LAS VEGAS -- Shea Theodore has to do more than prove he belongs on the Vegas Golden Knights' inaugural roster. He has to force them to keep him even though it might be easier to start him with Chicago of the American Hockey League.
The Golden Knights have 11 NHL defensemen and are prepared to keep eight. Performance, injuries and trades will be factors. But this will be a factor too: Theodore is on an entry-level contract, so he can go to the AHL without passing through waivers. He could play as high as the top pair and power play, or as low as the minors.
Theodore will be the one to watch amid a lineup of young players in the Golden Knights' first preseason game, at the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NHL.TV, NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, ATTSN-RM).
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"Yeah, in the back of my head, I know there's the waiver-exempt option," Theodore said Saturday. "But you have to come in with a glass-half-full kind of mindset, and I'm here to make the team. I'm here to play my best hockey and do what I can to stick on the blue line. That's all I can do."
Whatever happens in the short term, though, Theodore has a bright future in Vegas. The Golden Knights targeted him leading up to the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21 and acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks by agreeing to select defenseman Clayton Stoner.
If the Golden Knights send Theodore to the AHL, they probably won't keep him there long. He's 22, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, with speed and skill. He played 19 regular-season and six Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Ducks in 2015-16, then 34 regular-season and 14 playoff games for them last season. It was invaluable to go to the Western Conference Final, score eight points (two goals, six assists) and average 17:25 of ice time.
"I feel like this year I'm a better player," Theodore said. "I'm coming off a playoff run last year. I feel like I've got that confidence and I know I can play at that level. Going into the third round and playing a majority of minutes, I feel like I've got that confidence where I can play against anybody and I can play well."
After the playoffs, Theodore took a week off, then got back to work. He trained with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon at home outside Vancouver, adding leg strength.
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He hasn't spent a lot of time talking to general manager George McPhee or coach Gerard Gallant about his situation or their expectations. But that's OK.
"We're watching him like we're going to watch everybody else and see what he can do," McPhee said. "Play your best, show us why you're here and what your best attributes are and just play the game the way you know how."
Gallant said he would not try to change Theodore's game.
"He can skate, move the puck," Gallant said. "He's an offensive guy. We want to encourage what he does, but we also want to make him better on the back end too."
The key for Theodore will be to set himself apart without trying to do too much.
"I feel like that's where my offensive flair can come in and my puck-moving skills and my skating skills," Theodore said. "I feel like that's where I'll be able to make the difference.
"I'm not going to try to take guys 1-on-1, because it's the best league in the world. That's junior stuff. That's American League stuff you can get away with. But you can't get away with that here. I'm just going to use my skating and use how fast I can move that puck, which is a good trait to have, and I feel like that's something that I bring."
Theodore said he couldn't wait to wear the Golden Knights jersey in a game for the first time on Sunday. He got a good vibe at the first team dinner on Thursday -- new organization, fresh start for everyone, including him.
"I'm ecstatic," Theodore said. "It feels great to be here. I know everyone feels it. We've got group of guys in the locker room, so it's definitely fun to be at the rink. It's going to be a good year."