It’s a big day for the Vegas Golden Knights.
The NHL’s newest franchise kicks off its training camp this morning and, with few exceptions (James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury were teammates in Pittsburgh, while Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault skated together in Florida), it will be the first time Vegas’ players – plucked from all over the hockey globe – will have the opportunity to get acclimated with one another on the ice.
For a handful of these newly-minted Golden Knights, this presents a chance to earn a larger role than they might’ve had in previous years. Perhaps it’s a fringe-NHLer (like Clayton Stoner) or a young kid looking to finally break through (Griffin Reinhart comes to mind). The reality is, the fledgling Knights are likely to experience growing pains until their prospects start to filter in and mature. They’ll get there, but it will take time.
As for who makes the opening night roster, here’s how I think it all shakes out:
NOTE: The reader agrees that writer is absolutely correct about any information below, and that final results are guaranteed to match any absurdly premature predictions author makes. Please sign, date and notarize.
Vadim Shipachyov, C
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Make no mistake, Vegas signed this guy to be its No. 1 center. Coming off a 76-point season in the KHL, Shipachyov will be counted upon to provide offense and stability down the middle. The Knights are hoping his skills and production will translate to the NHL.
James Neal, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Neal has never scored less than 21 goals in any of his nine NHL seasons, and is just one year removed from a 31-goal campaign. He’s the Knights’ premiere sniper.
Jonathan Marchessault, C/W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Perhaps one day, we’ll learn the reason behind the Panthers’ decision to expose Marchessault in the expansion draft, but it will likely be hundreds, if not thousands of years from now. The 5-foot-9 juggernaut racked up 30 goals and 51 points last season.
David Perron, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: He’s an inconsistent but talented forward and will add some scoring punch to the middle of Vegas’s lineup. Perron has the skill set to put up 70 points a year, but he’ll probably give you 40-50.
Reilly Smith, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Smith’s had 50 points or more in two of his last four seasons. He’s also had 40 points or less in two of his last four seasons (37 in 2016-17). Assuming that pattern continues, the Golden Knights have a 50-point winger on their roster … at least every other year.
Cody Eakin, C
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Inconsistent enough to make you want to pull your eyes out of their sockets. Talented enough to keep rolling him out there anyways in the hopes he’ll finally put it all together.
Oscar Lindberg, C
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Lindberg has consistently been a solid two-way forward over the past few seasons, and every team needs players like him.
Erik Haula, C/W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: See: Lindberg, Oscar
William Karlsson, C
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: See: Haula, Erik
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: He’s almost exclusively a defensive forward, which is fine. Those are useful, too.
Brendan Leipsic, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Leipsic never really had a chance to break through in Toronto (they have a couple of decent forwards, supposedly), but has put up plenty of points at the AHL level and three in his six NHL appearances. The Knights may have a hidden gem on their hands, and Leipsic will get a roster spot to try and prove their hypothesis correct.
Tomas Nosek, W
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: We already know George McPhee likes this kid, because he opted to choose him over goaltender Petr Mrazek in the expansion draft. Nosek, who turned 25 on Sept, 1, had 22 points in 19 playoff games for Grand Rapids (AHL) this past spring and, like Leipsic, could be a diamond in the rough.
Cody Glass, C
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Okay, so there’s a catch here. I think Glass will be on the opening night roster and with the Golden Knights over the first nine games of the season – at which point he’ll then be sent back to juniors before his entry level contract kicks in. Unless, of course, he proves that he can stick with the big club. Teemu Pulkkinen is probably a good bet to fill Glass’s spot.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: He’s a veteran blueliner who already calls Vegas his adopted hometown. He’s probably more of a reserve than an everyday player, but has been utilized in both roles during his NHL career.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Theodore was a tremendous get for the Knights. The 26th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, he’s been marinating for a few years and is primed for a break out. He could be Vegas power play quarterback this season.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: One of the fastest and smoothest skaters in the league at any position, Schmidt impressed with his decision making, both with and without the puck, during his time in Washington. You get the sense he might’ve even been underutilized. Look for him to play a bigger role in Vegas.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Garrison has a rocket of a shot (that he doesn’t use often enough) and, when at his best, can be a very solid option for a team’s second power play unit. The veteran rearguard will get a chance to show he can still bring it.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Just 24 years old, Miller is steady and mobile. There’s probably some (but not much) more offensive ability than he’s demonstrated, but he could hit the 20-point mark with an increased workload. He’s worth a roster spot.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: He skates fairly well and isn’t a liability on the blue line. The former 19th overall pick (2008) has been able to stick around at the NHL level for a reason.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Stoner is a veteran presence and about as solid as a third-pairing defenseman gets. Just don’t expect him to be more than he is.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: McNabb will likely compete with Jon Merrill for a roster spot, but he held his own with the Los Angeles Kings and proved to be a solid asset. I don’t typically use plus/minus as a barometer, but he’s been a minus player just once his five NHL tours – and two of those seasons were with the Buffalo Sabres. I think he gets the job.
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: He just will. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one, okay?
WHY HE’LL MAKE IT: Pickard has registered a 2.77 goals against average and .914 save percentage over 86 career NHL skirmishes. He’s done that over parts of three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, a team that is better at allowing goals than anyone else in the league. The fact that he kept his GAA under 3.00 in 50 games for a team that surrendered an NHL-high 278 goals last season is nothing short of a miracle.
Nick Suzuki, C
Hey, you never know. I mean, you probably do, but we’ve seen crazier things happen before. Suzuki is uber-talented, but like Glass, likely needs some seasoning. Between those two players, I think one of them gets a nine-game look and, though I’m predicting it’ll be Glass, it could just as easily wind up being Suzuki.
Alex Tuch, W
The rugged winger has some bite and can be a net-front presence. Tuch was Minnesota’s 18th overall pick in 2014, and this might be his chance to crack the big leagues.
The fourth overall pick in 2012 is now being given his third change of scenery, going from Edmonton to the expansion Golden Knights. His skating has always been an issue, but if he can find a way to compensate for that with better positioning, he might just be able to play at this level.