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Vegas Golden Knights

Loaded Lines, Stocked Blueline, VGK Now Class of West

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Vegas Golden Knights VGK Tom's Daily

The Vegas Golden Knights are about as stacked as you can get. No matter how the top six forwards shake out when the season starts, either line could be a number one on any NHL club. Defensively the Golden Knights landed the top free agent prize in Alex Pietrangelo to further bolster a tremendous blueline. And in net, the tandem of Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury is among the NHL’s top three. The Golden Knights roster is among the best in the NHL.

It seems like no one is saying it so I will: Vegas is the class of the West.

Look at any list of top this or that, and there’s a VGK player, maybe two on it. They have goal scorers, setup men, defensive specialists and more. They’re deep everywhere, although I admit potentially young down the middle after William Karlsson. They really have all the makings of a team that should see itself in the Stanley Cup Final again this year.

What Happened In The Bubble?

It’s so odd. I spent a good amount of time watching Dallas in the bubble. At no point did they look like a team that was going to end up in the Stanley Cup Final. Yet they plodded along, getting just enough scoring and just enough goaltending to get the job done. It certainly helped that Vegas’ scoring completely flamed out in the later rounds and allowed the Stars to squeak by. But even now I can tell you Dallas is a good team with a good collection of talent, but I can’t say they’re better than Vegas.

Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, the scoring dried up at the wrong time. Several sticks went cold in tandem, and the team just couldn’t find the production to win another series or two. If they received average production against the Stars, Vegas very likely would have been playing for the Cup. Instead they were left questioning what could have been.

The Reaction

Vegas has been single-minded in its pursuit of a Stanley Cup, going into win-now mode ever since the Inaugural Season when that team surprised everyone and came up just short of a title. Though much of the original Golden Knights roster is gone, the VGK has never stopped improving. Adding Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Robin Lehner and now Alex Pietrangelo has cost both valued prospects and solid NHL players. You don’t just trade away Paul Stastny or Nate Schmidt without a plan – or the confidence that you can replace their contributions. Some might call it ruthless, but the Golden Knights issue no apologies about wanting to win now.

Even the firing of Gerard Gallant came as a surprise to many in hockey circles. Sure the team was going through a rough patch but it was still a shock given all the Golden Knights had accomplished to that point. Yet Pete DeBoer came in and got the team right back on track, derailed only by the coronavirus shutdown.

I’ve talked to some people who feel that the Golden Knights have overreacted to getting bounced by the Stars with all the personnel moves. I disagree. They’re in a window that will only last for a finite amount of time. Taking advantage of that window sometimes requires difficult decisions involving fan favorites. No one likes to see a guy traded when they just bought his jersey. But credit to GM Kelly McCrimmon for making some difficult decisions that other general managers might have shied away from with little fallout.

Potential Obstacles

One thing that could crop up and present an obstacle is an unsettled feeling in the room. It’s one thing to make deals to improve your team, it’s another to break up team chemistry or rattle locker room confidence by making everyone feel like they’re 30 seconds from being dealt. Humans don’t like uncertainty. We like to know our situation and establish a routine around it. Not knowing how far these shakeups can go could be a real distraction.

If these things had happened during the regular season or even playoffs, I could buy that. But in an unusual off-season any disquiet among the players should settle by the time we get back to business. Yes, it appears this Golden Knights roster needs one more move to get under the cap, but I’d expect them to find a way to use some IR space to do so. This team is the one you’re going to see next season.

Another obstacle could be the mounting tension in goal. Personally it appears Fleury and Lehner are fine, which is great. But off the ice, Fleury doesn’t want to sit. He’s paid as a number one and wants to be one. It’s still not clear what the relationship with Fleury and DeBoer will be like once we get back to games. Fleury has always been a good teammate. It remains to be seen how things will be handled internally, but externally the cracks won’t show. Hopefully there’s an answer here to satisfy all parties.

Top Competition

Dallas is going to have a target on its back all season, and Vegas will be aiming for them early and often. Other teams that (in a traditional conference alignment) Vegas will have to look out for include a motivated St. Louis Blues, the new-look Minnesota Wild, a Calgary Flames team that finally has that stud goalie and perhaps even a reinvigorated Winnipeg Jets. But none of these teams (notice I left out the Oilers who are still a mess in goal) match up with Vegas. The Golden Knights should thank Dallas for the premature exit, because the Stars will start the season marked. Trust me, it won’t take long for that bullseye to switch to the VGK.

