The Vegas Golden Knights made some big moves this off-season. One of those was moving veteran center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets to make room for the signing of Alex Pietrangelo. The trade has created an opportunity in the role of second-line center. Can highly-touted prospect Cody Glass win the battle?
Several candidates will certainly audition for the spot, including Chandler Stephenson, Nicholas Roy, and Tomas Nosek, all capable of playing center. But the real focus will be on the 21-year-old Glass, the 2017 sixth overall draft pick by the Golden Knights.
William Karlsson has earned the role of top center. Since coming to the Golden Knights, he’s posted three straight 30-plus assist seasons. Expectations are he will remain between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. It’s also worth pointing out that Vegas is in the unusual situation of having two #1 lines. Max Pacioretty led the team with 32 goals and 66 points last season, while Mark Stone led in assists (42) and finished second in points (63). That duo could definitely support an up-and-coming center like Glass with their veteran savvy. The numbers say they’re the top line on many teams. That’s great news for Golden Knights fans.
Stephenson is the player who might be viewed as the immediate answer. His time between Stone and Pacioretty shows he fits in with skilled players. His speed benefits the duo on the forecheck. But can he do it on more of a full-time basis? Before his stint in the desert, Stephenson was seen as a bottom-six grinder. At 26, he has never put up big numbers. His 11-15-26 were all career highs in his first season with the Golden Knights. I like some of what I saw from him on this line.
If Stephenson does get the early nod here, perhaps Glass ends up on the third unit as either center or wing. Teaming him with Alex Tuch could create a third dynamic offensive line. There’s a definite possibility here. It’s tempting to think about.
However… Glass was drafted to be the guy. Is he ready to assume the responsibility?
The Case for Glass
One of the main assumptions of this article is that Glass ends up in the middle. Many times younger players trying to find their way end up on the wing before shifting to center. The main reason is playing on the wing carries less responsibility than the two-way role of center. This is why players like Nosek and Roy enter the conversation, if only briefly. With only half a season of NHL experience under his belt, head coach Pete DeBoer might make a convincing case to stash him on the wing for a bit. I won’t do that.
Placing Glass in the middle, the real battle is with Stephenson to see who ends up with Stone and Pacioretty. With the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, Glass put up massive numbers in his last two seasons. In 2017-18, he posted 37-65-102 in 64 games. The following year, Glass put up 15-54-69 in only 38 games. In both cases, he has shown the ability to be an explosive playmaker who can distribute the puck. Seeing the chemistry of Stone and Pacioretty, it’s understood they can elevate a center’s play. Clearly, Glass has the higher upside of the two.
Glass also saw immediate time on the power play and seems to be a natural fit in the “bumper” role. With the addition of Alex Pietrangelo to the already-dangerous VGK power play, Glass could see time on either unit depending on role distribution. It’s a good problem to have, but Vegas is spoiled for choice offensively.
Room For Improvement
Every player has room for improvement, and much of Glass’s growth will come with age and experience. I’m not too concerned with a faceoff percentage south of 42% or a lack of physical strength – yet. As Glass ages and transitions to his sophomore season of pro, I expect him to learn new work habits. Veteran players and staff serve as a guide for the younger players, and Glass will learn how to take care of his body and his game better. I also would expect him to put in the time towards training and preparation to get stronger and smarter.
Strength will come from putting the hours in the gym. As part of returning from knee surgery and getting ready for this season, I expect Glass to put more time into training. Making his body stronger after a rookie season riddled with injuries has to be a priority.
The mental part of the game comes from reps and preparation. I was fortunate enough to spend time delving into the art of faceoffs with one of the best of his era, Paul Gaustad. Gaustad put a massive amount of time into studying tape and technique. He could bring two or three different techniques into the circle to counter what other players might do on a particular draw. Gaustad also spent a lot of time taking faceoffs at practice and worked hard at his craft. While I don’t think Glass will go to this extreme, it helps to know just like any other aspect of a player’s game, his faceoffs can be improved greatly.
Glass has to dedicate himself to that improvement, but the ceiling gets much higher if he does.
