In the early days of the Vegas Golden Knights, they possessed a lot of strong wingers, but their center depth was not as great. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, James Neal, David Perron, and Erik Haula all gave Gerard Gallant solid options. But their center depth essentially began and ended with William Karlsson.
Nowadays, things are a bit different with superstar Jack Eichel leading the charge of centerman that includes Karlsson, Nicolas Roy, Chandler Stephenson, Brett Howden, Nolan Patrick, and Jake Leschyshyn. And thanks to the constant threat of cap space, general manager Kelly McCrimmon decided to trade 39 goals from his roster, with both Evgenii Dadonov and Max Pacioretty being dumped. It’s not just these two either. Mattias Janmark left in free agency, Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs were traded in the Eichel deal, and the health of Mark Stone is up in the air.
Now, the Golden Knights could potentially walk into next season with just Smith and Marchessault as legit top-six NHL forwards. This is a problem and one that McCrimmon will look to fix this offseason with the limited cap space he has. So let’s look at some possible routes the team could take to patch up their top six.
In the System
The easiest route that McCrimmon could take would be moving some of his centers over to play wing. Outside of Eichel, this could be a realistic possibility for Karlsson, Stephenson, Howden, Patrick, and Roy. This obviously doesn’t fix much, as this creates glaring holes in the team’s center depth. Out of all of these options, I think Roy or Howden would be the best suited on the wing, but in a perfect world, all would be playing center. As for Patrick, we don’t even know if he will play in 2022-23.
Looking from within also leads us to the Henderson Silver Knights and guys like Jonas Rondbjerg, Jake Leschyshyn, Pavel Dorofeyev, and Paul Cotter. None of these names possesses the skills to be top-six forwards in the NHL just yet. But there is one name in Henderson who does. Brendan Brisson is widely regarded as the Golden Knight’s current best prospect. The Olympian, former Wolverine, and current Silver Knights scored 21 goals and 21 assists in 38 games with the University of Michigan last year. He just signed his entry-level contract in late April.
Finnish Gold Medalist Sakari Harakainnen also signed with the Golden Knights recently. Harakainnen is a 30-year-old winger who last played in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL and scored 115 points in 149 career games over three seasons. He could be an option for the VGK and can either be the next Artemi Panarin or Vadim Shipachyov.
Unfortunately, the Golden Knights pulled the trigger on the Pacioretty trade after many names like Alex DeBrincat and Kevin Fiala were off the market. They also missed out on Matthew Tkachuk. But for that price, I understand why. Still, there are still some interesting names on the NHL trade market.
On Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers signed RFA Jesse Puljujarvi to a one-year $3 million deal. There have been constant reports of the Puljujarvi and the Oilers wanting to part ways. This deal might just be a sign and trade, meaning that GM Ken Holland is making Puljujarvi easier to trade with a contract. Puljujarvi is a former fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft behind only Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, and Pierre Luc-Dubois.
JT Miller’s name is still out there, as always. The reports on Miller have been wild with the ‘will they/won’t they trade him’ speculation consistently going back and forth. If general manager Patrick Allvin does decide to move Miller, he won’t be cheap. He currently has one year left on his $5.25 million contract and scored 99 points last season. He is by far the best player discussed here.
Free Agency leads us to many remaining names such as Phil Kessel, Evan Rodrigues, Sonny Milano, and Jaromir Jagr. All of these players have not been signed yet, which either means they are holding out on contract negotiations or are simply not the flashiest of the bunch. Out of these names, it surprises me not only how Milano is still available but also how the Anaheim Ducks let him walk in the first place. Milano had tremendous chemistry with Trevor Zegras last season and scored 34 points in 66 games, as well as the goal of the year.
Rodrigues was inconsistent last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But when he was on, he was on, as went through a stretch scoring seven goals and 11 points in six games. Both Milano and Rodrigues are on the younger side of things (Milano- 26, Rodrigues- 28), and both have risks involved with signing them. But right now, they look a lot better than Paul Cotter and Will Carrier.
We will save the discussion around two-time Stanley Cup Champion Phillip J. Kessel for another day.