aspect of the game when players come back, but according to a guy who has been through it multiple times this season, maybe we should be more focused on their minds, and more specifically, decision making.

Vegas Catching Up With The Eastern Conference

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After defeating the Detroit Red Wings last night, Vegas clawed back to one game under .500 against Eastern Conference teams this season. The Golden Knights received three goals from defensemen, one from veteran Reilly Smith and rookie Paul Cotter added another. Whatever coach Pete DeBoer drew up before the game, it couldn’t have worked out any better than their well-rounded 5-2 result. It hasn’t gone as smoothly against other teams from the East.

On Tuesday, the Golden Knights faced a much more complete team and lost by two at home. Carolina is one of the NHL’s best overall clubs, and happen to be much healthier than Vegas. The Hurricanes high end forwards and mobile defense troubled the Golden Knights. Star forward Sebastian Aho shot seven times, registering 2 points and the Canes took 14 shots from defensemen. Carolina boasts 3.5 goals per game and like Vegas receive a good percentage of their offense from their blue line. Injuries aside, both rosters are among the elite and would make for an entertaining final.

The NY Islanders were another Eastern Conference team Vegas struggled with, losing 2-0 at T-Mobile Arena in late October. New York played defensively, waited out mistakes, forcing Vegas into bad shots and one and out opportunities. The Golden Knights fell into the Islanders trap and outshot New York two to one, but were out scored 2-0. Games against New York are consistently uneventful and Vegas will need patience and quality shooting to win a tight, low scoring contest. Unfortunately, the Golden Knights fell in similar fashions in back-to-back semifinals, so there’s plenty to learn from an Islanders loss.

At times in an NHL season it’s pick your poison night; a slow frustrating game or an exhaustive track meet. Earlier this month, Vegas traveled and lost by four in Toronto. The loss wasn’t the problem, the concern was the Golden Knights getting blanked 4-0. We’re all aware of Toronto’s weak defense and goaltending of the past, so at full strength Vegas should capitalize.

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ZACH WHITECLOUD SIGNS 6-YEAR EXTENSION WITH $2.75M AAV

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have extended the contract of defenseman Zach Whitecloud. The new contract is six years, $16.5 million for an average annual value of $2.75 million. Whitecloud is now tied to the Golden Knights through the end of the 2027-28 NHL season.

With Training Camp Underway GM McCrimmon Happy For Some Normalcy

(Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights training camp begins today representing the return of the players and finally the fans. The start of a normally scheduled camp has the Golden Knights brass ecstatic as well. The Golden Knights’ GM addressed the media yesterday to give his expectations on training camp and making another chase for the Stanley Cup.

Really excited about 82 games. Really excited about playing 31 other teams. Last year was a challenge for a lot of people and for a lot of different reasons. We’re really optimistic that this will feel a lot more like a normal NHL season. We’re pleased with our offseason, pleased with the makeup of our team as we head into the season. -Kelly McCrimmon, Vegas GM

While the GM was satisfied with his offseason changes he’s also eager to learn more about what’s in the cupboard. Entering their fifth NHL season, Vegas’ front office would like to add contributions from some of their more experienced prospects.

I always get excited about the evolution of young players. I’m excited to see Keegan Kolesar, Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, Nic Roy, that group of young players. I’m excited to see their progression because that’s a big part of how your team improves. Zach Whitecloud, still a young player. I’m excited to see those players. -McCrimmon

The list of players the Golden Knights GM rattled off are under contract for one more season before entering restricted free agency. Of course, it’s an established roster but the Golden Knights at some point will need impact from the younger generation. McCrimmon also mentioned centers Nolan Patrick and Brett Howden but there are different expectations considering both are new to the organization.

Coach Pete DeBoer will have the luxury of roughly three weeks and seven preseason games to examine his younger players. DeBoer will need some to quickly become everyday NHL players. There may not be many openings in Vegas’ opening day roster but there could be bottom-six minutes up for grabs.

