Playmaker Jonathan Marchessault led the 2016-17 Panthers with 30 goals, finishing third on Florida with 51 points. He should contribute to the Knights’ top man-advantage unit and, on an expiring contract, be extra motivated.
One major Vegas wildcard is Vadim Shipachyov. New to the NHL, the 30-year old pivot is an eight-year KHL vet who served as Captain and Assistant Captain for SKA St. Petersburg over the past three campaigns. While he might start slow, ultimately he’ll do well. Shipachyov’s 76 points (26 G, 50 A) in 50 contests placed third in the KHL last year.
Expect wing Reilly Smith, with two 50-point seasons in his last four, to join Shipachyov and Marchessault on the top line.
With at least 21 goals in each of the last nine campaigns, after wearing the “A” for three years in Nashville James Neal will be counted on for likely second line leadership.
Versatile Erik Haula’s 53.9% faceoff win percentage last year bodes future dividends. He looks headed for left wing duty, however, where his experience with the Wild should help him again register around thirty points. With increased minutes he might hit forty.
While the Vegas lines have frequently shifted this preseason, William Karlsson might land the third line pivot role. That should up his minutes quite a bit. He’s seemed to click on a line with David Perron, just three years removed from 28 goals and 29 assists with Edmonton and coming off a 46-point campaign. Cody Eakin has joined the trio, moving out to the wing in the preseason and looking to redeem himself after an injury-cursed year in Dallas.
Oscar Lindberg’s veteran presence and grit will help the young squad no matter where he slots in. He’s solid in both left wing and center roles.
Tomas Hyka showed a great deal of offensive promise in the Czech leagues and tore up the preseason. Alex Tuch is also a prospect to watch, but after final cuts, both wings will likely start the year with AHL Chicago.
William Carrier’s 2.7 hits per game last year could also increase along with playing time. He profiles as tough fourth-liner, although he did see some top line work with Buffalo last year.
There’s a roster imbalance here as Deryk Engelland, and Colin Miller are the only right-handed rearguards with NHL experience, although left-shot Jon Merrill has played on the right side.
Lefty Jason Garrison may be a top pairing on the right. Vegas likely hopes to rekindle past power play magic, but ugly possession numbers of late don’t bode well.
Expect 22-year-old Shea Theodore, likely Vegas’ most talented blueliner to join that top duo. With the abundant scoring talent, he should lead the squad’s rearguards in points.
Offensive-oriented puck mover Nate Schmidt deserves a second pairing, especially after his smooth-skating postseason work and strong possession play. He should pair with Engelland.
Miller and Brayden McNabb could form an aggressive and tough bottom pairing, with many spare defenders including Clayton Stoner, Luca Sbisa, Merrill, Griffin Reinhart and Brad Hunt vying for the seventh defenseman role.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard are a solid duo.
Fleury gives them credibility, still a great deal of skill and a face of the franchise for the new market. Pickard has promise and talent as a backup with starting experience, albeit on that awful Avalanche squad last year.
Looking ahead to trade deadline – if sellers who could be on the move, if buyers what area might they need to improve? It’s tough to see them as buyers. More likely they’ll pedal vets doing well, perhaps Marchessault on his expiring contract for young talent. They still have an excess of defensemen and could deal one or more.
What rookies could make the team? Shipachyov is NHL-new but not a typical rookie. Hyka or Tuch could get in some games as the season progresses.
Which player could take a step forward this season? Several players could benefit from greater minutes with the inaugural Knights. In particular Haula, Karlsson, Eakin, and Carrier may increase production. Add Theodore and Schmidt to that group but with very poor plus/minus numbers.
Which players could regress? While Engelland will play much, his better than expected Flames numbers should decline. Fleury’s stats weren’t fantastic last year but should dip further with a first-year club finding its way.
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