A few weeks ago, Brett Pickler, Michael Vidakis and I took part in a pre-trade deadline roundtable discussion in which we all highlighted depth up front as being the Vegas Golden Knights’ No. 1 need. It was hardly surprising, then, to see their one deadline transaction address the bottom-six, bringing LW Mattias Janmark over from the Chicago Blackhawks.
While you can quibble with the draft capital surrendered by GM Kelly McCrimmon to land Janmark (Chicago got Vegas’ 2021 second-rounder and 2022 third, while the Knights sent San Jose a 2021 fifth-round pick for taking on salary), the club has added another option for the forward corps without subtracting any bodies.
More specifically, Janmark serves as the final piece to shoring up a third line that was recently a weakness for Vegas and now might be a considerable strength. No, the 28-year-old Swede isn’t going to carry an entire line by himself. But his arrival coincides with some internal progress, even in what has been something of a bumpy stretch for the Knights, that offers promising signs for the forward corps outside the top six.
Coach Peter DeBoer hasn’t outright announced Janmark’s place on the third line, so slotting him third on the left wing depth chart behind Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault is somewhat speculative. He did, however, admit to The Athletic’s Jesse Granger that it was the most likely place for the newcomer upon entering the lineup.
On a character-heavy, defensive-minded roster, Janmark fits like a glove. The story of his return to the ice from a serious knee condition back in 2016 served as a comeback tale of courage and dedication. Since missing the entire 2016-17 season, he’s been a picture of consistency, playing 265 out of 276 games. That consistency is also reflected in his on-ice performance, where he has reliably offered a steadying defensive presence and occasional scoring.
In Vegas, Janmark likely won’t have the power-play opportunities he was afforded with the Blackhawks (four of his 10 goals this season have come with the man advantage), although it couldn’t hurt to try him on a unit that currently ranks a disappointing 24th league-wide. His defense will certainly be a welcome commodity in the postseason against teams like Minnesota and Colorado, each of whom gets considerable offense beyond their top-six.
Predictably, Tuch’s production has waned since Max Pacioretty’s return from injury bumped the 24-year-old off the top line and back to third-line duty. His game-winner against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday snapped a 14-game goalless drought, a stark departure from the eight-goals-in-eight-games stretch he enjoyed in late February.
As part of a slightly tweaked third line, however, there’s a reason for optimism. While Janmark can be the defensive linchpin for the line in much the same way that Carrier was, he also offers considerably more offensive flourish for Tuch to play alongside. With the two of them flanking creative playmaker Tomas Nosek (more on him in a moment), there lies the possibility of some offensive dynamism along with responsible defensive play.
Let’s not overlook Nosek’s significance when it comes to the Golden Knights’ third line. For starters, you should never discount the importance of a line’s centerman. Then, you also have the fact that the 28-year-old has been extremely productive of late and only stands to get better while flanked by Tuch and Janmark.
Nosek has five goals and six assists over his past 15 games, highlighted by recording the lone goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Notably, he’s finished with a positive plus/minus in 10 of those games. As a result, he now sits one goal and three points shy of matching career-highs despite playing in roughly half the games of his past few seasons.
With Tuch and Janmark, Nosek will help offer a defensive edge, but will also be afforded the opportunity to play up and try to create offense. He is certainly earning increased trust from DeBoer, having logged his four highest minutes totals of the season over the past 11 games.
The addition of Janmark offers fringe benefits beyond the third line, including a more appropriate fourth-line role for Carrier and a bevy of grit, particularly once Ryan Reaves and Keegan Kolesar return to health. But he isn’t going to be able to do it alone. That’s where the 14-goal man Tuch and an improved Nosek can really round out a trio that should compare nicely to rival third units in Colorado (likely Carl Soderberg, Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi) and Minnesota (Kevin Fiala, Nick Bjugstad and Marcus Johansson).
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.