Shea Theodore

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The Buzzer: Eichel beats McDavid; More Vegas gold

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Player of the Night: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

So far in their careers, Connor McDavid comparisons haven’t been kind to Jack Eichel. To be fair, just about every other NHL player pales in comparison to McDavid, but Eichel gets it the worst because he was selected right behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft.

McDavid’s enjoyed a deep playoff run and piled up some impressive hardware, yet Eichel got the best of number 97 for at least one night. As part of a 5-0 win for the Sabres against the Oilers, Eichel generated a goal and three assists.

If you haven’t noticed, Eichel’s been playing some of the best hockey even before Tuesday. With 10 points in his last five games, he’s enjoying the most productive stretch of his young career.

It was outrageous to place Buffalo’s blame on Eichel, so hopefully this torrid run at least turns down the volume on his critics.

Highlights of the Night:

We saw the nasty side of Brad Marchand with this questionable hit, but this goal was very, very nice:

This Shea Theodore outlet pass is so slick, it’s almost tough to keep your eye on it. William Karlsson scored yet again, and the Golden Knights won once again.

You may also enjoy Travis Konecny’s overtime game-winner, which you can check out here.

Factoids

The Boston Bruins’ run continues, while the Avalanche’s winning streak ended.

Vegas Golden Knights zero in on more records for expansion teams. Remarkable stuff.

From remarkably great to almost unspeakably bad: how can the Oilers’ penalty kill be this ineffective?

Some key bits from tonight

Panthers, Stars brawl.

Canadiens end Avalanche’s winning streak at 10.

Flyers edge Red Wings in OT.

Possible injury for Joe Thornton?

Goalie injuries also cause for concern.

Scores

Bruins 3, Devils 2
Penguins 3, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 4, Avalanche 2
Flyers 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Blues 3, Senators 0
Lightning 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Stars 6, Panthers 1
Sabres 5, Oilers 0
Canucks 6, Kings 2
Golden Knights 6, Blue Jackets 3
Ducks 6, Rangers 3
Jets 5, Sharks 4 (OT)

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.

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

The Buzzer: Shea like butter, freakouts, losing efforts

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Players of the Night

The Vegas Golden Knights have been quite the story, and the remarkable thing is that it isn’t all just smoke and mirrors.

Still, this stuff is more fun when there’s some magic happening, so file this moment under it. Theodore already had three assists on Tuesday, but his lone goal ended this game in regulation with about three seconds remaining. Consider this the highlight of the night, at least with Dmitry Orlov‘s deke masterpiece already covered in this post.

(Note: That’s basically how I score half of my goals in “NHL 18.”)

There’s been a rash of high-scoring players in defeat lately; add Vanek’s name to that growing list. The aging winger collected a hat trick and an assist, yet those four points weren’t enough for a win or even a charity point. At least Vanek got the 10th hat trick of his career.

Odd stuff

Is … Marc Crawford OK?

Wes McCauley: a little weird.

Factoids

Speaking of strong play in defeat, consider Erik Karlsson, who hopefully escaped Crawford’s spit and wrath:

Earlier today, PHT discussed John Tavares possibly sticking with the Islanders, in part because of a reported deal for a new arena. The other part: improved help around him, headlined by the likes of Josh Bailey?

Scores

Maple Leafs 8, Hurricanes 1
Red Wings 6, Islanders 3
Rangers 4, Ducks 1
Wild 6, Senators 4
Bruins 3, Sabres 0
Jets 6, Predators 4
Capitals 4, Stars 3 (OT)
Panthers 3, Coyotes 2
Canadiens 7, Canucks 5
Golden Knights 4, Lightning 3

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.