Opportunity can provide itself at unexpected times. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted sports at all levels, from youth recreational sports to professional leagues around the world, including the NHL.
Acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2019 NHL Entry Level Draft, Kaedan Korczak is only 20 years old and said he never expected to play a role in the Golden Knights' 2021 playoff push. The defenseman was put on the Golden Knights' taxi squad as a developing prospect, and he said his taxi squad experience was invaluable to his development.
Finishing up the season with the Henderson Silver Knights, Korczak said he was stunned when he got the call that he was on the VGK taxi squad.
"I found out right after our last game with Henderson," said Korczak. "They gave me a call and said they will keep me around for the remainder of the NHL playoffs. I was very happy to get that opportunity."
There were a multitude of new experiences that Korczak had to navigate, such as practicing at City National Arena instead of Lifeguard Arena or being in the locker room with the guys after spectacular wins or crushing defeats, which were highlights of his time.
"After they beat Colorado at home, I was down in the dressing room waiting for my ride, and they were all pretty fired up," he said. "That's what sticks out the most for me, just how happy and fired up they were to knock off arguably the best team in the NHL. They were like young kids celebrating and listening to loud music, which was pretty cool to see."
Korczak used the precious time in the taxi squad to soak up as much knowledge and experience from guys who are already common names in the NHL.
"Brayden McNabb was awesome for me, we talked quite a bit and I just asked for little pointers," said Korczak. "I also skated with Alex Pietrangelo, and he has been good at giving me little tips. They have been great at letting me pick their brains."
Even though he never saw the ice during a playoff game, Korczak had an important role on the taxi squad. The backup goalie would take shots from Korczak and other taxi squad members to remain fresh and game ready. He also stayed late after every morning skate and practiced with assistant coach Ryan McGill to work on his in-game skills, conditioning, game sense and overall hockey IQ.
"Coach McGill was great for me," Korczak said. "We did a lot of work when I was on the ice with them, and we just chatted about how I play and what he wanted me to do. All the coaches were good, great even."
Korczak's intention throughout the process was to develop and take the next step to become an NHL-caliber player. For that to happen, he said he had to improve the mental aspect of hockey as well learn how to manage the puck more efficiently.
Once the Golden Knights were eliminated in the playoffs in June, he believed he had grown in those two areas.
"My hockey IQ and awareness," he said when asked about where he grew the most. "I am more patient with the puck, and I don't just throw the puck away. I wait for a play to be made, and I picked that up when I was watching the guys."
The Saskatchewan native's second season, where he will possibly split time between the Silver Knights and Golden Knights, is fast approaching. Training camp will start on September 22, and Korczak will have the opportunity to expand his arsenal of skills. Time will tell if he makes the leap to the NHL, but he has all the tools and resources to become an elite defender at the highest level.