This year has seven preseason games, last year did not. I think there’s real value in that. Not only for your veteran players but it’s a great opportunity for young guys… I believe our forwards as a group are better than they’ve been at any point in our existence. I think we made our team better at the forward position. -McCrimmon

McCrimmon stated, and few would disagree, Vegas has a roster that only a handful of teams can match. The general manager never mentioned direct expectations but the goal has to be the same under The Creator’s ownership.

With the franchise’s best-ever forward unit, star-studded defense, and superb goaltending, it has to be a Cup or Bust type mentality behind closed doors. Expect another fun ride.

Hunting Career Highs: Defensemen And Goalie

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Though hockey is a team sport and the ultimate goal for every player involved is hoisting the Stanley Cup, individual numbers matter too. Each guy is always looking to build what they’ve done so far in their respective careers. With a pair of shortened seasons in the books, the last two years, and the Golden Knights primed to be one of the best teams in the NHL, many players have a chance to put up career-high numbers in numerous statistical categories.

We’re taking a look at each individual player and choosing the statistic they are most likely to set their career high in this season. Today we start with goalies and defensemen, later in the week we’ll move on to forwards.

Robin Lehner
Stat: Wins
Career High – 25

Lehner has his name engraved on the Jennings Trophy twice in the past three seasons. He has also received Vezina votes in two of those years. He did both of those as part of a goalie tandem though. Before that, he was the starter in Buffalo but for just two seasons, neither of which were his best. Now, Lehner has been handed the reins in Vegas and will likely be looking at 55-60 games in the net. His career-high mark in wins is just 25, the year he came in 2nd for the Vezina. Assuming health, he should get there with ease.

Other options: Shutouts (6), Quality Starts (32), Games Started (58)

Shea Theodore
Stat: Points
Career High – 46

Shea is the perfect guy to break through statistically this year because he doesn’t even need to improve his game to do it. In the 71 game season, in which he finished 6th in Norris, Theodore posted 46 points, an awesome number, but very reachable with 11 more games. He improved on it last year going off for 42 in 53 games. That’s 0.8 points per game. To set his career-high this year, he’ll need just 0.57 points per game.

Other options: TOI (1,588), Assists (34), Shots (219), Goals (13), Power Play Points (16)

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Will Defensive Scoring Continue Into The Postseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If I told you before the season the Golden Knights defensemen would score a total of 29 goals in 38 games you’d be pleasantly surprised. If I then told you they were scoring 0.68 goals per game and only two from Alex Pietrangelo you’d call me a loony.

Since this season is 26 games shorter, offensive numbers from defensemen stand out a little more. Not only are goals from defensemen necessary, but assisting and generating them as well. This season the Golden Knights are getting it all from their blueline.

2021 VGK Defensive Scoring

Theodore: 29 Points (6 Goals, 23 Assists)
Martinez: 22 Points (7 Goals, 15 Assists)
Hague: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists)
Pietrangelo: 11 Points (2 Goals, 9 Assists)
Whitecloud: 8 Points (2 Goals, 6 Assists)
Coghlan: 5 Points (3 Goals, 2 Assists)
McNabb: 3 Points (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
Holden: 2 Points (2 Assists)
Total Defensive Points: 94 Points (26 G, 68 A)

Most of the eight defensemen to suit up this season are far beyond their pace for career years. All but two have eclipsed their points per game average. If this were a normal 82-game season it’s plausible the majority of the Golden Knights defense would cruise past their previous high campaigns.

When you add the total goals from each defensemen’s best offensive season the number is just 20 goals short of what they’ve amassed in only 38 games played this year. Lately, Vegas D-men have been so effective it’s made up for the slump Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone are currently in. Which is good sign for postseason droughts. Especially, when youngsters Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, and Dylan Coghlan are getting involved offensively.

VGK Defensemen Previous Career Highs

Pietrangelo: 16 Goals (54 Points)
Theodore: 13 Goals (46 Points)
Martinez: 11 Goals (39 Points)
McNabb: 5 Goals (24 Points)
Hague: 1 Goal (11 Points)
Whitecloud: 0 Points
Coghlan: 0 Points
VGK Defensemen in 2021: 26 Goals (0.68 PPG)
Combined Career Highs: 46 Goals (0.56 PPG)

Currently, the Golden Knights defensive unit is the highest-scoring in the NHL. When the Golden Knights get contributions from the blue line or bottom-six it softens the pressure around the stars. Which allows them to get to work and do their jobs. Also, it makes Vegas a much more potent club in the postseason.

