Alex Pietrangelo had been skating with his new Vegas Golden Knights teammates for about a month, so it’s not like Monday was too radical.
But it was still the first sight of Vegas’ prized free agent acquisition skating with his new team when the Golden Knights opened the on-ice portion of training camp Monday at City National Arena.
“Transition’s been pretty good for me,” Pietrangelo said. “First day is always a bit of a scatter where the energy is at its highest. Everyone’s trying to find their place. As we get on through camp and play some more scrimmages, it’ll continue to be more fun. It’s fun to get back to playing some real hockey.”
The 30-year-old defenesman signed a seven-year, $61.6 million ($8.8 million AAV) contract with Vegas on Oct. 12 after spending the first 12 seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues.
Before this past offseason, Pietrangelo knew nothing but wearing the Blues’ sweater and sitting in the home locker room at Enterprise Center. It didn’t hit him that he wasn’t with the Blues anymore until he was skating with former St. Louis teammates and had to change in the visitor’s locker room.
“The way the game is now, even if you’re in one spot, there’s players coming and going,” he said. “We all have one thing in common; that’s doing our job. It’s easy to find some common ground. I’m lucky that this isn’t my first day here.”
Even Pietrangelo has grown to feel at home in Las Vegas in the short time he’s been here. And in typical Vegas native fashion, he’s stayed away from the Strip.
“I didn’t know a lot about [Summerlin],” he said. “Everyone knows [Las Vegas] for what it is. Now living here, the desire to go down there isn’t as much as I thought other than the food. It’s just a whole new world that we didn’t even know was here in the city. It’s exciting for us.”
It is real, and Pietrangelo comes to Vegas tasked with being the top defenseman the Golden Knights have longed for. Pietrangelo fills the void of Nate Schmidt, who was traded to Vancouver in order to clear the necessary cap space to sign Pietrangelo to his long-term contract.
Pietrangelo has already filled the Schmidt role by being paired with Brayden McNabb on Monday; McNabb and Schmidt had been the top pair in Vegas the past three years.
Pietrangelo was on pace for a career season in 2020 before the COVID-19 pause in March with 52 points in 70 games. Compare that to Schmidt, who’s never eclipsed 40 points in his NHL career.
The addition of Pietrangelo and the emergence of Shea Theodore gives Pete DeBoer two cornerstones of a top four that will make Vegas a worthy adversary via the blue line.
“Looks a lot better in our uniform than a St. Louis uniform playing against him,” DeBoer said. “I know the player well, having coached against him for a long time in this league. He’s even more impressive in person, on and off the ice. He has a great hockey IQ. He loves to talk about the game and how it’s played. We’ve had some good dialogue.”
The Golden Knights begin their fourth season in 10 days. There won’t be any exhibition games to get Pietrangelo acclimated to game speed, but all involved are hoping this condensed 56-game season has the same preparation factor as the Edmonton bubble. The only difference is a bit longer stretch of games and some traveling, while dealing with the continued uncertainty of COVID-19.
Yet while the Golden Knights have yet to name a captain, and all signs point to such an occurrence before the season, the leadership group is strong enough, and Pietrangelo enhances it.
“There’s no exhibition games. I don’t know if everyone’s fond of them, but in these situations, some teams, some guys haven’t played in nine months, it’s important to get to training camp and get done what you want to get done,” Pietrangelo said. “Myself, pretty much everyone here played in the bubble too, so I think that’s going to help because we’re not that far removed from playing games.
“Even these scrimmages, as we progress through camp, it’s going to be important to get what we want to get out of it because before you know it, we’re going to be playing four games in the first eight or 10 days, so it’s going to be quick.”