At the onset of free agency, it seemed curious to see the Vegas Golden Knights continue to add help on the wing, arguably the club’s biggest area of strength. Without losing anyone of significance (unless you count Ryan Reaves), they re-signed trade deadline addition Mattias Janmark, and traded for Evgenii Dadonov.
Now we know why.
On June 30th, two days after the start of free agency, the Golden Knights announced that Alex Tuch had undergone successful shoulder surgery and would be out about six months. That timetable keeps the versatile 25-year-old forward out of the lineup until approximately January or February.
Tuch’s injury likely provides some cap relief through the ability to stash his $4.75 million on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Still, you’d ideally like to have the 18-goal scorer from a year ago in the lineup. Without him, Janmark and Dadonov both loom as possible options to fill in on the third line.
Let’s break down some of the players that head coach Pete DeBoer could lean on to keep Vegas chugging along as Tuch embarks upon the road to recovery.
After scoring just once in 15 regular season games following a mid-season trade from the Chicago Blackhawks (Vegas sent a 2021 second-rounder and 2022 third-rounder back in the three-team deal), Janmark made his mark in the postseason with four goals and four assists in 16 games. The 28-year-old can play down the middle, but saw the bulk of his minutes come on the wing.
It was Janmark’s well-rounded offensive game and versatility that made him the priority for the Golden Knights ahead of fellow free agent forward Tomas Nosek, who signed with the Boston Bruins for two years with a total cap hit of $3.5 million. He now knows the system and, critically, has earned DeBoer’s trust. By the end of Vegas’ postseason run, the Swede was regularly seeing more than 15 minutes of ice time.
Given the price (the Golden Knights surrendered expendable defenseman Nick Holden and a third-round pick), taking a flyer on Dadonov seems like a reasonably low-risk play for Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon. While the Russian 32-year-old struggles on the defensive end, he’s a proven goal scorer and offers yet another offensive weapon in the top-nine.
Since returning to the NHL in 2017 after five years playing overseas, and prior to a 13-goal pandemic season in Ottawa, Dadonov scored 81 goals over three seasons with the Florida Panthers. It’s probably fair to anticipate some regression based on age and a more limited role in the lineup, but he still offers a pretty valuable dimension as a high-level scorer who could wreak havoc on the third line or, like Tuch, move up to the top-six when needed.
While Dadonov’s $5 million cap hit swallows up a significant chunk of the $7 million saved in the trade of Marc-Andre Fleury, shedding the $1.7 million owed to Holden helps make the contract a little more palatable.
Once you get past Janmark and Dadonov, the replacement pickings get pretty slim barring a split of the top two lines. Luckily, the Golden Knights have talent coming through the pipeline that might be ready to fill the void.
At 29 years of age, Patrick Brown isn’t the young, high-ceiling prospect that gets fan bases buzzing. However, the journeyman minor leaguer certainly looked as though he belonged during a postseason call-up, registering two goals in 12 games despite seeing a little over 10 minutes of ice time per game. The Henderson Silver Knights captain is well liked and well respected throughout the organization.
If called up, Brown can’t be expected to produce the same kind of secondary scoring that Tuch provides. Instead, he can be the ultimate glue guy – a smart, steady presence who does the little things that may not show up on the stat sheet but that help his team.
If Vegas wants to go the ‘exciting, high ceiling’ prospect route, then this could be Peyton Krebs’ opportunity to make his mark in the NHL. Vegas’ organizational depth has enabled the club to take the patient approach with the 20-year-old’s development, and now he’s shown he can excel at just about any level.
A chaotic 2020-21 season saw Krebs bounce around between the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg Ice, the American Hockey League’s Henderson Silver Knights, and a brief, four-game stint in Vegas, not to mention a standout showing for Canada at the World Junior Championships. Apart from being held to one assist in sparse duty with the big club, the 2019 first-rounder aced every test put in front of him.
Krebs probably isn’t the best option for right now, but a potential breakthrough performance would represent a major development for Vegas, providing a vast array of roster options and bringing in yet another dangerous play maker to an already-potent offensive attack.
This won’t so much be a singular choice as an open opportunity to see who takes advantage. Janmark and Dadonov were likely set to see minutes on one of the top three lines anyway, so Tuch’s injury only serves to further solidify their role in the short-term. Brown and Krebs, meanwhile, each saw four games in Vegas last season and figure to build on that. Being without Tuch stings, but the Golden Knights should be just fine.
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.