NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 32 teams from Aug. 8 – Sept. 8. Today, three important questions facing the Vegas Golden Knights.
[Golden Knights 32 in 32: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown]
1. Who will be the No. 1 goalie?
Robin Lehner is likely out for the season following hip surgery. Backup Laurent Brossoitwho did not play after March 15 and had a medical procedure for an undisclosed injury after the season, is not expected to be ready for opening night.
That leaves Logan Thompson and Adin Hill competing to be the No. 1 goalie for the Golden Knights.
Thompson played well as a rookie last season and started six of the last seven games when Lehner and Brossoit were out. The 25-year-old was 10-5-3 in 19 games (17 starts) with a 2.68 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and one shutout.
“If you look at how he played his first couple of games in the NHL, compared to how he played at the end, I think that’s because he started to get some miles under him at the NHL level and with that comes some confidence,” Vegas director of player development Wil Nichol said.
Hill, who was acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on Aug. 30, was 10-11-1 with a 2.66 GAA, .906 save percentage and two shutouts in 25 games (22 starts). The 26-year-old has a 2.74 GAA and .908 save percentage in 74 NHL games with the Sharks and Arizona Coyotes.
Prior to the trade, coach Bruce Cassidy said it was Thompson’s job to lose. Following the trade, general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the addition of Hill gives the team more comfort at the position.
“‘LT, ‘he was huge for us to down the stretch. … I give him a ton of credit on the way that he stepped up for our group,” forward Jack Eichel said. “I think he earned a lot of respect from the guys in the locker room last year by the way he played, and we have a lot of faith in LT as our goalie.”
2. Can new coach Bruce Cassidy help improve the power play?
Since entering the NHL in 2017-18, the Golden Knights are 20th in the League on the power play (19.2 percent). During that same time, Cassidy’s five full seasons with the Boston Bruins, the Bruins’ power play is tied for second in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs (23.7 percent).
Cassidy said he’ll bring a new philosophy to the Golden Knights. Though he would not show all his cards, Cassidy said he prefers to have the power play run through the forwards in front of the net as opposed to a big shot from the point.
“We know that our power play has to be better, we know that our penalty kill has to be better,” Eichel said. “I think Bruce brings a good outlook on both of those, power play especially more so is what I’ve talked to him about. And he had some really good ideas on that and, and how to help us produce more goals and be more successful.”
Video: NHL Tonight on Vegas Golden Knights Season Outlook
3. Will Jack Eichel return to an elite level?
Eichel could make excuses for his play last season, but the 25-year-old won’t do that. He had 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 34 games, but struggled down the stretch when the Golden Knights failed to secure a Stanley Cup Playoff berth for the first time in their history.
Ten months removed from undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, and about four months since playing the last six weeks of the season with a non-displaced fracture in his thumb, Eichel said, “the body feels good.”
The Golden Knights hope that better health helps Eichel regain his form as an elite NHL player. The forward had 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 games over six seasons with the Buffalo Sabers before being traded to the Golden Knights last season.
Eichel should also benefit by not having to carry the scoring load in Vegas as he did in Buffalo.
“Some nights less is going to be more because you’re on a good team, you don’t have to be driving everything every night,” Cassidy said regarding Eichel. “We have other good players. It doesn’t mean you take nights off, that’s not what I’m saying. Understand that you give us 18 1/2, 19 solid minutes, win your share of draws, make plays, but if you’re not on the score sheet that night and we’re winning games and you’re helping us, that’s a positive.”