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Players Emerging As Keepers For Golden Knights

These five players have played a vital role in Vegas' early success

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

She was wearing a Sabres shirt and hat. Maybe she'd had a few drinks. But when she noticed the Golden Knights pin on a suit jacket - she was quick to ask: "Could you have guessed the team would be 5-1?"

And she was the third person who had asked in a span of 15 minutes.

The Vegas Golden Knights might not be the best story of the early NHL season but they are certainly in the running. Not since the Montreal Canadiens did it in the 1917-18 season has an NHL team started 5-1 in its inaugural campaign. So, twice in 100 years. Not bad for the expansion team in the desert.

One can point to the quality of competition and wonder how the Golden Knights will fare against stiffer tests such as the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in their next two games. But a team can only take care of what is put before them and so far Vegas has rolled hot.

The better question is why have they achieved so far. Golden Knights analyst Shane Hnidy succinctly summed it up on Wednesday: Team beats talent.

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And therein lies the story of the Golden Knights. They have managed to take a roster of players from 30 different NHL organizations and make them a team in a matter of months. It helps that GM George McPhee and his staff insisted on character when making expansion draft selections but in the end it comes down to the players. They've found a way to bond and to buy in to Gerard Gallant's system.

 

Video: Perron lifts Knights with game-winner in OT

 

And there's no denying their role in events following the shootings of Oct. 1 has fast-forwarded the familial atmosphere amongst this group. Unknowingly, this group went from strangers to friends to teammates in a matter of days.

Going to hospitals and visiting with first responders in the days after Oct. 1 stripped away a lot of barriers. Watching one another react to others with empathy and compassion laid bare the hearts of these players. They saw what one another were made of and it brought them close in quick order. It was an accidental occurrence in the wake of a tragedy. It wasn't intended or contrived but it happened all the same.

On the ice, there have been some key performances. Expansion creates opportunity in any business and that's been the other story in Vegas - players being given fresh career opportunities and taking advantage.

Here are five players walking through the door of opportunity:

1. Reilly Smith - The most complete player in the Golden Knights lineup. Provides offence in 5-on-5 situations, kills penalty and logs power play minutes. Leads on the ice with his effort. This is an excellent hockey player putting all his attributes on display and reveling in the trust afforded him by Gerard Gallant.

 

Video: BUF@VGK: Smith notches PPG to extend the lead

 

2. Brad Hunt - Has played 35 NHL games over parts of seven pro seasons but may finally be breaking through as a full-time big leaguer. A strong skater who sees the ice and makes plays. Doesn't just transport the puck but creates offence on the rush. Makes the right decision with the puck time and again.

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3. Brendan Leipsic - Four points in six games and he's showing he has the offensive game to keep him in the NHL. Has work to do in the defensive zone but he's building credit with Gallant each game. Offence is hard to find in an expansion draft and Leipsic sees the ice well and can create. His first few strides are quick and he has a crafty stick. He makes things happen.

 

Video: ARI@VGK: Lindberg buries Leipsic's terrific feed

 

4. Alex Tuch - Big man who can move and score. He's excellent in tight. The more he plays and gains experience - his playmaking in the offensive zone should improve. He can win battles along the wall and in the corners at both ends of the ice. Tuch has the opportunity to stay in the NHL for a long time and be productive.

 

Video: BUF@VGK: Tuch tips Engelland's shot past Johnson

 

5. Malcolm Subban - Claimed off waivers and thrust into a starting role in net after an injury sidelined Marc-Andre Fleury. Has won two straight. Fleury is a leader and a teacher and a competitor. Goalie coach Dave Prior has a vision for Subban. It's really up to the player who has both the size and athletic ability to become elite. Subban has a chance to learn from Prior and Fleury and become a No. 1. He's proven coachable and competitive. He may turn out to be waiver wire gem for McPhee.

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