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Can Keegan Kolesar Replace Ryan Reaves as the Golden Knights Tough Guy?

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Keegan Kolesar Vegas Golden Knights (Photo- AHL via Twitter)

Evander Kane is no longer in the NHL… at least for the time being. The 30-year old longtime NHL power forward was placed on waivers by the San Jose Sharks. On Monday he cleared and is now a member of the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL.

I am sure many Vegas Golden Knights fans are giggling over the fact that Kane is in the minors and Ryan Reaves is still in the NHL. While Reaves may now be on the New York Rangers, he spent four years in the Golden Knights organization and fought many battles with players such as Kane. 

There is no doubt that Reaves is one of the best fighters in NHL history, and easily the Golden Knight’s best fighter in franchise history.

But with Reavo now out on the East Coast, which Golden Knight on the current roster is the best fighter? This season the Golden Knights have been in five fights with Ben Hutton and Keegan Kolesar both being in two each and Nicolas Roy being in one.

Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and even Shea Theodore have all dropped the mits in the past. But do the Golden Knights have a reliable fighter in the same vain as Reaves?

The role of fighting is in an odd place in today’s NHL and has significantly decreased since the days of Gordie Howe. While still completely legal, the NHL has started to back away from fighting as a result of player safety measures. But NHL fights can still serve as a momentum-boosting encounter for teams.

Keegan Kolesar’s Fightning History

The Golden Knights are getting healthier with Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault both now back in the lineup and Jack Eichel coming down the road. We have seen players such as Jonas Rondbjerg, Paul Cotter, and Jake Leschyshyn lose their roster spots as a result.

Another player that could be in danger of losing a roster spot when the Golden Knights become fully healthy is Keegan Kolesar. Kolesar is not the most offensively gifted player on the Golden Knights roster as he currently has seven points in 21 games.

But there is an area of Kolesar’s game that is unique to him and could earn him a permanent roster position with the Golden Knights and that is his knack for being an energy player and fighter.

Kolesar is most prone Golden Knight to get into fights on the current roster. He has eight career NHL fights under his belt against the following; Christian Fischer, Dennis Gilbert, Dakota Joshua, Austin Wagner, Daniel Renouf, Liam O’Brien, Brendan Lemieux, and Josh Manson.

In total Kolesar has been in fifty professional hockey fights and was in 27 in the Western Hockey League (WHL) alone.

Keegan Kolesar’s Projected Lineup Spot

Kolesar is currently playing on the fourth-line with Mattias Janmark and Brett Howden, however with Amadio coming off of COVID-19 protocols these lines will likely change.

Along with Reilly Smith, Evgenii Dadonov, and Chandler Stephenson, Kolesar is one of only four forwards on the Golden Knights that has played in every game this season. When the team was hit hard with injuries, he even played on the power-play for a handful of games.

It is clear that Golden Knights Head Coach Peter DeBoer likes the role that Kolesar plays on the Golden Knights roster. But with new options such as waiver claims in Brooks and Amadio, DeBoer will be forced to make a decision on the Golden Knight’s bottom-six.

Kolesar and Brooks actually played together in minor league programs as kids in Manitoba.

“I have known Brooksy for a long time. He was a tremendous player growing up in the same minor league program as me. I think he has got every record in the book. To see him continue his sucess was awesome and I was very excited to see that we picked him up,” said Kolesar after Tuesday’s practice.

With Brooks and Amadio now avaliable to DeBoer, Kolesar’s senority over the two may come into effect as he has been with the Golden Knights for three years now.

There is also a possibility that we see the Golden Knights make some roster adjustments and trades to fit Jack Eichel under the NHL salary cap once he is ready to return. This could free up a roster spot for Kolesar to become an NHL regular as well.

The Road Ahead for Kolesar

Kolesar is far from being the flashiest player on the ice for the Golden Knights. For him the mentality should be to continue to work hard and take advantage of every moment of NHL ice he can get.

He played 44 games in the NHL last season and with the framework of the Golden Knights current roster, he will likely surpass this total.

There will never be another Ryan Reaves, I don’t think any player in the NHL can replicate what he brings to whichever team he is on. He is truly one-of-a-kind as the last of a dying breed of NHL players.

But Keegan Kolesar can provide that sandpaper and grit to the bottom-six forwards corps that the Vegas Golden Knights will need to be a successful team. He needs to embrace the opportunity he has this season and take the next step in his development.

The Golden Knights will be back in action tomorrow night as they take on the Anaheim Ducks on the road at 7:00 pm.

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