Many expected the Vegas Golden Knights to struggle after losing players like Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson. With those three players being such a massive portion of the teams offensive production, it isn’t hard to see why. With players like Zach Whitecloud and Nolan Patrick out as well, that means the team is missing five important players. A team that is missing this many players should not have anywhere close to a .500 record, and yet the Golden Knights do.
The Golden Knights are currently fifth in the Pacific Division with a 8-6-0 record. This is unexpected, for a team that has been without their two best point producers in Pacioretty and Stone. Though there are clearly holes in Vegas’ game, there have been many bright-spots as well that are contributing to the team’s positive record.
The kids are alright
The biggest contributor to Vegas’ performance despite the absence of several important players has been youth stepping up. Several players, under the age of 25, have been given the opportunity to play during situations they normally wouldn’t be expected to. Some of them have come up from the AHL, while others were playing bottom line/pairing roles before the team encountered the injury bug.
Nic Roy is the best example of young players stepping up. Despite playing regular bottom-six minutes before, the 24-year old has proven to be highly capable in a top-six role. In the absence of William Karlsson the teams lack of center depth began to shine through. Coach Pete DeBoer saw fit to deploy Roy on a line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. And so far, it has proven to be a comparable fit. In 12 games played, Roy has eight points and a plus five rating. His success could also be attributed to a return to his natural position at center, instead of on the wing.
Young defensemen who were roster players/fringe players before hand have expected to play in more expanded roles. With the reliable Zach Whitecloud out, both Nic Hague and Dylan Coghlan have found themselves carrying more responsibility. The 23-year old Hague, has been playing top pairing minutes with Alex Pietrangelo. The also 23-year old Coghlan, who found himself as the seventh D-man has been promoted to play regularly in the lineup. Both players, while still developing, have shown their quality.
Jake Leschyshyn, Jonas Røndbjerg and most recently, Paul Cotter, are all players currently on Vegas’ lineup who started the season playing for the Henderson Silver Knights. Management called them up to play on the Golden Knights while so many players were still missing. The three 22-year olds have each shown signs of NHL quality in their limited NHL experience.
In seven NHL games, Røndbjerg has shown that he is capable of playing at the NHL level. He has three points and a plus two rating as of right now. He is currently a reliable bottom-six forward but could very well develop into a middle to top-six player if he continues to improve. In his seventh game, the young Danish player scored his first NHL goal after Paul Cotter scored his as well. He ended the night with two points and was the first star of the game.
Paul Cotter, in his second game playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, scored his first NHL goal. He is a highly skilled forward who has the potential to break into the Golden Knights roster long-term. He will need to show that he is capable of remaining consistent if he wishes to remain in the NHL.
Despite having recorded zero points in his twelve games playing for Vegas, Leschyshyn appears to be more NHL ready than Cotter & Røndbjerg. He plays a hard-nosed heavy checking style and isn’t afraid of playing in the dirty areas. His strong skating and physicality help him enter the offensive zone, even if he takes a beating doing so. The way he plays is reminiscent of former Golden Knight, Tomáš Nosek.
There are several reasons as to why the Vegas Golden Knights currently have a record above .500. But the ability for several youth players to step up and perform has been a key factor without question. Nic Roy has shown that he is ready to step into a top-six role while players such as Hague and Coghlan are proving to be reliable blueliners. The AHL call-ups who are currently on the lineup are also proving to have the potential to play on the team, even after the injured players return.
Featured image courtesy of the NHL
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