When Pete DeBoer was hired as Vegas Golden Knights coach in January 2020, he joined in the midst of an eight-game road trip. The regular season run lasted 22 games before picking up postseason play in a bubble in Edmonton due to COVID.
Last season, DeBoer had about two weeks to get ready for a mid-January season opener for a 56-game campaign. No preseason, no training camp, nothing.
In essentially what’s going to be DeBoer’s third season with the Golden Knights, he finally gets the luxury of a training camp. He gets seven preseason games to see where the Vegas prospects are at in development.
And he gets a full season with the bulk of a group that’s made consecutive appearances in the NHL’s semifinals.
“It’s hard to believe,” DeBoer said Thursday as Golden Knights training camp opened. “It’s a weird sensation. I feel like I know the group really well. We’ve had some long playoff runs and gone through a lot of battles together, but this is really the first training camp we’ve had.”
And much like those first two seasons — or half seasons, quarter seasons, however you want to look at it — the expectations within the Golden Knights are high, if not higher, since DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant. Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights have been one of the last four teams standing in consecutive postseasons, but have failed to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite having to trade Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks and trading Ryan Reaves to the New York Rangers, the Golden Knights still find themselves in a position to come out of the Western Conference. With the crux of that group that made these runs intact for a third opportunity, DeBoer goes in with a full slate to evaluate the roster from top to bottom; to see which players can move up the lineup at the NHL roster, and who from the Henderson group can carve out their own spot in the rotation.
“There hasn’t been that normal camp routine where you have a couple months to meet as coaches during the offseason to come up with a plan,” DeBoer said. “You get the appropriate amount of time through camp and seven exhibition games to see young guys and implement the stuff you want to do.”
That plan is a multi-step process that DeBoer has trusted general manager Kelly McCrimmon and president of hockey ops George McPhee to implement.
They needed to shed salary from the goalie side. After trading Fleury in a straight cap dump, Vegas signed Laurent Brossoit on the first day of free agency to be the backup to Robin Lehner.
Vegas needed to address the anemic power play. Before the start of free agency, the Knights traded for hopeful power play hero Evgenii Dadonov from the Ottawa Senators.
The Golden Knights even needed to address their youth. They traded first ever draft pick Cody Glass to essentially land Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 pick from that same 2017 draft.
To this point, DeBoer has found a way to make every obstacle work. Whether it’s guiding his team through a COVID-shortened season, or playing only 15 dressed skaters in a crucial game against the NHL’s best team and nearly winning, he’s done everything placed in front of him as his general manager continues to do what — in his mind — constitutes a winning team.
“Pete’s done a really good job as our coach and he’d be the first to credit his assistant coaches, as well,” McCrimmon said. “I like how our team plays, I like how we defend, how we’re aggressive on offense. He makes great use of his time. Any opportunity he’s got to work with players in practice or even in the preseason is going to be really valuable.”
Albeit only Day 1, DeBoer kept lines and pairs pretty similar to last season. The only notable change was Patrick centering a line with Dadonov and Mattias Janmark (currently in the injured Alex Tuch’s place). The numbers game may not favor the young players, such as Peyton Krebs or defenseman Kaedan Korczak, but expect a heavy youth rotation in Sunday’s preseason opener against the San Jose Sharks.
It’ll be the start of another intriguing chapter on the book of DeBoer in Vegas, one that he hopes will be ending with a celebration down Las Vegas Boulevard.
“I think we know what the expectations are and our goal is to win a Stanley Cup here, and that’s every year,” he said. “I think there’s obvious pressure that comes with that but our group has shown that it doesn’t overwhelm us. We welcome that pressure.”