I realize that during the playoffs, Karlsson was playing mostly with Pacioretty and Stone as the Golden Knights struggled to score goals. That last sentence shows a major reason why I don’t think Karlsson remains between those two. Vegas couldn’t find the scoring when it counted most. The wings that have shown they could prop up a center like Glass best are Pacioretty and Stone, not Smith and Marchessault. While Karlsson may stay there, I don’t think it’s likely.
The Bottom Line
Coming out of training camp – whenever it may be – I expect the forward lines to be a fluid situation. Certainly, the Golden Knights will try to find the best compliment for Stone and Pacioretty, especially in a short season with little room for error. But Vegas is deep and is one of the few teams that could afford to be patient with Glass learning a 2C role this year. Putting him on a unit with the tremendous two-way play of Stone could really take some weight off the youngster defensively.
Also, please don’t underestimate the effect of missing time with a major knee injury on a player’s motivation. Glass had a bumpy first year plagued with injuries and will definitely look to put all that behind him and show he’s ready to go.
I believe Glass will get a shot to be a breakout player for the Golden Knights this year. All signs point to him being ready to take the next big step and help the Golden Knights back to the playoffs.
Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo shine in Golden Knights’ win over Ducks
This is what Pete DeBoer envisioned when he put his top two defensemen together.
It’s like the perfect cheat code in “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out,” if there was such a thing. You give Little Mac an opening, he’s going to make Iron Mike pay.
Yes, the purpose of putting Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo together was part of a grand plan to get the Vegas Golden Knights going offensively. That move was probably the third bullet point on a laundry list of items to wake up a team that was in need of production.
Two games in, and the 27-7 pairing has come as advertised. Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game since Jan. 20, and Theodore had a two-assist game for the first time this season.
“The way they like to change things up around here, I think it’s good for the chemistry,” Theodore said. “Being with him, he’s such a good player.”
The Golden Knights escaped with a 3-2 victory Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. William Karlsson scored his second goal of the game with 1:37 left in overtime for the win. Theodore’s second assist came on the game-winner.
And while that goal will go down as the important tally in the House of Mouse, the first two stole the show.
Vegas controlled the game for the majority of the first period. Even after Rickard Rakell scored the game’s first goal 10:09 into the first, the ice seemed tilted in the Golden Knights’ favor.
Part of that momentum was generated by the fourth line. Normally a group DeBoer starts games with, the trio of William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves set the tone as they occasionally do. The Golden Knights’ opening shift lasted 55 seconds, with 50 of it from the offensive zone.
On their sixth shift of the period, the fourth line was in the offensive zone with Theodore and Pietrangelo.
The play starts with Kolesar and Reaves keeping the forecheck alive without the puck. Reaves forces a turnover at center ice and dumps the puck in, with Kolesar giving chase.
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler’s pass to Rakell along the endboards is intercepted by Pietrangelo, to which he gathers it in the trapezoid below the goal line.
There are a total of nine skaters in the frame when Pietrangelo has the puck. The only player open is Theodore, who hasn’t even crossed the blue line yet. Yes, Pietrangelo found Theodore perfectly in this crowd.
As soon as Theodore receives the puck, it’s a quick pass back to Pietrangelo. With Anaheim already scrambling, Pietrangelo fires a laser with Carrier screening John Gibson perfectly in front.
“[Theodore’s] obviously got great vision, we all know that. We’ve watched that really grow over the last year. I don’t think that goes in unless Will’s in front of the net, screening the goalie,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re finding each other when we need to find each other, but we’re also shooting when we need to. If we can put pressure on teams with the way we can move the puck, it’s certainly something we need as a team.”
On the second goal, a neutral zone breakdown aided in this, but it’s why the Golden Knights gave $61.6 million to Pietrangelo.
Give credit to Jonathan Marchessault, who Pietrangelo and Karlsson said was calling for the puck. Jakob Silfverberg dumped the puck to Pietrangelo with Karlsson on his tail.
Pietrangelo said one of two things were going to happen here: Either he hit Karlsson on the tape and he walks in on Gibson, or nothing materializes and the Golden Knights set up shop in the offensive zone.
