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.