Seven games stand between the Vegas Golden Knights and the beginning of their inaugural season but the meaningful hockey begins today as they take on the Vancouver Canucks in their preseason opener.
Rogers Arena plays host to a number of up-and-coming talent looking to take their first steps at establishing themselves as NHL players, before the season opener Oct. 6 against the Dallas Stars.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Let’s take a look at the Canucks.
The Canucks finished last season with 69 points and are ... we don’t really know. As a team desperately in need of a rebuild the word surrounding the team is that they are trying to make a push for the playoffs, again.
A mindset that has not worked out too well for them the past two seasons.
But, their future hall-of-fame twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin are on the final year of their contracts (and possibly careers) and so it makes some sense the team might try to contend for their sake this season.
They made some moves in the off-season bringing in goalie Anders Nilsson (.923 save percentage in 26 games last season), former eighth overall draft pick Alexander Burmistrov (16 points in 49 games between Winnipeg and Arizona last season), as well as oft-injured defenseman Michael Del Zotto from the Philadelphia Flyers (who was signed to replace Luca Sbisa who the Golden Knights took in the Expansion Draft).
Their big free agent acquisitions however were Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek. The Canucks ranked 29th in league scoring last season and their powerplay has been the worst unit in the NHL over the past two seasons, so Gagner and Vanek can only help.
Vanek signed a one-year deal worth $2 million and had 48 points in 68 games last season, while Gagner is coming off a 50 -point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and inked a three-year, $9.45 million contract in the off-season.
Here are three things we're keeping our eyes on during this game.
Position Battle: Fringe veteran defensemen vs. Fringe young defensemen
One of the topics we discussed in length during the off-season was that of the log-jam on the blueline and today it all comes to a head. With Jason Garrison, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Clayton Stoner, Shea Theodore, and Griffin Reinhart all fighting for what is likely just two spots on the third pairing it will be interesting to see who gets ice-time throughout the preseason and how they perform in it.
Today Reinhart, Theodore, and Stoner will have first crack as they are in the starting lineup versus Vancouver.
Not that the next six games don’t matter but if either Reinhart, Theodore, or Stoner perform well in this game, it could give them a leg up in the fight. No shift can be taken for granted in this one. Whoever gets into the lineup on a given day needs to show Gerard Gallant something or it could be their last chance to crack the roster. For some, that could be the death sentence to their career.
No pressure, right?
How does Gerard Gallant use his younger NHL level talent?
There is no shortage of players fighting for a spot on the roster. We’ve covered the defense, now we’re looking at the forwards where players like Keegan Kolesar, Brendan Leipsic, Tomas Nosek, Teemu Pulkkinen, along with a few others will be trying to get in the good graces of Gallant.
And for insight into who might crack the roster we look no further than to Gallant and how the bench boss of the Golden Knights chooses to deploy certain players. This could give us an idea as to who he might favor and what role they could fill on the team. It’s far from definitive but, as with the defensemen, a good game could really set some players ahead in the early going.
The rookies face their first real challenge on the road to the NHL
This game will be the first test against adult, NHL-level talent for some of the rookies taken in the 2017 NHL draft by the Golden Knights. At 18-19 years old, there will be some growing pains, no doubt, we’ll finally get to see which of our young talent can fight for a roster spot now and just how far some of the others still have to develop to be NHL ready in the future.
Among the players we’re expecting to see today include Nick Suzuki, Cody Glass, and Nic Hague.
BONUS EDITION: The Vegas Golden Knights Twitter
This is really self-explanatory. If you aren’t following them by now you are missing out on the best social media account of any North American team. We always leave their feed open in a window while watching the Golden Knights.
Puck drop is at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network, and AT&T SportsNet.