When the Vegas Golden Knights opened training camp, captain Mark Stone said it was the potentially the best group of forwards he has ever played with.
But that was before the injuries started piling up. Nicolas Roy. Brett Howden. William Carrier. All missing time during the preseason.
But it does create opportunities for others. And coach Peter DeBoer said it was important to give the young players a fair look to make the team.
“We’ve got some great competition for those spots,” DeBoer said earlier this week.
Nolan Patrick was never really in danger of not making the opening night roster. In fact, he’s getting better with each game and practice. His comfort level is increasing and barring injury, he’s going to be on the ice next Tuesday.
Ditto for Keegan Kolesar. He has been impressive since Day One of training camp and he had a goal in Tuesday’s 7-4 win over Colorado. His hard work in the off-season is evident and he may be looking at playing third-line minutes instead of on the fourth line.
“I’m getting there,” Kolesar said Wednesday after practice at City National Arena. “I’m still working on things. But I’m getting more ice time and moe trust from the coaching staff. It definitely helps your confidence. I’m trying to do things the right way every day an ask the right questions and learn.”
So assuming Roy’s ribs don’t heal, Carrier’s facial lacerations need time to heal and Howden isn’t able to go, who can be on the ice next Tuesday against Seattle?
Let’s try and make a case for and against Peyton Krebs, Patrick Brown, Gage Quinney, Sven Baertschi, Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg, who were still skating with the Golden Knights Wednesday morning.
Why he makes it: He had his best performance to date Tuesday, posting a four-point night against the Avalanche with a goal and three assists. He even got to skate with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith and those guys can make anyone look good. But Krebs was also with Kolesar and those two were clicking as Krebs set up Kolesar’s goal. His hockey IQ is so high, he can play with anyone and fit in. He can make all the plays.
Why he doesn’t make it: If Krebs does stick, is at as a fourth-line guy playing fourth-line minutes? Or worse, find himself sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch? Does that really help his development? Perhaps it’s better for him to go to Henderson, play center on the top line, play on the Silver Knights’ power play and get a ton of game experience. This is the tough call GM Kelly McCrimmon has to make.
Why he makes it: He has NHL experience (33 games) and he said he considers himself an NHL player. He’s excellent defensively, strong in the faceoff circle and is a very good penalty killer. You can pair him anywhere and he can deliver. He also has leadership qualities, having served as the Silver Knights’ captain in their inaugural season last year.
Why he doesn’t make it: Brown’s offense in his 33 NHL games has been sparse. He has two goals and one assist between his time with Carolina and Vegas. At this level, you’ve got to provide more firepower than that. It can’t just be about being a shutdown guy. But he’s the perfect call-up in the event the Golden Knights need help up front.
Why he makes it: Assuming he’s healthy enough to return this weekend, Howden gives the Golden Knights good size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and lots of NHL experience (178 games, all with the New York Rangers) while playing in the rugged Metropolitan Division against the Islanders, Capitals, Penguins and Flyers. He’s averaged just under 14 minutes TOI in his three years with the Rangers so if he makes it as a fourth-liner in Vegas, he will be in a familiar role. He can also kill penalties, something DeBoer said he wants to see more of from whoever his bottom-six forwards are.
Why he doesn’t make it: Honestly, Howden has not wowed anyone with his play in Golden Knights camp. Part of it is adjusting to a new system, a new location and new teammates. He’s also a minus-29 for his three years in the NHL. Yes, that can be a bit misleading when you’re role is to shut down the other team’s line and you don’t score as much (Howden does have 16 goals and 33 assists in his time in the NHL). Still, you don’t want to be a liability on the ice. If he makes it, perhaps it’s as that 13th forward, which allows him to skate with the team every day but not necessarily find himself in the lineup on game night.
Why he makes it: He can play center or wing. He can skate. He knows how to score (he had 10 goals and 17 points in 19 games with Henderson last year). He’s a tough kid and he’s got a ton of minor league experience. The jump to the NHL won’t faze him.
Why he doesn’t make it: Quinney is facing a lot of competition at center. There’s Krebs. There’s Howden. There’s Brown. There’s Nolan Patrick. And when he returns, Nic Roy. It may be too steep a hill for him to climb over all those guys. But the fact he was still with the Golden Knights tells you there’s something about his game that they like.
Why he makes it: He’s the wild card in all of this. The 29-year-old Swiss forward is a true NHL veteran, boasting the most experience of anyone in the mix. He has 291 appearances over 10 seasons with Calgary and Vancouver. He is strictly a winger but that may be a good thing. You put him along the wall, let him battle in the corners and in front of the net and see what happens. He can score too: 66 goals and 72 assists in those 291 NHL games.
Why he doesn’t make it: That experience could be used against him. If he’s so seasoned, why didn’t he stick full time with the Canucks beyond 2018? He actually looked good Tuesday against Colorado, picking up an assist on Krebs’ goal. But maybe the Golden Knights are looking to see more from him. But at least he has an NHL track record they can go off of in evaluating whether he truly fits what they do in Vegas.
Why he makes it: The son of Stanley Cup winner Jake Leschyshyn has made a lot of progress since the Golden Knights took him in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He overcame knee surgery, getting traded in juniors and three seasons in the AHL. But he has speed, is not afraid to mix it up and has a strong hockey IQ.
Why he doesn’t make it: Honestly, he’s probably not quite ready to make the jump to the NHL. But don’t discount his chances down the road. He has a good shot, a knack for offense and is a quick study (he had a goal and an assist Tuesday vs. the Avs). And as a second-rounder, it’s still too early to give up on him.
Why he makes it: Like Leschyshyn, Rondbjerg was taken in the 2017 Draft (3rd round, No. 65 overall). He is also getting better as he progresses through each level of pro hockey. At 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, he has the frame to compete physically at the NHL level. He would give the Golden Knights a big body on the fourth line.
Why he doesn’t make it: Like so many young players, Rondbjerg’s development may have been stunted the last two years due to the pandemic. He did play 38 games with the Silver Knights last year and had six goals and 13 points. But he may need more time and unless he’s playing minutes in Vegas, Henderson makes more sense for him right now. Fortunately, the Denmark native is only 22 years old. Time is on his side.