How do you describe the Vegas Golden Knights’ power play from last season?
Atrocious? Abominable? Disgraceful? Impotent? Erratic?
Any of the above is a good fit. The Vegas Golden Knights were 22nd in the NHL last season in PP percentage. They were truly awful during the playoffs, going a collective 4 for 43, the worst of the 16 teams which competed for the Stanley Cup.
Obviously, the team needs to rethink its strategy. It also needed to change the personnel. To that end, they traded defenseman Nick Holden to Ottawa for center Evgenii Dadonov, who has a history of success on the power play.
Dadonov, 32, was a third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. In seven NHL seasons, six with the Panthers, he scored 26 power play goals, including 11 in 2020. So he knows how to find the net.
“There were some good forwards available in free agency that we would’ve pivoted to,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said in acquiring Dadonov. “He really fit the bill for us.”Where will Dadonov fit in Peter DeBoer’s system? What line will he play on? He will likely start the season on the third line, barring a trade that sees someone from the top two lines depart. But maybe he gets a look centering for Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on Vegas’ top line during the preseason. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him a shot centering the No. 1 line.
He’ll likely get to play with those guys on one of the power play units so he should get comfortable quickly in training camp this week learning how those two operate.
There’s another dynamic at work here with Dadonov’s arrival in Las Vegas. He has a chance to break through as the most successful Russian player in the brief five-year history of the Vegas Golden Knights.
For whatever reason, Russian players have not fared well with the Knights. Go back to the inaugural season when the team brought Vadim Shipachyov over from the Kontinental Hockey League. With his reputation for finding the back of the net, “Shippy” was supposed to give the high-octane offense additional boost. But his tenure in Vegas was brief and a dismal failure. He got sent to the AHL, initially refused to go, ultimately went, got recalled, scored one goal in three games with the Golden Knights, then went back to Russia, where he won the KHL scoring title last year with Moscow Dynamo.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” then general manager George McPhee said at the time of the divorce. “Sometimes the player you see in Europe isn’t the player you see here, and that’s the risk you take when you sign someone. You hope it works out, but it doesn’t always work out.”
It didn’t work with Nikita Gusev or Valentin Zykov either. Gusev came over late in the 2018-19 season, skated with the team in the playoffs but never saw action. After failing to come to terms on a long-term financial deal, the Knights didn’t keep him, moving him to New Jersey, where it didn’t work out well there either. Gusev is currently in Florida with the Panthers.
Zykov bounced between Vegas and Chicago of the AHL. In 2019, he was suspended 20 games by the NHL for violating the league’s Performing Enhancement Substances Program. He would appear in 25 games with the Golden Knights over two seasons and had three goals and six points. He is currently playing in Sweden.
So the track record of Russian players and the Golden Knights is about as good as the team’s recent power play. The circumstances with each former player was different but none of them were around very long to acclimate themselves to living in Southern Nevada. Perhaps Dadonov changes that narrative. Ditto for Pavel Dorofeyev, who played for the Henderson Silver Knights last season and had nine goals and 13 points in 24 games. He seems to be adjusting well to living and working in the U.S.
Dadonov’s older, more experienced and he’s back with his family after being separated from them last season playing in Canada because of the coronavirus pandemic. He should be more comfortable with everything and he’ll be playing with better players on the Golden Knights than he worked with in Ottawa.
If the Golden Knights are going to get it right with a Russian player, Dadonov may be the one.