Golden Knights Mailbag: Questions for the New Year

We have some answers to some questions involving the Golden Knights and the Wolves.

How has the partnership been Vegas and Chicago been going so far? What are the expectations from both sides? How have the players adjusted from Vegas and Chicago? (@pdowney88)

The two most notable players to start the year with the Chicago Wolves and then transition to the Vegas Golden Knights have obviously been Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch, but they’re not the only ones.

Stefan Matteau only played in five games with the Knights, but got a primary assist and was a boost to the fourth line. That line was far more offensively productive with Matteau, including a 59.38 percent shot share. Up from 50.4 percent without Matteau.

I think that Wolves coach Rocky Thompson is the ideal AHL coach for Gerard Gallant. They look at players the same way, they both keep lines together as much as possible, letting chemistry build, and they both see great potential in the same players.

But some things Thompson does don't mesh with how the Golden Knights want to develop prospects. Since the Wolves and Golden Knights are much more separate entities than other AHL teams and their NHL teams (see the Rockford Ice Hogs and the Chicago Blackhawks), Thompson doesn't necessarily ice the younger prospects as much as he should.

He wants to build a winning team and that means playing the veterans more. Since the St. Louis Blues are still attached to the Wolves, it also means playing the talented Blues players. That will hamper the relationship more this year, but next year, when it's just the Golden Knights on the Wolves roster, it will be easier to develop talent.

Why isn't Brandon Pirri in the NHL? (@RP_Quigs)

Brandon Pirri is tied for the lead on the Wolves roster with 26 points. He's done it in six fewer games than Teemu Pulkkinen, who he is tied with. Pirri's at nearly a point-per-game clip and has been the best forward at consistently producing this season for the Wolves.

He also has plenty of NHL experience, with 226 NHL games played. Pirri has 98 points as well, playing consistently as a bottom-six forward. He'd be a perfect addition to many third lines, and he once scored 22 goals in 49 games with the Florida Panthers.

Here’s why Pirri isn’t on the NHL roster, though: He wasn't great at even-strength, at least in terms of possession metrics. He was 20th in shot-share on the Rangers, 23rd in goals for percentage, and 26th in high danger chance differential. That's all while being 16th in offensive faceoff percentage at even-strength, starting 51.2 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. In other words, Pirri was an offensive player put into a defensive role that he wasn't suited for. The Rangers tried to turn Pirri into Oscar Lindberg when they already had Lindberg. That new role served to scare off teams this season.

Pirri has improved tremendously this season at defense with the Wolves, which is good news for his career. Plus, being nearly a point-per-game in the AHL isn't half-bad.

How has Keegan Kolesar's progression been? (@SofosXIII)

I wrote about how Keegan Kolesar has adjusted here.

I wish I had better stats to back up my argument, but the statistical revolution has not happened yet in the AHL. That may be the hill I die on.

For the eye test, Kolesar has become a lot more comfortable at the professional level this season. He's currently recovering from an injury, but before that he looked a lot more confident, and was one of the better defensive forwards on the Wolves roster. The best Knights comparison is Tomas Nosek.

He needs to get a few more offensive breaks, and he'll be better there. Kolesar has the right instincts, he's gotten better at passing and board battles, and he crashes the net with a purpose. He just needs to get more rebounds and puck luck.

Kolesar's come a long way from the beginning of the season when he looked lost on the ice and couldn't get anything going. He had a rough initial transition from the minors, but a game in the ECHL was the right wake-up call. Ever since then, when he's been on the ice, he's been one of the most fascinating players to watch.

Is Luca Sbisa performing better than before his time with the Golden Knights? (@AFrozenRock)

Looking at the stats, my initial reaction is: Luca Sbisa's PDO is ridiculous. PDO is the stat often referenced for puck luck. It's a combination of a player's on-ice save percentage and shooting percentage.

Though I think the shooting percentage, in this case, is luck, I think Sbisa has put in the effort to ensure a quality on-ice save percentage. I think he's the type of defender goaltenders like to have, and his 41 blocks and 12 takeaways across 23 games helps that case.

Also, Sbisa is on track to have one of his most successful offensive seasons in his career. He has 10 points through 23 games (he's been hurt for 15). His career best is 24 points in 80 games. His current pace is better than that.

That's not because of shooting percentage or anything else luck based - it's been him finding assists on a team loaded with offensive talent.

And it also comes while he's been taking on the biggest defensive workload in his career. 61.2 percent of his shifts have come in the defensive zone, the largest percentage for him. Naturally, his Corsi and possession numbers should suffer. Yet his even-strength Corsi is just .9 lower than last season, and his Fenwick has improved.

Despite his injuries, Sbisa is also still sixth on the team in penalty kill minutes. He's averaging three shorthanded minutes per game. That has to go in the added value column, especially since he has helped cut down on high-danger goals against when he's been on the penalty kill, only allowing three in nearly 69 minutes.

So to answer your question, even despite a more defensively-heavy role than he's played in the past, Sbisa is scoring points. He's succeeding as a Knight and is another testament to Gallant's coaching ability.

What do the Golden Knights need as of right now? (@VGKNation702) Where should the Knights upgrade if they do upgrade, and who should they target? (@Scott_Skeels)

I'm going to address these questions at the same time.

As a writer who's been focused on the Wolves, I would like to say a spot for Tomas Hyka to join the lineup. But that's not going to be easy to find, especially with the Golden Knights playing so well. Still, he remains the most NHL-ready AHL prospect for the Knights.

A better answer would be health. So many Knights have missed time this season, and yet it hasn't affected Vegas so far. But it will be important to get Sbisa and William Carrier back in the lineup. Carrier does so much off the scoreboard that he's still an important player. His ability to draw penalties has been a benefit to the Golden Knights.

The other thing I would like to see in Vegas is a power-play specialist. Somebody who excels at the man-advantage, and lifts the Golden Knights power play with them. For example, Kris Versteeg last season in Calgary scored 8-8—16 on the power play. That's an incredibly useful player the Golden Knights just don't have on their current roster.

They have Pirri in the AHL, though. He's excelled on the power play in Chicago and did well on the power play in New York. I think if he's given a shot, in a middle-six role with some power-play time, he could impress. There's no need to trade for a power-play specialist when there's an NHL-ready one in the pipeline.