Did Paul Cotter do enough to make Golden Knights roster?

A 22-year-old forward has been one of the best stories during the Vegas Golden Knights training camp.

LAS VEGAS — It’s about 28 miles from City National Arena, where the Vegas Golden Knights practice, to Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, where the Silver Knights, the team’s AHL affiliate, skates.

Paul Cotter lives less than 10 minutes from City National. Which commute do you think he prefers?

The 22-year-old forward has been one of the best stories in Vegas’ training camp, which concludes Saturday in Boise, Idaho with a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes. In five games, Cotter has two goals and an assist while averaging 14:49 in ice time per contest.

“I’m trying to make it tough for them,” he said on landing one of those coveted final roster spots. “I feel like I belong here and I think I’m fitting in.”

But did he do enough?

Cotter was held out of Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Salt Lake City. But don’t read too much into that. Coach Bruce Cassidy has pretty much formed his opinion of Cotter’s worth. He was looking to see how certain players performed on certain line combinations vs. the Kings. Cotter, who has skated with Nic Roy and Keegan Kolesar for most of the preseason, would be slotted there if he’s still on the team when the regular season opens Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Kings.

Cotter’s problem is something he has absolutely no control over. Veteran winger William Carrier has been injured most of the preseason and has begun skating on his own. If he is cleared to play, it could put Cotter’s plans on hold.

In addition, Cotter is no longer waiver exempt. Which means if he’s not on Vegas’ roster, he has to clear waivers first before he can join Henderson. That may be a gamble the Golden Knights are not willing to take.

To Cotter’s credit, he has kept his focus on what he needs to do. He has brought a heightened level of physicality to his game, which Cassidy has noticed and loved. He has shown the ability to finish around the net and he and Roy seem to have a nice chemistry working together.

“Honestly, he’s got it all,” Roy said of Cotter, who played seven games in the NHL last year and had a pair goals. “He’s got good hands. He’s strong on his skates. The way he’s played, he deserves to be here.”

When Cotter was drafted in the fourth round by Vegas in the 2018 NHL Draft, he was a small, scrawny kid. He had played at Western Michigan University and the Knights were not about to rush his development.

He was sent to the Chicago Wolves, Vegas’ then-AHL affiliate and Cotter learned how to beprofessional. Rocky Thompson, his coach, was hard on him, but fair. Cotter said it really helped his development.

“It’s such a different world,” he said. “You learn how to travel, how to eat, how to get your rest. Being there (in Chicago) was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

When the Silver Knights came into existence in 2020 after moving from San Antonio, Cotter would be among those moving from Chicago to Henderson. But when COVID-19 delayed the 2020-21 season until February, those lessons on professionalism became even more important. He had to watch his health, keep his skills sharp and bd ready when they dropped the puck in February.

In his two seasons with the Silver Knights, Cotter eventually evolved into one of Henderson’s top scorers, finishing last year with 19 goals, third behind Pavel Dorofeyev’s 27 goals and Ben Jones with 25.

In addition to his ability to score, which would give a boost to the fourth line, Cotter has shown a high hockey IQ. He knows where to be on the ice and what to do with the puck.

Cassidy likes his hockey players smart and tough. So far, Cotter has checked all the boxes.

“He’s been real good doing the things he needs to do to crack the lineup,” Cassidy said of cotter prior to the team’s trip to Utah. “He gives us abrasiveness. He keeps his head up. He’s strong on the puck. If you’re looking for younger guys trying to push up, he’s at the top of the list.”

That keeping your head up thing, the most rudimentary of hockey skills, came in handy last week when Cotter had a major collision with San Jose’s Nico Sturm. It could have been disastrous for Cotter had he not seen Sturm coming at him looking to lower the boom.

Instead, it was Sturm he got the worst of it. How bad was it? He didn’t play for the Sharks in Berlin earlier this week as he was still feeling the effects of his collision with Cotter, which became an instant Internet sensation.

“I hope he’s all right,” Cotter said. “Fortunately, I’ve always played with my head up. I was usually the smallest guy on the ice from when I was a kid so I learned early to keep my head up and avoid those big hits.”

Cotter might get one last look Saturday in Boise against the ‘Yotes. He knows every shift matters and he has tried to prove to Cassidy that he is consistent with his game and he is worthy of wearing a VGK sweater come Tuesday.

“Hope I’ve earned a spot,” he said. “Just being around these guys every day, I’ve learned so much. It’s been a great experience.”

If nothing else, it’ll keep his commute reasonable. With gas inching toward $6 a gallon, driving to Henderson from Summerlin will not come cheap.

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