End Result

By the time we reach the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I expect we will see Vegas atop the West and ready to make another deep run. Once the second center battle is settled the lines will really get a chance to settle into a groove. Pietrangelo’s addition makes the team better in both ends of the ice, and bolsters an already-dangerous power play even further. Both goaltenders are legit 1A goalies and give the team a chance to win every single night. Plus now Shea Theodore will have more room to roam offensively on the second pair and could potentially make an even bigger impact. The ripple effect will elevate the team’s play to a new level this year.

Is it too early to say this is the year? Maybe. But it’s not too early to say this is the best Vegas Golden Knights roster so far.

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Erik Vegas

if Glass doesn’t shine we are screwed at Center. ya’ll skipped what every other outlet is saying.

Tom Callahan

I actually don’t think they are screwed if Glass doesn’t shine. Stephenson has shown chemistry with Pacioretty and Stone previously, and his production would be brought up by both of them. Is that a factor of them elevating his game? Yes. That pair will prop up an average center. Win some draws, get them the puck, and you’ve done your job. That’s why Karlsson won’t center these two.

Charlie Anderson

No mention of the Avs huh? I’d be trying to forget about them too if I was in VGK’s corner…

Henderson Silver Knights

Golden Knights Prospects Update

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Lukas Cormier Vegas Golden Knights prospects

In any year that’s not 2020, updating the Vegas Golden Knights prospects would be a lengthy endeavor. Perhaps I’d even split it into three parts by position.

This year is different. Several leagues are not playing. We still don’t even know if they’ll actually play, regardless of whether a start date has been announced or not. As of right now, the AHL, ECHL, OHL and WHL are planning to play but have not started. The QMJHL has started playing with mixed results, as some teams have played double-digit games while others sit at three or four because of COVID-19 pauses. Europe has done a little better but it’s a much smaller geographic spread for everyone except the KHL.

With that as the backdrop, it’s a little easier to keep an eye on Golden Knights prospects. That is, if there’s anything to report.

Forwards

Brendan Brisson – C

Brisson was the top choice for Vegas (#29 overall) in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He’s a freshman at Michigan this year and already has four points (1-3-4) in four games. He had a power play goal and an assist to help the Wolverines beat Wisconsin 5-2 on November 19 last week. All four of Brisson’s points have come on the power play to help UM start the season at 37.5% with the man advantage.

Marcus Kallionkieli – LW

Kallionkieli is getting to play games after being loaned to HIFK’s U-20 squad. The 19-year-old speedster has a goal and five points in nine games so far this year. One of the few Golden Knights prospects to have a chance to play significant games before 2021.

Ivan Morozov – C

The 20-year-old center remains unsigned by Vegas after being drafted in the second round back in 2018. This year with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, he’s posted 5-5-10 in 24 games so far. Morozov has yet to play outside of Russia and it looks like that trend may continue.

Pavel Dorofeyev – F

Dorofeyev has seen action at three different levels with Chelyabinsk this season including one game in the KHL with Traktor. He, like countryman Morozov, remains unsigned by the VGK.

Ryder Donovan – F

Donovan is entering his second season with the University of Wisconsin, seeing action in five games so far. He has a pair of goals and an assist as the Badgers have played more games (six) than any other college in NCAA DI. Donovan, a 2019 fourth round pick, remains unsigned.

Nick Campoli – C

Campoli was a sixth round pick in 2017, and remains unsigned. As a junior this year at Clarkson, he’s appeared in one game with no points or PIMs.

Brandon Kruse – LW

The unsigned 2018 fifth round pick of the Golden Knights has a goal and four points in just two games with Bowling Green State University this season. Don’t get too excited, those games were against the D III Adrian Bulldogs.

Maxim Marushev – C

Marushev has already played 18 games between AK Bars Kazan in the KHL and Bars Kazan in the VHL, posting a goal and four points total. Although 21, Marushev is a seventh round pick from this year’s draft.

