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Brayden McNabb nearing return for Golden Knights – how should he be deployed?

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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.

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Danny Webster has covered the Vegas Golden Knights since their inaugural season. A graduate from the Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at UNLV, Danny has written about the Golden Knights for NHL.com and SB Nation. He is now the lead reporter covering this young franchise for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

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[…] 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 […]

[…] 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 to the lineup, as noted on VHN last week, is going to be intriguing. There’s no immediate desire to break up the new top pairing of […]

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