While it's true the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster for their inaugural 2017-18 season is far from set, it's never too early to look into the future and consider the possibilities for the team.
In this instance, we're considering the captaincy.
Choosing the first captain in team history is one of those once-in-a-franchise things that has the potential to set the tone for an entire organization for years to come. Unfortunately, the history of expansion teams’ first captains leaves something to be desired. The Minnesota Wild named five players in part of a rolling monthly (or bi-monthly) system. The Nashville Predators named Tom Fitzgerald their Captain (42 goals, 88 points in 307 games as a Pred), while the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the honor to Lyle Odelein (three goals, 33 points in 146 games in Columbus). And who could forget Ottawa Senators legend Laurie Boschman (nine goals, seven assists in one season as a Sen)?
One thing no recent expansion team has done is name a truly lasting, memorable first-ever captain, which is precisely what the Golden Knights should be looking to do.
And that's also why the Golden Knights should wait to name one.
It would be easy to slap the 'C' on team mascot Deryk Engelland or James Neal, who is currently the team’s best player (ignoring that he could possibly be traded in about 60 games). Perhaps "ultimate teammate" Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Jason Garrison, who was at the expansion draft, could be named captain. All safe, if not entirely unspectacular options.
Options no one will remember in about ten years, just like the other expansion teams (with all due respect to Laurie Boschmen).
Of course, it should be mentioned that Garrison and Engelland should both be seeing more of the press box than the ice at this stage in their careers, and placing the captaincy on either would lock them into the lineup full-time. Though that is likely to happen regardless, at least early on, the Golden Knights would be wise not to lock themselves into such a move long-term with so many up-and-coming defensemen on the roster.
Another option could be to throw the captaincy on a player in his mid-20s that you expect could be around for a while. Names like Brayden McNabb or Jonathan Marchessault. But what would be the point?
Waiting to award a player the team’s captaincy might not get the fans hyped and it might not sell jerseys, but it may be the most sensible option in lieu of any worthy long-term candidates. It's not like the Golden Knights are short on hype. They don't need more manufacturing by naming a captain.
The Golden Knights are a team building for the future. Naming a captain for the present makes little sense and a placeholder is unnecessary. Patience isn't a dirty word.
There is precedence for this line of thinking — sort of.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, after trading previous captain Dion Phaneuf, spent much of the last two seasons without naming a replacement. They seem poised to go into next season without one as well knowing that the player they intend on naming captain (Auston Matthews) is perhaps too young for the responsibility. In this case, they have opted to run with three alternates comprised of a combination of Tyler Bozak, Matt Hunwick, Leo Komarov and Morgan Rielly.
There is no reason Vegas can't employ a similar system.
Let’s map this out. In the short-term they can set up a rotational alternate captain situation with some of the veterans on the team (Engelland, Neal, Garrison, Bellemare, Clayton Stoner, David Perron) and have them all wear the 'A' for random games until they move on.
In 2019-20, most of those veteran players will be gone and the Golden Knights can set the rotational 'A' on the guys in their early-to-mid 20s (Smith, Marchessault, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin, Brendan Leipsic, and Alex Tuch).
By this point you'd hope Shea Theodore and some of the 2017 draft kids are at the NHL level because, by 2020-21, at least one of Theodore, Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom, or Nick Suzuki should be ready to take a permanent, non-rotational 'A'. Whoever shows themselves to be ready has the inside track to be the future captain of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The first captain — one that would give the title some real, lasting, tangible meaning the fans can be proud of.