Golden Knights’ Defense Needs New Blood

Depth is what gets you far in the NHL. Every team will face injuries and adversity in a season and having the right players who can step in when needed can be the difference between winning it all and going home empty handed.

When Nate Schmidt was hurt at the start of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights were left with a big hole in their lineup and looked completely lost in their own end at times. Without the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury, the 2019-20 season might have a completely different feel right now.

The Golden Knights have a number of draft picks and assets to trade for a veteran defenseman. Here are a few players they could go after.

Cheap Options

If the team wants to go the cheaper route and acquire a third-pairing type of player, they could pursue a defender like Juuso Riikola from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have a plethora of defensemen, so many that Riikola has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, and when he is in the lineup it is at forward.

He is only 25 years old and has good skating and puck-moving abilities, along with a heavy slap shot from the point. He is not exempt from waivers so if the Penguins tried to send him down, he would likely be claimed, but he could come cheap in a trade.

Juuso Riikola
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Dylan DeMelo from the Ottawa Senators is another option. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and since the Senators are rebuilding, they may be willing to part with him for future assets.

DeMelo would be a great addition as he is a right-handed shot and is very mobile. He can also chip in with 18 minutes a night, ensuring players like Shea Theodore and Schmidt get some rest.

Players with Higher Caps

Although these next two players come with a higher cap hit, the Golden Knights could move someone like Cody Eakin, who is a free agent at the end of the season and makes almost $4 million, especially with the emergence of Nicolas Roy who could slide into that bottom-six role.

TJ Brodie would be an interesting option. He skates like the wind, can quarterback a power play, and give you hard minutes on the penalty kill. He has put up at least 30 points in every full NHL season he has played and reminds me of Schmidt.

Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie(Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-U SA TODAY Sports)

Although he plays for a division rival, the Calgary Flames could lose him as a free agent this offseason and if their early season struggles continue, they’ll want to get the most for one of their top trading chips.

While there are high hopes for the New Jersey Devils after all the pieces that were added during the offseason, Nikita Gusev being one of them, things have not started well. Sami Vatanen could be moved before season’s end as he will be a free agent this summer.

Vatanen is a puck mover that has a strong outlet pass and the ability to skate coast to coast with the puck. Acquiring him would have a funny story behind it, as the Anaheim Ducks traded Shea Theodore to the Golden Knights in order to protect Vatanen in the expansion draft.

Going Big

Every season at the trade deadline, management seems to pull off a big move. En route to their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2018, the Golden Knights added Tomas Tatar, and last season the team acquired Mark Stone. This season, they could dip their feet in that pool again, but this time for Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues.

While the Blues are the reigning champs and Pietrangelo is their captain, they will be without superstar Vladimir Tarasenko for five months because of a shoulder injury. In a strong Central Divsion, the Blues might have a tough time making the playoffs and if they are not in contention at the trade deadline, look for general manager Doug Armstrong to move the pending unrestricted free agent.

Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo gets off a shot against San Jose Sharks center Melker Karlsson (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Armstrong is not afraid of making bold moves at the deadline if it makes his team better. He dealt pending free agents Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk before they hit the open market. Pietrangelo would net a great haul for the Blues and Armstrong knows missing out on those assets for a player who is going to leave would be a mistake.

With the recent Roman Josi re-signing, the Blues could tell Pietrangelo that they won’t pay him more than what Josi received, but he might feel he could top that on the open market. With a Stanley Cup ring, he could test the open market for a well deserved payday.

The Golden Knights have multiple defensemen in their prospect cupboard who are on the cusp of cracking the NHL. Zach Whitecloud, Jimmy Schuldt, and Dylan Coghlan could develop into top-four NHL defensemen under the mentorship of Jay Bouwmeester, Colton Parayko, and Justin Faulk. They also have five picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft and four in the first two rounds of the 2021 Draft.

If Armstrong does re-sign Pietrangelo by February, Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon should pick up the phone and try to acquire the number one defenseman. The Golden Knights have the depth up front to make noise, they just need one more defender in order to be legitimate contenders, and hope that the third time’s the charm in the playoffs.