Every workplace has those people that can always be counted on. They aren’t flashy, but they get the job done, day in and day out. They wake up in the morning, pack their brown bag lunch, put their head down, and get to work. Although they are integral to the operation, these hard workers don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
That same philosophy can apply to an NHL organization. Each night, 20 players suit up and set out to get a job done. Not all players get the same media attention, with the big point producers and stars populating most of the headlines and highlight reels. Every team has a handful of guys who are generally underrated, yet add much to the team. Three men in Vegas specifically stand out as the unsung heroes of the Golden Knights.
Cody Eakin, Center
Eakin was one of the few obvious choices for the Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. He had established himself as a solid middle-six center during his time with the Dallas Stars. Never the biggest point producer, Eakin chipped in through many facets of the game. He played well at five-on-five at both ends of the ice, in addition to his resilient work on both special teams units.
Now centering the Golden Knights’ third line, Eakin has continued to be a jack of all trades. While Paul Stastny was out of the lineup, Eakin filled in on the second line and it looked like they never missed a beat. Together, with Alex Tuch and Max Pacioretty, that second line flourished with Eakin in the middle. Due to the Mark Stone acquisition at the trade deadline, Eakin finds himself paired with Tuch once again. It seems like any time Eakin has been gifted a talented winger, his stats go on the upswing. With 70 games played, Eakin has accrued 19 goals, 18 assists, and a plus/minus rating of plus-20. A pillar of consistency, with double-digit goal totals in five of his last six seasons, Eakin now finds himself on the cusp of his first 20-goal campaign. If the Golden Knights make a long run in the playoffs, their third-line center will almost certainly be a big part of it.
Brandon Pirri, Left Wing
Although he has been relegated to the press box recently, Brandon Pirri is undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of this hockey club. He went from leading the AHL in scoring, to carrying the Golden Knights offense in his first seven games of the season. As a former Florida Panther, Pirri spent time playing for current Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant. Gallant knew how much of a spark Pirri can provide up front and slotted him right into the then-injured Pacioretty’s second line role.
Pirri hit the ground running, scoring in his first game, playing alongside Tuch and Stastny. Through his first seven games of the season, he racked up six goals and three assists for nine points. Even more impressively, he led the team in goals and points during that time. Currently, he sits at 11 goals and five assists through 28 games played. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, it is a safe bet that multiple teams will shoot contract offers at the 27-year-old winger.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Forward
As an expansion draft steal from the Philadelphia Flyers, Bellemare represents one of the surprising choices made by general manager George McPhee. None of the players on the Flyers’ unprotected list jumped off the page as a surefire choice, therefore McPhee went with the hardworking Bellemare. His intangibles have made an impact on the Golden Knights, serving as one of their regular alternate captains over the past two seasons. He embodies the light, fun, and jovial personality of the team. Dating back to his time with the Flyers, he made it a ritual to pump up the starting goalie in the tunnel before the game and after, high-fiving each teammate as they came off the ice.
On top of his demeanor and leadership, Bellemare provides on-ice value that can’t be taken for granted. He plays big minutes on the first penalty kill unit, and during stretches of the season, his fourth line sparked the Golden Knights offense and helped them steal a few games this season. Affectionately nicknamed the “Meat Grinders” by Ryan Reaves, the fourth line of the Golden Knights regularly pins opposing teams in their own zone, helping swing momentum the Golden Knights’ way. It will be interesting to see if the Golden Knights offer the 34-year-old pending UFA a contract extension.
Golden Knights’ Outlook
With Stone fully integrated into the lineup, the Golden Knights now look like a legitimate Cup contender. Winners of four-in-a-row and 10 of their last 11 games, the Golden Knights are grooving at the perfect time. In their final push to the playoffs, the Golden Knights will need these three men to continue chipping in, supporting the stars of the team. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Pacioretty, Stone, and Stastny will put up big numbers, but the work done by these three men is crucial to the Golden Knights’ success. Unsung heroes like Eakin, Pirri, and Bellemare are critical in the Golden Knights’ quest for the Stanley Cup.