The Vegas Golden Knights have always been an organization that looks to thrive in the present, finding ways to make their team as competitive as possible each season without worrying about mortgaging their assets. It’s a strategy that the Golden Knights have prioritized since they joined the NHL in 2017, and it led them to building a historically dominant team that took home the Stanley Cup quicker than any franchise in the post-expansion era (starting in 1967).
Considering that they just won, it’s difficult to pick out any immediate needs that the Golden Knights have to address heading into the 2023-24 season. However, it’s important to be aware of some targets from around the league that could potentially make an impact on this team if they face any struggles in the regular season.
Let’s take a look at some of the early candidates that could help this Golden Knights team make another deep playoff run.
There are some NHL players who have been able to change the trajectory of their career by taking advantage of the environment they play in, and Alex Barabanov is one of them.
Barabanov was undrafted, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia for the majority of his young career, and recorded 137 points in 262 games for SKA St. Petersburg. He signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April of 2020 and had a short stint with the NHL club before being assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, where he would play just two games before being traded to the San Jose Sharks in April of 2021.
While Barabanov failed to make a strong first impression at the NHL level, being traded to the Sharks would prove to be a blessing for his career. He had a much better opportunity to develop his offensive game than he ever would have with the Maple Leafs. He played on their top forward unit alongside Tomas Hertl and Luke Kunin, where he had 15 goals and finished fifth on the Sharks in points with 47 through 68 games last season.
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While he probably wouldn’t be a top-six forward on most NHL teams, especially on the Golden Knights, his $2.5 million contract that expires next summer makes him a pretty attractive trade target for teams looking for an offensive spark on their third or fourth line. The Golden Knights’ lineup is deep, but there isn’t a guarantee that they’ll be able to replicate the scoring that they had in the playoffs, and Barabanov could add an extra offensive layer to their lineup.
The expectations for the Ottawa Senators have gotten continuously higher with each season, but the competition within the Atlantic division has always been a major factor in their lack of regular-season success. With the best years of the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning seemingly being behind them, can this young Senators core take the next step to compete for a playoff spot? That remains to be seen, but it will likely decide what the future holds for Vladimir Tarasenko.
After the New York Rangers acquired Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues in February in hopes of a deep playoff run, they were knocked out in the first round by the New Jersey Devils in seven games. With no extension signed with the Rangers, Tarasenko became an unrestricted free agent for the first time since 2016. He then signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Senators, in hopes of replacing Alex DeBrincat’s role in the top six following his trade to the Detroit Red Wings.
Injuries aside, the 31-year-old winger has been a 30-goal scorer for nearly a decade, while also being a consistent offensive producer in the playoffs. It’s no secret that the Golden Knights have struggled to score on the power play over the past few seasons, and adding a scoring threat like Tarasenko to their lineup could be the difference they need to elevate their offensive game.
Based on the one-year signing, the Senators wouldn’t have an issue retaining his salary in a trade if they were offered some extra compensation, which is likely what would need to happen if the Golden Knights were to pursue him. While a Tarasenko trade is entirely dependent on how the Senators perform, don’t count the Golden Knights out if trade rumors begin to swirl in the new year.
Jason Zucker’s time with the Pittsburgh Penguins over the past four seasons was filled with injuries and uncharacteristically low offensive production. From 2016 to 2020, Zucker had 182 points through 287 games played with the Minnesota Wild. He then put up just 47 points through 94 total games between 2020 to 2022. Fortunately, he got his game back on track in the 2022-23 season, scoring 27 goals and recording 48 points while managing to play 78 games.
His return to form earned him a one-year, $5.3 million contract with the Arizona Coyotes for the upcoming season, which will give him the opportunity to play top-six minutes alongside some of the Coyotes’ best young talent. There’s a strong chance the Coyotes do anything they can in order to maximize Zucker’s value for a trade later in the season, where he could be moved to a contender like the Golden Knights.
Zucker has proven he can be a complimentary player to some of the NHL’s best talent with his experience playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. This also could make him a great candidate to be acquired by the Golden Knights at the trade deadline. If he can stay healthy, he’d provide a lot of stability to this lineup and could easily find success on any line that he’d play on.
Similarly to Tarasenko, the Coyotes are almost guaranteed to retain salary if they do make a trade for Zucker at the deadline. There’s still a chance that the Coyotes try to extend Zucker if they’re looking for a veteran presence to help the development of their younger players, but that decision will ultimately be made as the season progresses.
The Golden Knights’ defensive core is arguably their best asset, which is why all of these suggested targets are on the offensive side of things. While they are aging, their natural talent combined with the structured defensive system they play in under Bruce Cassidy has proved to be a combination that doesn’t warrant any immediate changes.
While all of these players are on expiring deals, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Golden Knights target players with some term left on their contracts as well. With Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson both being in the last year of their deals, acquiring players who are locked down for multiple seasons could end up being the best decision to keep this competitive window open.