Scoring 0.68 goals per game from the blue line will help win many regular season games, but that additional offense is even more vital in the playoffs when games tend to tighten up. It’s unrealistic to rely on Vegas defensemen to score at their regular season pace. They might bail out the top six on certain nights but Vegas can’t survive if the defense is relied upon for three or four postseason games.

VGK Defensemen Postseason Points Per Game

Theodore: 0.67 PPG (67 Games)
Pietrangelo: 0.55 PPG (92 Games)
Martinez: 0.28 PPG (84 Games)
Holden: 0.25 PPG (40 Games)
McNabb: 0.17 PPG (52 Games)
Whitecloud: 0.15 PPG (20 Games)
Combined Postseason Average: 0.345 PPG

Only Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore average more than 0.30 points per playoff game. Sure, Alec Martinez has one of the most memorable Cup-clinching shots of all time but he’s never been relied on to produce offensively. That’s not his role.

The best-case scenario would be Pacioretty, Stone, and other top-six forwards consistently driving offense in the postseason. In that situation, any point from the blue line would be an added bonus. Momentum changing, insurance type goals or series clinchers.

Ask Alec, that’s how the Stanley Cup is won.

Film Breakdown: Zach Whitecloud’s Offensive Instincts

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights signed Zach Whitecloud as an undrafted college free agent out of Bemidji State, the hope was for him to turn into a defense-first option at the NHL level. During his early stint with the Golden Knights and a couple of years with the Chicago Wolves, that’s exactly what he was.

But, since Pete DeBoer took over and Whitecloud has become a staple in the lineup, he’s starting to show some offensive flair. Here’s my film breakdown showing his excellent ability to read and react to plays.

Pairing With Pietrangelo – 5 Options For The Golden Knights Blue Line

Adding Alex Pietrangelo changes the look of any defensive unit in the NHL. It’s no different for the Golden Knights who through the years have seen quite the morphing of their blue line.

Vegas will head into 2020-21 with just one remaining starter from their inaugural game in Dallas, two from the Cup Final roster, and three from last year’s Opening Night.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

2017-18 Opening Night

Sbisa-Schmidt
McNabb-Engelland
Garrison-Miller

2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 1

McNabb-Schmidt
Theodore-Engelland
Sbisa-Miller

2018-19 Opening Night

Theodore-Engelland
McNabb-Miller
Merrill-Holden
*Schmidt Suspended

2019-20 Opening Night

McNabb-Schmidt
Merrill-Theodore
Holden-Engelland

How they run it out for 2020-21 is still to be determined, but the options are fairly minimal. Three of the six projected starters are absolutely locked into one side of the defense with a fourth basically a foregone conclusion. The three are Pietrangelo (right), McNabb (left), and Whitecloud (right). Theodore is the fourth, he played 90 of 91 games on the right side last season, including the playoffs.

That leaves just a few moveable pieces thus limiting the combinations Pete DeBoer has to work with. Here are each of the possible options, starting with the one most likely to be used by the Golden Knights when they open the 2020-21 season.

Option 1
McNabb-Pietrangelo
Martinez-Theodore
Holden-Whitecloud

This combination leaves two pairs intact from the playoff run and slots Pietrangelo in with a good fit in McNabb to play first pair minutes. Martinez has shown to be a great option with Theodore and the Holden/Whitecloud pair have held the fort on the third pair. The main question with this grouping would be how much McNabb holds back Pietrangelo’s offense. At times, Schmidt’s offense was neutered a bit playing with McNabb as they found themselves hemmed in the defensive zone against the opposing top line. Pietrangelo is an upgrade over Schmidt which should help that issue, but he wasn’t brought to Vegas to spend a majority of his shifts trying to exit the zone. The Golden Knights want offense from Pietrangelo, and if it’s not coming in bunches with McNabb by his side, they won’t hesitate to switch things around. Probability: 80%

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