NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Vegas Golden Knights:
1. Does Robin Lehner reward their faith?
The Golden Knights made a bold move July 27 by trading Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury was the face of Vegas since the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and is the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the best goalie as voted by NHL general managers.
The Golden Knights did it because they needed space under the NHL salary cap and had Lehner, who is younger (30 instead of 36), less expensive ($5 million average annual value instead of $7 million), locked up longer (through 2024-25 instead of 2021-22) and elite in his own right (a Vezina finalist with the New York Islanders in 2018-19).
“We were always asking the question, ‘Who is our next goalie going to be?'” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “I think that’s where Robin slots in real nicely.”
2. Can Nolan Patrick blossom in the desert?
The Golden Knights made another bold move July 17 by trading center Cody Glass, the first NHL draft pick in their history (No. 6 in the 2017 NHL Draft), to the Nashville Predators in a three-team trade that brought them Patrick from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Patrick scored 70 points (30 goals, 40 assists) in 197 games over three seasons with the Flyers, a disappointment considering he was selected No. 2 in the 2017 draft. But he will turn 23 on Sept. 19 and has the talent that made him such a high pick. McCrimmon coached Patrick with Brandon of the Western Hockey League from 2014-16, when Patrick scored 158 points (71 goals, 87 assists) in 127 games.
At least eventually, could Patrick get a chance to play on the first line with another former Brandon player, Mark Stone? Could he become the No. 1 center they have lacked?
3. Can they continue to evolve their game for the playoffs?
The Dallas Stars defeated the Golden Knights in the 2020 Western Conference Final by taking away the middle of the ice and getting great goaltending. Afterward, Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said players needed to add layers to their games.
The Golden Knights faced two teams in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs that used the same formula the Stars did: the Minnesota Wild and Montreal Canadiens. They defeated the Wild in seven games in the Stanley Cup First Round, and DeBoer said, “We found a way this year where a year ago I’m not confident we would have.”
But after defeating the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, they lost to the Canadiens in six games in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Too often, they got frustrated by Montreal’s defensive structure, turned over the puck and fed its quick-strike offense. Vegas’ top scorers struggled to produce at even strength and on the power play, which went 0-for-15 in the series.
4. How much can Evgenii Dadonov and Mattias Janmark contribute?
Dadonov, acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on July 28, scored 13 goals in 55 games last season. He scored between 25-28 goals each of the previous three seasons with the Florida Panthers.
Janmark, acquired in a trade with the Blackhawks on April 12 and signed to a one-year contract July 28, scored 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 56 games last season, including five points (one goal, four assists) in 15 games for Vegas. He scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights need scoring depth, especially while forward Alex Tuch misses the start of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.
5. Can young players crack the lineup?
Coghlan scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 29 games for Vegas last season after two seasons with Chicago of the American Hockey League. Can the 23-year-old earn a spot in the top six?
Krebs, the No. 17 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 24 games for Winnipeg of the WHL, five points (one goal, four assists) in five games for Henderson of the AHL and one assist in four games for Vegas last season. Can the 20-year-old not only make the NHL but make an impact?