NHL organizations go into training camps with all kinds of different spins on what is expected of the team that season. In Vegas, where the team is right up against the salary cap and coming off back-to-back postseason appearances - there's no confusion. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup. No guarantees, but the mindset around Camp VGK comes in one word.
It would be trite to suggest anything but a Stanley Cup would be disappointing but there's also some truth in that statement. From this perspective, getting into the playoffs in today's NHL is an enormous task and any team counting on being in the Final is a touch deluded. So much has to go right for a team to climb above 29 others and be a finalist. Injuries are unpredictable and the great equalizer in pro sports. Players have down years and teams hit slumps at just the wrong time. Stuff happens. But all things being equal, the Golden Knights are certainly a contender and have every reason to visualize themselves chasing the Cup.
Contenders don't enter training camp with a lot of questions but here are the main storylines in Vegas leading up to the season opener on Oct. 2 against the rival San Jose Sharks.
1. Blue Line Battle
GM Kelly McCrimmon returned six defensemen from last year's squad and in the event Vegas carries seven D, there's going to be a fight among a group of young defenders. Dylan Coghlan led all VGK scorers at the Rookie Faceoff in California last weekend with three goals and two assists. He's taken an early lead in the race for this roster spot but Jimmy Schuldt, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff and Jaycob Megna are also in the mix.
2. Time For Cody
Former first round pick Cody Glass turned pro late last season and was the best forward for the Chicago Wolves in the playoffs as they marched to the Calder Cup Finals. Glass will get a good long look from Vegas management but he'll have to prove he's ready and win a job on the big league roster. If he can prove he's a better center at this stage than a group which, among others, will include Tomas Nosek and Nicolas Roy, there's a chance he'll begin the season in the NHL.
3. The Lines
Gallant likes to set his lines early and stick with them. He'll make a change now and again due to injury or a slump but he's mostly true blue to his formations. Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault played together on a line for Canada at the IIHF Men's World Championship and were dynamic. Gallant will tinker in the preseason before he and his staff sit down to determine what the opening night combos will look like. Stay tuned.
4. Nate Is Here
Vegas opened last season with defenseman Nate Schmidt serving a 20-game suspension and hit hurt the club out of the gate. Having him back and going strong from the get go is a big plus for Vegas. Sometimes it's difficult to know how important a piece is until it's missing. Vegas went 8-11-1 without Schmidt in the lineup for the first 20.
5. Stone For A Season
Mark Stone is one of the best players in hockey. Full stop. Vegas dealt for him at the trade deadline last season and he had an immediate impact as the Golden Knights won six straight after his arrival and ten out of the first 11. Having him in the lineup for a full season will be the biggest change for the Golden Knights this year. He can drive offense at 5-on-5 and he's capable of being the first player over the boards for both special teams. For Gallant, having this weapon at his disposal for the full 82 is a huge plus.
6. Growth Fund
Team Canada coach Alain Vigneault raved about the work of Shea Theodore at last spring's Worlds. Theodore was fantastic as Canada marched to the gold medal game. Can he take his experience at the Worlds and build on it in a VGK uniform? Absolutely. Theodore has ability to be a top end player in the NHL. Expect even more from him this season.
7. Bounce Back
Winger Jonathan Marchessault has made it quite clear he was disappointed with last season and has promised to be better from the start. Marchessault led the Golden Knights in scoring with 25 goals and 59 points last season but believes he can be a more dominant player.