The Vegas Golden Knights are ready to rumble. The NHL’s 31st team will open training camp on September 14 and will prepare to dish out 23 roster spots. They’ve drafted carefully, made a few trades and put the right people in charge. Now, the proof will or will not be in the pudding.
“Training camp will be unique for more than just from a historical standpoint,” general manager George McPhee said. “We’re evaluating players that we really don’t know as well as we would if we were here last year or the year before. Here, we’ve got all new players, and you don’t really know a player until you really work with them.”
The Golden Knights already have their franchise player in Marc-Andre Fleury, the undisputed starting netminder and biggest star in the roster. He’s also an excellent teammate and a sure winner, as he proved with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vegas will be counting on his positive attitude as they attempt to put together a team.
James Neal is the proven scorer for the Golden Knights. The 30-year-old had 41 points in 70 games last season for the Nashville Predators and has plenty of experience with winning franchises. He once popped in 81 points in 80 games for the Penguins and will probably be the leading scorer on the club. The knock on Neal is that he can take some bad penalties.
Jonathan Marchessault had a career year last season with the Florida Panthers, posting 51 points in 75 games – including 30 goals. The 26-year-old has 70 points in 124 NHL games with Columbus, Florida and Tampa and should find himself on the top line in Vegas. He’ll have every opportunity to put up quality numbers, especially as he sees time on the top power play unit.
Vadim Shipachyov hits the Strip with no NHL experience, but he could very well be the top centre on the Golden Knights. The 30-year-old spent nine seasons in the KHL and was third overall in scoring last season. He’s got quick hands and knows how to spot his teammates, but he made need some time adjusting to the smaller ice surface.
David Perron could be a second line guy in Vegas or he could be a first line guy in Vegas. The 29-year-old from Sherbrooke put up 46 points in 82 games for the St. Louis Blues and has been a bit of a journeyman, spending 652 career games with the Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Penguins, and Edmonton Oilers. Perron is hoping the Golden Knights will give him some stability.
Vegas has a few options on defence, including Nate Schmidt. The 26-year-old had a career-best 17 points for the Capitals last season and averaged 15:28 of ice time a game. He should see more action on the Golden Knights and can move the puck. He’s versatile enough to play on either side and will draw many a tough assignment.
Shea Theodore may be called on to be the top defenceman in Vegas. He stepped up in Anaheim last season and put together a great playoffs with the club beset by injuries. The 22-year-old hasn’t put in a full season in the NHL just yet, but he’ll have every chance to succeed with the Golden Knights. In 53 games across two seasons, Theodore has 17 points.
Jason Garrison is capable of putting up moderate points in the NHL and he’ll hold it down on the power play with his big shot. He can put up as many as 30 points in a season, although that’s far from the norm. The Golden Knights like his presence and will also slip him into the penalty kill. Last season, he averaged 18:33 of ice time with Tampa.
Fleury is the face of the franchise and the top goalie. The 32-year-old has posted at least 30 wins in eight of his 13 seasons with the Penguins. He struggled a little last season, winning just 18 in 34 starts. He’ll be asked to do a lot in Vegas, but he’s up for it and has the skills to pay the bills. Fleury can take the team deep into the playoffs and has the resolve to get through the rough patches.
Calvin Pickard is the backup. He was asked to do a lot with Colorado last season and posted 15 wins in 48 starts for a struggling team. The 25-year-old earned a reputation as a workhorse and could well be the perfect backup for Vegas, especially as he settles into his role.