Martins Dzierkals – RW

The 23-year-old Latvian hasn’t skated in North America since 2017-18 with the Toronto Marlies and Orlando Solar Bears. This year in the KHL with Riga he has 3-5-8 in 17 games.

Defensemen

Lukas Cormier – D

If you’re following hockey being played in North America right now, you’re probably watching the QMJHL and Lukas Cormier. He set a torrid pace to start the season and was named QMJHL Defenseman of the Month for October. He continues to rip it up in the high-scoring league, with seven goals and 21 points in just 13 games for the Charlottetown Islanders. Cormier looks like a steal by Vegas at #68 overall (R3) in this year’s draft.

Noah Ellis – D

Ellis managed to get one game in with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers with one assist so far. The USHL has tried to play starting November 5, but has met with the same mixed results as the QMJHL. Three teams have played five games, Des Moines and Team USA have played one. The sixth-round pick by Vegas in this year’s NHL Entry Draft will play at UMass next season.

Layton Ahac – D

Ahac has played one game with Ohio State in the Big Ten. Again, college hockey is trying to play with mixed results. Don’t expect too much in the way of action here either.

Goalies

Jiri Patera – G

Patera is getting some game action in with Motor Ceske Budejovice on loan. In five appearances he’s posted a 1.82 GAA and .937 save percentage, yet is only 1-3-0 on the season. Looks like run support is a little lacking, but otherwise excellent numbers.

Jesper Vikman – G

A fifth-round pick by the VGK at this year’s draft, Vikman has been playing games in Sweden with AIK’s J20 Nationell club. He’s 5-4-0 with a 4.10 GAA and an .851 save percentage. Don’t let those numbers spook you, as previously he has shown better. Hard to really gauge what kind of team he’s on or competition he’s facing, but for a goalie any experience is good.

The Wrap

For the most part, if you don’t see them mentioned here they’re either not playing or so far off the radar they might be at the North Pole with Santa and his helpers. Seriously, it might be a while until several Golden Knights prospects get it going if they do at all. Expect continued shutdowns of sports by regions at various times, depending on the ebb and flow of the virus and until we are able to get a vaccine in widespread circulation.

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Vegas Golden Knights

REPORT: COVID-19 Hits Golden Knights, 4 Players & Family Infected

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Vegas Golden Knights City National Arena, COVID-19
City National Arena: Photo by Toohool

It is the storm that will not end. On Monday night, the Vegas Golden Knights admitted that four players have tested positive for the coronavirus. The team facilities were immediately shut down, according to TSN reporter Frank Seravalli.

Per Vegas Hockey Now policy, we will not name the players unless the team or the players publicly do so.

The mini-outbreak is the largest for any NHL team since March when the Ottawa Senators and other NHL and NBA teams also suffered small outbreaks. Officials traced those outbreaks back to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In July, the Pittsburgh Penguins quarantined nine players after secondary exposure, too.

Cerevalli released the Golden Knights’ statement via Twitter:

“Four Golden Knights players recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Those players have been self-isolating, and all are recovering well. As a precautionary measure, the Golden Knights off-ice player areas (locker room, lounge, gym, training room, and video room) will be closed to all players and team staff through the Thanksgiving holiday.

City National Hockey Arena programming, the Arsenal, and MacKenzie River Pizza remain open at City National Arena and continue to operate under guidelines set forth by the state of Nevada and local health officials. We will continue to follow recommendations and guidance from the CDC, NHL, and our local officials to ensure the health and safety of our community, players, and staff.”

Seravalli also reported family members of the infected Vegas Golden Knights have also tested positive, and more could follow.

The NHL and NHLPA continue to negotiate terms on a new Return to Play format. The NHLPA and agents are still boiling mad over the NHL’s ask that players defer an additional 13-16% salary this season. Negotiations immediately stalled as players bristled.

The salary deferrals and increased escrow for this season could mean players take home only 30-40% of their salary.

VHN will update the story as more details become available.

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Vegas Golden Knights

It’s Time for Glass; Can Young Center Carry Big Responsibility?

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Cody Glass Vegas Golden Knights

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.

The Battle

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.

The Caveat

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.

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