Kelly McCrimmon was smiling and he maintained that grin during Wednesday’s in-person get-together with the media as the Vegas Golden Knights general manager talked about the off-season and the opening of training camp at the team’s City National Arena practice facility.
“We’re looking forward to having the fans back at City National,” McCrimmon said, alluding to Thursday’s first day on the ice which will have spectators in the stands.
There was a lot for everyone to be excited about. For starters, the interview was done face-to-face instead of on Zoom. Everyone was relaxed, particularly McCrimmon. He got right to the point, so to speak, announcing the entire Golden Knights team, players, coaches and staff, were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Knights joined an ever-growing list of NHL teams that are 100% compliant in getting jabbed.
McCrimmon was excited about new additions Nolan Patrick, Evgenii Dadonov and Brett Howden. He was also looking forward to seeing how some of the prospect compete during training camp, the first full one for head coach Peter DeBoer.
“I’m always excited to see how our young players perform in a camp setting,” McCrimmon said. “There’s real value in having seven preseason games to see what good NHL players look like. There’s a lot of ground that needs to be covered.”
The one downside was the fact that Alex Tuch and five others will not participate in camp. Tuch is recovering from shoulder surgery this summer and his return is not expected until midseason. His job is guaranteed upon his return. But for Alan Quine, Jake Bischoff, Reid Duke, Layton Ahac and Connor Corcoran, they will miss a great opportunity to make an impression as they too will not participate in camp after undergoing various surgeries over the summer.
But the good outweighs the bad. McCrimmon said numerous players have been in and out of City National Arena the past month and appear to be in great shape. That would include Robin Lehner, the team’s starter in goal, who has lost some weight.
“Robin’s slimmed downing he looks good,” McCrimmon said. “He’s really excited about the opportunity and he expects to make the most of that opportunity and that’s what we expect from him.”
McCrimmon said the return to some semblance of normalcy extends beyond the ice.
“Our hockey staff and scouts have been preparing for the season and getting out on the road,” he said. “There’s an asterisk to all of this. It can all change in an instant. We’re not dome with this.”
But the hockey ops group met in Arizona while the Golden Knights’ prospects competed in the Coyotes Rookie Tournament and McCrimmon said everyone is on the same page, is ready to go and anxious to get back to watching games in person rather than on a computer.
The Golden Knights, who made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, have been to the semifinals of the playoffs each of the last two years. McCrimmon said he believes this team as currently constructed can go as far, if not all the way.
“I like the way our team plays,” he said. I lie the way we defend. I like our offense. This is probably the best group of forwards we’ve had.
“What is success? Your team’s trying to get better over the course of the year. You work to improve your team. When you get to the playoffs, it’s about getting through four rounds.
“I think we’re one of the teams that’s equipped to make a long run.”
It starts for real on Oct. 12 when the Knights open their fifth NHL season hosting the expansion Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s 32nd team, at T-Mobile Arena on national television. It wasn’t that long ago the Knights were the new kids on the block. Now that title falls to the Kraken, which used much of the Knights’ blueprint in building their organization, developing their practice facility, selling merchandise and finding the players they believe fits general manager Ron Francis’ philosophy.
“It’s going to be an exciting night,” McCrimmon said of the opener. “It always is.
“Seattle appears to be a competitive team, a complete unknown of course, but it’ll be exciting.”