It’s a picturesque pass from just above the goal line nearly 150 feet away. Karlsson beat three Ducks coming from the neutral zone, channeled his inner Bobby Orr and scored while falling down.
“With the way we play with our speed, we’re always looking for those opportunities, especially if it’s a neutral zone breakdown like that was,” Pietrangelo said. “I don’t think I make that play unless they’re calling for it. Great finish by him, that’s for sure.”
It’s only two games, but it’s hard not to like what Pietrangelo and Theodore have done together.
Against the Colorado Avalanche last Monday, the pairing was 13-16 in shot attempts while on the ice. Keep in mind, a majority of that 19:27 they played at 5-on-5 was defending Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and co.
On Saturday, the Golden Knights out-attempted the Ducks 24-18 with Pietrangelo and Theodore together, a 9-8 edge in scoring chances (8-4 through the first two periods), and 3-5 in high-danger chances.
Anaheim had eight high-danger opportunities in the third period, so keep that in mind.
Through two periods, it was stellar. The Golden Knights eased up in the third and allowed Anaheim to tie it, and eventually get a point.
Having Theodore and Pietrangelo on the ice at the same time unlocks a lot of possibilities offensively, and enhances Pietrangelo’s full capability when he has the puck. That first goal was the perfect example of that.
“Obviously two elite offensive-thinking defensemen,” DeBoer said. “When you’re defending against two guys like that, you have to respect both of their ability to make plays and or beat you with their feet. You get a little more room, and I think that was the case on that goal. They created some room for themselves just with what they’re able to do.”
Who knows what’s going to happen when Brayden McNabb returns from long-term injured reserve? The possibility is there for the McNabb-Pietrangelo pairing to return, but right now might not be that time.
Two games in with this new lineup; two wins. It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.
Golden Knights Gameday: Golden Knights vs. Ducks
Tonight the Vegas Golden Knights return to the ice for the first time since Monday night when they travel to California to play the Anaheim Ducks at 7 pm PT.
Vegas Golden Knights (11-4-1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (6-10-4)
The Vegas Golden Knights return to the ice after the postponement of Thursday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks due to a COVID-19 protocol listing of forward Tomas Hertl.
First and foremost, the sending-down of goalie Oscar Dansk, defenseman Dylan Coghlan and forward Patrick Brown shows where the Golden Knights are in regards to their roster. Goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Brayden McNabb appear ready to return from injuries, while Tomas Nosek is back from his time on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list.
In Lehner’s absence, Marc-Andre Fleury has been carrying the load capably in net. Fleury has started seven straight games in his absence due to an upper body injury, and while George McPhee did say earlier this week he’d like to see a rotation develop again it’s not clear when Lehner will start.
Something else that’s not clear is the lines for Vegas tonight. Head coach Pete DeBoer won’t tip his hand until warm-up, and there could be several moving parts at play. Even on defense where McNabb could slot back in on the top pair it’s not quite clear if that’s the plan yet.
Whatever the lineup, Vegas is fresh off splitting a four-game series with the Colorado Avalanche in which the top two teams in the Honda West Division split two games apiece. The series was by far the toughest test for Vegas so far, and the Golden Knights looked good winning 3-0 on Monday.
Conversely, Anaheim has not won since shutting out the Vegas Golden Knights 1-0 back on February 11th, going 0-4-1 since. The Ducks have surrendered 19 goals in those five games while scoring only an average of two per game. Some of the big names have been disappointing for the Ducks this season, including big free agent signing Kevin Shattenkirk who has only contributed five assists so far. In fact, no Ducks player has more than ten points on the season except Max Comtois (8-5-13) who has fared well against the Golden Knights this season with four goals and five points in four games.
Keep An Eye On
Vegas Golden Knights
Mark Stone has four assists and five points in four games against the Ducks this season despite Vegas being shut out in the last outing against Anaheim. Stone has been the spark plug for the Vegas Golden Knights, leading the team in assists (13) and points (17). In a game where Vegas could get the Ducks to fold early if they get out in front, his line will be key.
It’s hard not to single out Max Comtois for Anaheim. He scored the first three goals of the season for the Ducks, all against Vegas. Comtois leads the team in points both against the Golden Knights and overall. On a team begging for production from just about anywhere, his ability to stay hot against the Golden Knights will be incredibly important.
