2021-22 Player Review: Keegan Kolesar was a reliable presence but underwhelmed offensively

The 25-year-old scored seven goals and 24 points in 77 games.

In the 2021-22 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2021-22 performances of each key member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in the regular season with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

Keegan Kolesar played a key role in the Chicago Wolves’ Calder Cup run back in 2018-19, scoring 20 goals and 36 points in 74 games in the regular season followed by six goals and 11 points in 21 postseason contests. He followed that up with three goals in 33 games with Chicago in 2019-20 and three goals in 44 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21. This year was his first full season at the NHL level, and while he was an effective bottom-six regular who had a career year, he has yet to rediscover that scoring touch.

Season in review

Kolesar finished the 2021-22 campaign with seven goals and 24 points in 77 games, setting career highs across the board. He also recorded a team-high 246 hits, which was good for 10th overall in the NHL; the next-highest total on the Golden Knights was William Carrier, who had 159 in 63 games.

Through mid-February, Kolesar was the only Vegas forward and one of just two skaters (along with Brayden McNabb) to appear in all 48 games up until that point. He missed four games in April after suffering injuries on March 30 against Seattle and April 24 against San Jose; the latter kept him out of the lineup for the remaining three games of the regular season.

But when all was said and done, Kolesar was one of seven Golden Knights to skate in 75-plus games. At a minimum, the Winnipeg native was a dependable force in the lineup, even when he wasn’t putting the puck into the net. Many of his contributions weren’t reflected on the scoresheet, but he found ways to be effective and often was one of the first players to be moved up mid-game. Despite an underwhelming offensive output, he more than earned his steady role in the lineup.

He managed 1.43 points per 60 at 5-on-5, which was among the lowest for Vegas forwards, but his 1.07 assists per 60 was good for seventh on the team. Effort was never an issue with Kolesar, whose work ethic led to a team-high 1.35 penalties drawn per 60. His possession metrics hovered around 50 percent; not surprisingly, his expected goal share (51.48 percent) exceeded his actual goal share (47.83 percent).

He has shown flashes of impressive skill over the last two seasons, including on this behind-the-back feed to Carrier for the one-timer in a critical game late in the year.

But he hasn’t reached a point in his development where he is able to use his skill set on a consistent basis, often delivering everything but the finish. That being said, it’s difficult to truly evaluate his consistency when he was one of the most shuffled players in the lineup. He rarely had a chance to develop chemistry with any given combination of players as a result of the carousel of injuries and Pete DeBoer’s tendency to mix things up. One notable problem with the Golden Knights’ season was a lack of identity, and not having a consistent fourth line was a contributing factor.

Looking ahead

With the Golden Knights facing a major cap crisis, Kolesar’s future in Vegas is uncertain. He is one of four restricted free agents on the main roster (along with Nicolas Roy, Nic Hague and Brett Howden); any number of them could be cap casualties, though Kelly McCrimmon may not balk at retaining familiar and affordable bottom-six options. Kolesar’s name has been mentioned in relation to Vegas’ desire to return to being a four-line team. He is coming off a two-year, $1.45 million deal signed back in 2020, and he likely would not cost much more this time around.

One thing that could play a role is the coaching change, as Kolesar earned and kept the trust of DeBoer early on. He wasn’t expected to make the big club out of training camp last year but ended up remaining with the team for the long haul. With Ryan Reaves departing for the Big Apple, Kolesar was the Golden Knights’ most physical player this season, defending his teammates on multiple occasions and dropping the gloves eight times.

He has the skill to be a much more effective player, but he continues to struggle to finish; perhaps a more defined role, a consistent set of linemates and a new system would help him take the next step.

Knights On Ice Grade: C+

How would you grade Kolesar’s performance in 2021-22?