Forward Keegan Kolesar was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for a second-round and the contract of Jason Garrison, who Kolesar now plays with on the Chicago Wolves.
Clearly, the Golden Knights and general manager George McPhee have a level of confidence in the young forward. So far, it looks like that confidence will pay off.
"I was very excited for that,” said Kolesar regarding the trade. “It's something to be a part of, part of history. I think they're going in a great direction and the team is playing unbelievable right now and it gives me high hopes for what's to come in the future."
He is a part of history now after being part of the Golden Knights’ first ever draft day trade.
The transition to the AHL has been rough for Kolesar. He's been off his offensive game, but has showcased talent throughout the season, including a key ability to pass the puck and win board battles. Kolesar says the transition from the juniors to the AHL has been different.
“You know, you're playing against grown men every day. Practice is very intense as well. Everyone is professional. In junior you can get away with little things. Here, you have to be on your game every time you step on the ice."
Despite his lack of production - one point in 18 games - Kolesar is doing everything else right. He's shown to be capable of playing a solid two-way game — something that Kolesar says has always been there.
"I've always had a defensive mind. I've always been more of a passive player than an aggressive player. So I always try and stay in stick lanes and prevent players from getting around me.”
Kolesar has been impressive defensively this season and is becoming one of the Wolves' best defensive forwards. He clears pucks, staves off attackers and makes contributions on the penalty kill. However, his offensive touch has suffered as he's continued to take defensive shifts.
"You want to help the team win as much as you can, so if you're not going to be scoring goals, you have to block shots, be physically imposing and stand up for teammates, do whatever you can to help the team win."
Those defensive contributions remain a valuable resource for the Wolves.
Kolesar's first professional point came shorthanded. He intercepted a pass, broke free the other way and passed to captain Paul Thompson, who quickly tucked the puck into the net.
"It was a relief for sure. Beating myself up there for a while, not having anything, but to be able to keep pushing through and keep working towards it and finally got credited, it's a big mountain off my back," Kolesar said of that first point.
Kolesar has shown a knack for getting to the front of the net and taking opponents out for trying to do the same. His game is reminiscent of Tomas Nosek in the best ways, at both ends of the ice. But he says he looks at other Knights players as role models:
"Stefan Matteau and I are pretty similar players. Big body with a good skill. Guys like Cody Eakin, who's a smart player, plays fast, plays hard, intelligent centerman. William Carrier is a big guy who loves to throw around the body and his skill set is very good for his size as well."
Sometimes in the AHL, all a player needs is to score that first goal. The same thing has been said after every Wolves player broke that barrier — it made it easier for them to play their game. As Matteau said; "The game's more fun when you score." Scoring a goal will break the mountain on Kolesar’s back that grows every game.
Kolesar has the offensive instincts it takes to score at the professional level and his screen game is reminiscent of what Alex Tuch has been able to do with the Knights. It looks as if Kolesar took some important lessons away from his time with Vegas' youngest star.
He's one goal away from looking like a completely different player. Once he scores, it will become clear why the Knights gave up a second-round pick to get him.