Vegas Golden Knights
- Jonathan Marchessault has a three-game point streak (2-1-3).
- Alex Tuch has three goals in his last two games.
- Vegas is 8-0-1 when scoring first this season, while the Ducks have given up the first goal in nine of its 20 games this season, winning only once when that happens (1-6-2).
- Vegas also has not lost a game when leading after any period this year. They’re 5-0 with a first period lead and 6-0 with a second period lead.
- While Max Comtois leads the Ducks in points this season, he’s also converting his shots at an incredible 23.5 percent rate.
- The Ducks penalty kill has been surprisingly good this season, ranking sixth overall in the NHL with an 85.2 percent success rate.
- Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk will play in their 700th NHL games tonight.
Brayden McNabb nearing return for Golden Knights – how should he be deployed?
It’s only a matter of time before the Vegas Golden Knights get defenseman Brayden McNabb back.
The Golden Knights’ top defensive defenseman has been on long-term injured reserve since Feb. 1 (retroactive to Jan. 26) and is nearing the 10-game/24-day cutoff of when he can be activated.
McNabb will need time to get up to game speed, per coach Pete DeBoer, but he’s inching closer to where he can begin practicing.
“I got an update today that he’s getting much closer,” DeBoer said Friday. “I think he’s still got a final X-Ray or image in order to confirm full healing, and then he’ll get reintegrated into the group. Obviously, then, he has to get up to speed for not skating in over a month. I don’t have a specific time, but that’s the information I have.”
Logistically, having McNabb back should be an upgrade. He’s been Vegas’ top stay-at-home stalwart since the inaugural season and, at the very least, you’d like a 6-foot-4, 216-pound human being patrolling your blue line.
The last two seasons, however, have been a struggle for McNabb. His 2.77 goals-against per 60 is the worst mark on the Golden Knights and hardly an uptick from his 2.78 last season. The hope was McNabb would rebound from his rough go in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble (2.8 GA/60), but it hasn’t been an ideal start.
Compare that to Years 1 (2.17) and 2 (2.59), you wonder if McNabb’s days as a top-pairing guy are over.
If we’re along that line of thinking, the next question: Where do you play McNabb when he gets back?
To be clear, McNabb has value to him. It just might not be when pairing him with Alex Pietrangelo.
Eye-test wise, Pietrangelo has played fine, but not to the apex of a seven-year, $61.6 million contract. Keeping Pietrangelo with Shea Theodore, however, sounds a lot more enticing for both top defensemen.
There’s only a one-game sample size for 27-7, but you keep them together if it gets Pietrangelo going.
Zach Whitecloud has played his way to a deserved promotion. Not only has been stellar defensively at 5-on-5 (1.39 GA/60, 1.68 xGA/60), but he’s worked for his offense; Whitecloud has started 5.8 shifts per 60 in the defensive zone; not that far off from McNabb’s 5.87, and Whitecloud has five points to his credit.
While Whitecloud and Nic Hague have been a solid third pairing, I too would like to see more than a one-game sample size with Alec Martinez.
That leaves Hague with McNabb, and that’s an intriguing pair. You’d have to go back to the 2019 preseason to find film of Hague and McNabb playing together, but they played well together. Albeit, new coaching staff and everything since then, but McNabb on the third pair limits his deficiencies.
Also, good luck trying to shoot at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6 defensemen when they’re playing together.
No disrespect to Dylan Coghlan, but the 23-year-old would be the odd man out. There’s still some time for his game to grow and him observing for a bit wouldn’t be the worst idea.
I wouldn’t be too quick to jump the gun on moving on from McNabb just yet. Until this month, McNabb missed only seven games in three seasons. He’s been as reliable as anyone on the Golden Knights and absolutely deserves a chance to show his worth.
We’re a quarter into the season, and DeBoer hasn’t hesitated to shake things up; evidence of jumbling the lines and pairs in Monday’s 3-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche.
McNabb has always been lauded for doing the little things right. Doing those things, in a reduced role, might benefit all parties.