It’s out of Nic Hague’s hands now.
He’s done all he can do.
The 6-foot-6 defenseman with the smooth stick and crazy offensive upside will know in the coming hours if he’s made the Vegas Golden Knights roster.
Whether by design or not, Hague got one more chance to show what he can do at the NHL level.
There was no better stage than Sunday, in the preseason finale for both the Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. It was a sight of what is to come Wednesday, when the Pacific Division rivals meet again in the season opener, and then two days later for San Jose’s home opener at SAP Center.
Hague got his first taste of what the rivalry is really like; a full house, fights galore, chippiness at both ends. And, technically speaking, Hague got his first taste of top-shelf NHL talent. He hasn’t been on the Vegas roster this deep into the preseason. With a last-stitch effort to impress coach Gerard Gallant and his staff, Hague held his own in a 5-1 Vegas victory on Sunday.
Hague led all Vegas skaters in ice time with 22:12. That trailed only Sharks all-star blue liners Erik Karlsson (24:03) and Brent Burns (23:50). He didn’t score a point in those 22-plus minutes, but he was a plus-2 (if you’re into that sort of thing) and looked every bit like the player that should win that blue-line audition. Hague was paired with Brayden McNabb and played on the right side for the first time in camp.
The tall defenseman said it took him some time to get accustomed to being on the right, but it went well as the game went on.
“I felt good today,” Hague said. “Playing with Nabber makes it pretty easy. He was awesome with me, talked with me a lot. I thought we worked well together back there. Not even just because I was on his side. Any time you and your partner are talking, it makes both of our lives that much easier.”
Hague’s situation is much that of top prospect forward Cody Glass; play with top-end talent, you’re going to look great. Glass, in a warm-up for what could be his NHL debut on Wednesday, played with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on Sunday. McNabb, being Vegas’ top defensive defenseman, made life comfortable for Hague.
There’s pressure on Hague to be good at both ends of the ice. The defensive aspect (more on that later) is a work-in-progress. Offensively, you see the flashes.
Pacioretty put it best at the beginning of the camp — he likes to play with smart players. Those with high IQ can make him look as good as he makes other look good. Case in point, here’s Hague somehow finding a wide-open Pacioretty at the left circle immediately after taking the pass from McNabb at the blue line.
If not for a (fantastic?) kick save by Martin Jones, this is an assist for Hague; a highlight-reel one at that.
“For me, I was just trying to get into it as quick as possible,” Hague said. “Whatever that may be, whether it’s a shot on net or pass, take a hit, give a hit, I want to be involved early and I felt like right from the puck drop, we were buzzing.”
Minutes after making that pass, Hague had this one that almost got the makeshift third line going.
You’re not going to find many smarter players than Paul Stastny. He’s on a makeshift third line with Valentin Zykov and Brandon Pirri. Stastny goes north-south in the neutral zone, and if Hague doesn’t put this pass right on the money, it’s likely a turnover at the other way. Instead, there’s Stastny finding Zykov with a good shot on Jones.
But this is the moment where Hague brings home the sharpest of cheddar.
First, Hague circles Tomas Hertl for about 7-8 seconds.
Then he picks up Marcus Sorensen and chases him from the half boards to the blue line.
Sorensen dumps the puck to Erik Karlsson, Hague loses his footing and loses the puck. Hague comes back to play Karlsson’s centering pass and breaks up the opportunity.
This might have been his best shift as a Golden Knights defenseman, and he’s doing it against the likes of Karlsson, Burns and San Jose’s top forwards.
“You look up at the lineup before the game, and that was pretty much their full roster, and I was a little bit nervous going into it, for sure,” Hague said. “In other preseason games, maybe there’s a couple other young guys in the lineup and that sort of thing. I thought once I got out there and settled in, it felt good and I felt like I played a good game.”
This was a prime opportunity for Hague, but it’s not a lock that he will make the opening night roster. There’s still competition, along with Jimmy Schuldt and Jake Bischoff, and the fact Gallant may not want to overstock the blue line with rookies.
“He looked good,” Gallant said. “That’s what we expect out of him. Those kids got better every game. They’re making it tough. That’s what they’re supposed to do.”
Hague will either be lining up against San Jose’s top players again Wednesday or he’ll be in Chicago in the AHL.
One thing’s for sure: His dream isn’t dead.
“Not much I can do now,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what happens.”