LAS VEGAS — Ever since Reilly Smith was traded in late June, everyone has been wondering who is going to take his spot with the Vegas Golden Knights and skate with William Karlsson on the third line?
I don’t think we’ve gotten our answer just yet, even through five preseason games. But something is going to happen fairly soon given the fact opening night is seven days away.
Four players — Paul Cotter, Pavel Dorofeyev, Brendan Brisson and Max Comtois — have been vying for that coveted spot. Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks, all had an opportunity to prove to coach Bruce Cassidy that they belong in the NHL. But it didn’t appear anyone took full advantage of the chance given them.
If the season began Tuesday, I’d be inclined to have Cotter play with Karlsson and Michael Amadio on the third line. Not that he did anything great, mind you, against the Sharks. But he did have one shot on goal, as did Dorofeyev, compared to none for Comtois and Brisson. But he was active in his own end, had a couple of big hits in the first period and finished with five for the game as the Sharks scored twice in the second period and made it stand up for a 2-0 win at T-Mobile Arena.
Not many of our guys were willing to go inside, which is why we got shut out,” Cassidy said. “I thought Paul tried to impact the game.”
Games like this are tough for a coach to make a proper assessment. It was a herky-jerky kind of affair with little flow or pace to it. And with time running out for the foursome to make their case to stick, it may come down to what Cassidy already knows rather than what he may learn that determines who stays and who goes.
Dorofeyev has more skill offensively and perhaps playing with Karlsson, something he did briefly last year before getting hurt, might spur him on. Cassidy likes the way Dorofeyev goes to the net and doesn’t shy from contact. But he wasn’t thrilled with Tuesday’s effort.
“Pav needs be better in the situation,” Cassidy said.
Brisson has options and he’s likely returning to Henderson to start with the AHL’s Silver Knights. He’s had moments of brilliance but it’s a big jump to the NHL and he’s not quite ready.
Comtois was hoping to revive his NHL career after he bottomed out in Anaheim. Trying to learn a new system and get comfortable with new teammates in a short period of time is never easy and he has tried to fit in. He was on a PTO deal so the Knights are not on the hook for him. Still, for a guy who is trying to play his way back into the league, Comtois has not helped his cause here.
“Max is without a contract,” Cassidy said. “He has to outplay Paul and Pav.”
The Knights are also keeping a watchful eye on the blue line. Zach Whitecloud got hurt early in the preseason and has not been on the ice since. His status for opening night on the 10th remains a question mark.
If Whitecloud can’t go, Ben Hutton, who played well a good portion of the time when he was in the lineup last year, is likely going to be in. Perhaps Kaedan Korczak or Brayden Pachal stay with the Knights as added defensive depth (teams can carry 23 players).
Hutton played just over 22 minutes vs. the Sharks and he seemed fine, a player that Cassidy obviously has come to trust. So it’s probably safe to think he’s with the Golden Knights next week.
The goaltending is set. Adin Hill looked very good and Logan Thompson did little wrong Tuesday against San Jose. Cassidy said both will get work in the final two preseason games — Thursday vs. Colorado and Saturday at Los Angeles. As to who the starter will be opening night against Seattle, that remains to be seen.
But the time for experimentation is over. The Knights need to use the dress rehearsals to get ready for the real thing. So whoever winds up with Karlsson, be it Cotter or Dorofeyev, better be ready to contribute and not be a liability. If it turns out to be the latter, we may see Will Carrier leave Nic Roy and Keegan Kolesar and join Karlsson and Amadio.
I don’t think Cassidy wants to use that option and break up what is Vegas’ “Identity Line.” But it’s up to Cotter and/or Dorofeyev or even Comtois, to make sure that doesn’t happen.