NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Vegas Golden Knights have done everything they can to get their team together and their organization launched. With training camp approaching, now comes the next step: Seeing how their plans come together on the ice.
The Golden Knights have an intriguing blend of experience and youth that will compete for 23 roster spots when camp opens Sept. 14.
[GOLDEN KNIGHTS 31 in 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]
"Training camp will be unique for more than just from a historical standpoint," general manager George McPhee said. "We're evaluating players that we really don't know as well as we would if we were here last year or the year before. Here, we've got all new players, and you don't really know a player until you really work with them."
Gerard Gallant, who was hired April 13 to guide that work, is widely considered to be a players' coach. That reputation factored heavily into his hiring.
"We wanted a coach who can get the best out of players and do it in the right way," McPhee said. "There are some coaches over the years that just had that touch with players, people like Pat Quinn, Bruce Boudreau. Players just seemed to play their best hockey for that coach.
"We think Gerard is very similar. We talked to a lot of former players of his before we made the hire. They genuinely enjoyed playing for the man."
Video: 31 in 31: Vegas Golden Knights 2017-18 season preview
Gallant was reunited with two of those former players: Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. On a team that should be strong in goal and solid on defense, the Golden Knights will need offense from the two forwards to be competitive in their first NHL season.
In 2015-16, when Smith played a full season under Gallant, he scored 25 goals and had 25 assists in 82 games on the Florida Panthers' second line. Last season, Smith dropped to 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games under Gallant and his replacement, Tom Rowe.
Marchessault, who joined Florida as a free agent prior to last season after three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, had a red-hot start playing for Gallant: 10 goals and seven assists in 22 games before the coach was fired Nov. 27. The 26-year-old finished with an NHL career-high 51 points (30 goals, 21 assists) in 75 games.
The Golden Knights' best hope for early success is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The 32-year-old made major contributions to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the beginning of the regular season and at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when injuries sidelined his successor, Matt Murray. Fleury was 18-10-7 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in the regular season.
Video: Fleury drafted by Golden Knights, gets loud applause
Just about everyone in the Penguins organization praised Fleury for being the consummate teammate on their way to a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship, something that will be critical with Vegas lacking star power.
Fleury rarely lets on if he's having a bad day, which will be important when things don't go Vegas' way, something that certainly will happen as it tries to develop chemistry.
"We want to be a physical team that can skate and will be in on the forecheck a lot," Gallant said. "We want to be a team that works hard and plays hard, and when we get a chance to put the puck in the net, we bury it."
One of their most-watched players will be forward Vadim Shipachyov. The Golden Knights signed the 30-year-old veteran of the Kontinental Hockey League before the NHL Expansion Draft, believing his scoring success in Russia (26 goals, 50 assists in 50 games for SKA St. Petersburg last season) can translate to the NHL.
"He's a playmaking center and they're not easy to find," McPhee said. "It's one of the things that's really difficult to acquire in expansion. So to be able to pick him up in another way is probably the only way you get that kind of player. He's a skilled, playmaking, finesse center."