Colin Miller

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Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Vegas Golden Knights give Marchessault a big raise

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You could argue that Jonathan Marchessault is the quintessential Vegas Golden Knights forward, so it’s fitting that he’s the first VGK scorer to get a big contract extension during this season.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported that the deal would likely be for six years with a cap hit of about $5 million per season. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie backs up that it’s a six-year, $30M extension. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the salary breaks down as:

2018-19: $7M
2019-20: $6M
2020-21: $5M
2021-22: $5M
2022-23: $3.5M
2023-24: $3.5M

The Golden Knights recently made the six-year, $30M extension official.

Interestingly, such a deal is very similar to that of Reilly Smith, a player who was jettisoned from the Florida Panthers to the Golden Knights alongside Marchessault.

Well-earned

Plenty of Golden Knights came into 2017-18 with chips on their shoulders, but you could argue that Marchessault had the most on the line. At 27, Marchessault carried just a $750K cap hit into this season, so there was serious financial incentive to prove that his 30-goal, 51-point breakout from 2016-17 was no fluke.

The Golden Knights continue to strive to show that they, too, are for real, and Marchessault’s been a big part of that surge toward legitimacy.

That’s been true both lately and in this season overall. The former Florida Panthers forward has 15 goals and 37 points in 35 games, making his 1.06 points-per-game pace easily the best of his career. Marchessault’s been a huge contributor to the Golden Knights’ latest hot streak, generating at least one point in seven consecutive games (five goals, six assists).

Marchessault is likely to slow down in some areas, yet it’s worth noting that his shooting percentage isn’t outrageous this season at 12.1 percent (it’s actually lower than his career average of 13.2). He’s been a strong possession player so far for Vegas, as you can see at a quick glance at Hockey Reference.

A select group that might grow

While Marchessault is the first forward to get an in-season extension from GM George McPhee, he’s not the only Vegas forward locked up beyond 2017-18. Here’s that select group of players with multiple years remaining, with help from Cap Friendly:

Marchessault: $5M per year through 2023-24
Fellow former Florida forward Reilly Smith: $5M through 2021-22
Cody Eakin: $3.85M through 2019-20
Erik Haula (signed in June): $2.75M through 2019-20
David Clarkson‘s contract: $5.25M through 2019-20

The Golden Knights also have some key players signed through 2018-19, including goalies Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury. Brayden McNabb is the most notable defenseman term-wise, as he’s drawing $2.5M from 2018-19 to 2021-22.

The most fascinating question, though, is “Who’s next?”

One great driving force of the Golden Knights is monetary motivation, as Marchessault is far from the only key forward on an expiring contract. James Neal‘s $5M cap hit will expire after 2017-18, as will David Perron‘s $3.75M. While those two are pending UFAs, the Golden Knights also have some intriguing RFAs to settle, with William Karlsson set to make a big jump from his current $1M. Colin Miller and Shea Theodore also stand out as blueliners who need new contracts for 2018-19.

In the case of Marchessault, the Golden Knights are still making a bit of a gamble that he’s a legitimate scorer despite a relatively small body of work at the NHL level. Marchessault has essentially played the equivalent of two full NHL seasons (159 games).

That said, while the term is risky, Marchessault can cool down quite a bit and still be well worth $5M.

Personally, it’s a delight to see the small forward finally get rewarded for all of his hard work, particularly after the Panthers were bafflingly comfortable with letting him go after a 30-goal season. His size likely explains why he wasn’t drafted and why he took quite a bit of time to get a real shot in the NHL, so it’s inspiring to see him get what he deserves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights vs. Kings on NBCSN

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WATCH THE GAME LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

David PerronErik HaulaJames Neal

Reilly SmithJonathan MarchessaultWilliam Karlsson

Brendan LeipsicCody EakinAlex Tuch

Oscar LindbergPierre-Edouard BellemareTomas Nosek

Defense

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt

Deryk EngellandShea Theodore

Jon MerrillColin Miller

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Bruins vs. Capitals; Golden Knights vs. Kings

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards

Tanner PearsonAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Alex IafalloAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli

Marian GaborikNick ShoreTrevor Lewis

Andy AndreoffTorrey MitchellJonny Brodzinski

Defense

Jake MuzzinDrew Doughty

Kurtis MacDermidAlec Martinez

Derek Forbort — Kevin Gravel

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Gallant thinks Golden Knights can ‘win and compete consistently’ during inaugural season

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What can we expect from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18? No one really knows what they’ll look like once they hit the ice because they’ve never played together before.

Of course, the expectation is that they’ll be bad, which is fair considering the track record expansion teams have in pro sports. But are they gonna be “Colorado bad” or will they be able to hold their own more often than not?

“I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought,” head coach Gerard Gallant said, per NHL.com. “I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we’d get.

“So I think we did a real good job building our team. Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is.”

Through the expansion draft, Gallant’s team was able to find themselves a quality number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and a relatively young backup in Calvin Pickard.

After parting ways with defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Marc Methot, the Golden Knights are left with solid options like Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, and veterans like Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa and Brayden McNabb. That’s a decent group for an expansion side.

Up front is where things get a little more complicated. They signed Russian free agent Vadim Shipachyov and picked James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith during the expansion draft, but they’re also light on scoring depth.

“There’s going to be issues,” added the Golden Knights head coach. “Some nights we’re going to have trouble scoring goals. You look at our roster, there’s a lot of good players. Are there any superstars there?”

It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas’ first year in the NHL will unfold under Gallant and general manager George McPhee’s watch.