It's almost as if Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy has multiple assistant coaches on defense.
The trio of Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, and Brayden McNabb have over 2,000 games of NHL experience and multiple Stanley Cups on their resume and continue to usher in a new batch of NHL-ready defensemen with the VGK this season.
You can just go down the list of players that have come through the VGK system that have benefited from having this veteran leadership group. Nicolas Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Daniil Miromanov, Dylan Coghlan, Kaedan Korczak, Brayden Pachal, and perhaps most notably, Shea Theodore, are examples of young Golden Knights defensemen who have benefited from having a veteran core of defensemen.
"To have those guys with younger players is beneficial for us as a team and for their future development. I think with Nabber (Brayden McNabb), you have seen that with Theo (Shea Theodore), we have put Miro (Daniil Miromanov), and now it is Korczy (Kaedan Korczak), and I think it is invaluable for a coach because it is like having a coach on the ice," said head coach Cassidy.
Theodore, Whitecloud, and Hague have all matured into leadership roles themselves, and now the cycle continues with the VGK's next batch of young defensemen with Miromanov, Pachal, and Korczak. Due to injuries, Korczak has played four games, Pachal nine, and Miromanov 14, before he was injured.
"Were experienced in that, I guess you could say. But it is the same mentality, next man up. It's a good chance for some guys coming up to play and perform and show us what they got. We are going to have to play a systematic game where we are smart and detailed," said Brayden McNabb.
Performing is exactly what this young group of defensemen has done. Pachal has two assists in nine games and is starting to become a reliable shutdown defenseman akin to McNabb. Korczak is a good two-way force who tallied his first career point in a Jan. 2 win against the Avalanche.
Currently, both Pachal and Korczak have won a spot in the lineup over spare defensemen Ben Hutton.
Miromanov has been the biggest standout out of the bunch, with six points in 14 games, including a three-point mid-December game against the Winnipeg Jets. Cassidy sees potential in Miromanov's game and went as far as to call him a player who can be "can be an everyday'er" in the NHL.
A huge part of Miromanov's success has been his study habits. He's been paying close attention to what the veteran trio of Pietrangelo, Martinez, and McNabb have been doing both on and off the ice.
"Those guys are so elite players and the best of the best. It's just an awesome opportunity to be in the room with them to see what they are doing in the room, how they preparing for the practices and the games, and what they are doing in the gym, even like what they are eating. It's everything; it is important to hockey because the game is a game of details, and who is paying the most attention to those details is gonna be more successful," said Miromanov.
Even the forward group, which has gone through its own batch of injuries, acknowledge how impactful the veterans have been on player growth.
"Guys are coming in and playing big minutes and doing well. I think it comes alive with guys like Petro (Alex Pietrangelo) and (Brayden) McNabb as veterans in the NHL it brings a lot of calmness. For the young guys that have come in, I think it's positive for our organization how well they have been so far," said forward Jonathan Marchessault.
Of course, there is always an opportunity for growth for the already accomplished trio of veteran defensemen, and so far this season, McNabb, Pietrangelo, and Martinez are all having great seasons.
Martinez continues to lead the league in shot blocking with 133 blocks, which is 32 more than Jacob Trouba, who is at no. 2. His best habit was his downfall as he blocked a shot in a Dec. 27th game against the LA Kings, which knocked him out of the lineup for four games.
McNabb has put together another strong season with a +/- rating of +13 and 13 points in 42 games. Cassidy went as far as to label McNabb one of the most underrated players in the NHL.
"I think he is one of our most underrated and undervalued players when you think around the National Hockey League. In terms of how good of a player his for us on the ice but also his intangibles. We are very fortunate as a staff to have him," said Cassidy.
As for Pietrangelo, he is putting up a Norris Trophy-level season. With 28 points in 33 games, he is on pace for 61 points, which would shatter his career high of 54 points which he set in 2017-18. Pietrangelo has played over 25 minutes a night twelve times this season for the VGK.
Injuries aren't ideal, but they have done a few things for the Golden Knight's defense. They have given young players like Pachal, Korczak, and Miromanov an opportunity at the NHL level, and also given them a chance to learn from guys like Pietrangelo, McNabb, and Martinez.
"You don't want guys hurt, so that's first and foremost. But it happens to every team… that's hockey. So I think it's great for me, because I don't know a lot of these guys… The guys that have gotten to play stretches, it's good; we're looking at our depth. I think teams that can draft and develop your own players in this league or, or sign free agents and develop them from the time they turn pro, in a salary cap environment is beneficial for everybody," said Cassidy.