Welcome back to a mini-series here at Vegas Hockey Now, where we look at the Vegas Golden Knight’s current depth chart in specific positions. This series will examine the Golden Knight’s goaltending, centers, defensemen, and wingers. This can help us get a feel for what moves if any, general manager Kelly McCrimmon could make in the remainder of the offseason. Today we will look at defenseman. PK Subban, Anton Stralman, and Danny DeKeyser are notable defensemen currently on the market.
For today’s analysis, we will look at all of the relevant Golden Knights defensemen. We will not be including every draft pick, only players that have a shot at playing in 2022-23, which also means no Shea Weber, who is technically a Golden Knight. Also, we will also be looking at these players through the lens of a depth chart and not in terms of line combinations.
On paper, the Golden Knights have one of the best defensive groups in the entire NHL. Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore can both be no. 1 defenseman on just about any team in the NHL. Alec Martinez, Ben Hutton, and Brayden McNabb are savvy veterans, and Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are talented young defensemen.
Top Pairing- Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore
I won’t delve much into the conversation surrounding these players as if you are a Golden Knights fan; you should know what to expect from both of them. Both Pietrangelo and Theodore are elite NHL defensemen that the Golden Knights are lucky to have on the same team. A Stanley Cup Champion, Pietrangelo is a workhorse for the VGK and can log tough minutes while providing secondary offense and solid defense. Theodore is an offensive defenseman who has Norris Trophy potential and scored five game-winning goals in 2021-22 for the VGK.
Top Four- Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb
An original Golden Knight, McNabb provides a rugged stay-at-home defensive style of play that every team in the NHL needs. He’s a hit machine and recently inked an extension with the VGK for three more years at $2.85 million with a modified no-trade clause.
Things start to get interesting with Martinez. A Stanley Cup-clinching goal scorer, Martinez missed the majority of 2021-22 with a facial laceration as he took a skate to the face. He is the oldest player on the Golden Knights at 35 years of age and has a contract that pays him more than Theodore at $5.25 with two years remaining on it. He will join the likes of Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit, and Nolan Patrick as players who will look to have a bounce-back year after an injury-ridden past season.
The chances of Martinez rebounding are high, as, before his injury, he scored the second most amount of points in his career in 2020-21 with the VGK. But if he struggles or somehow ends up on LTIR once more, general manager Kelly McCrimmon may be forced to move out the aging Martinez for cap space.
Top Six- Zach Whitecloud, Nicolas Hague
Moving on from Martinez would be a huge loss, and right now, I don’t see it happening. But one thing that would lessen the blow would be the number of young defensemen the Golden Knights have coming up in the system. Both Whitecloud and Hague are 25 years or younger defensemen that played significant minutes for the VGK in 2021-22, along with Dylan Coghlan.
Whitecloud truly emerged as a gifted two-way defenseman for the VGK with 19 points in 59 games and the highest plus-minus total on the team with a +21. He was rewarded in October with a six-year contract extension that has him signed for $2.75 million until 2027-28.
In need of a new contract, Hague is a sizy defenseman who played alongside Pietrangelo at points last season. He scored 14 points in 52 games and is the only Golden Knights draft pick who currently occupies a roster spot on the team. Trade rumors surrounding Hague kicked up in June, but nothing came of it.
Spares- Ben Hutton
Placing Hutton on the Golden Knights depth chart is tough. I could see him being a complementary top-pairing defenseman with Pietrangelo, but at the same time, could also see him as a healthy scratch. Hutton was signed as a free agent in October as the VGK were belted with injuries. With little expectations, Hutton turned heads by providing a stable presence on the blue line and earned a contract extension in March. At 29 years old and with a cap hit of just $850,000, Hutton will be a swiss-army knife on the Golden Knight’s defense in 2022-23.
The loss of Coghlan leaves us with just one player to discuss in this category. Daniil Miromanov worked his way into eleven games with the Golden Knights this past season. He had one assist in sheltered ten minutes or less ice time. Still, Miromanov is an option for the VGK when injuries arise. He was arguably the Henderson Silver Knight’s best defenseman with 40 points in 53 games in 2021-22. We should also mention William Riedell here too, who is an NHL defenseman who signed a professional tryout with the VGK. More on him when we get to training camp.
Here is where things get interesting. The Golden Knights have a selection of prospects that are ready to make the leap into the NHL, which could force out some of the players we already talked about. This is part of the reason I wanted to do this series so that we can take a look at which prospects could appear in 2022-23 and what moves could be made as a result.
Kaedan Korczak, Brayden Pachal, Zack Hayes, and Lukas Cormier are all arguably NHL-ready. Korczak is the frontrunner here. The 21-year-old defenseman is a former second-round pick who has a similar play style to McNabb. Pachal is the Silver Knight’s captain and a 22-year-old stay-at-home defenseman. Cormier has the most upside out of all these young defensemen and has the offensive skillset of someone like Sam Girard.
Areas of Need
The Golden Knights are set on defense. The problems that they have are good problems, in that they have too many NHL-ready defensemen. The only move I could see them making is a move that would shed one of their defensemen so that they could add to the team in other areas. With a selection of young defensemen to choose from in the prospect cupboard, the VGK could move out someone like Martinez or Hague to add a winger or two. Then, someone like Hutton, Miromanov, or Korczak could enter the Golden Knight’s defensive rotation.