I will go ahead and preview Vegas now. I’ll just go ahead and state I believe they will finish in the final eighth spot in the Pacific. First, let’s look at the depth chart:
R. Smith – Marchessault – Neal
Haula – Shipachyov – Perron
Lindberg – Eakin – Tuch
Bellemare – Karlsson – Pulkkinen
Schmidt – Garrison
Theodore – C. Miller
McNabb – Engelland
This team can be a competitive one. It does not look like a playoff team by any means, though. Smith, Marchessault, and Neal is a decent first-line. Neal is a definite top line forward. Marchessault has come off a 30 goal season with Florida. The question is if he can he replicate it, at the least getting 25 goals. He had good chemistry with Riley Smith, so putting them on a line together would make sense.
Haula, I think, makes a better third-line center, but putting him on the wing in the top six is fine. Perron is underrated. He is the one I projected Vegas to draft from St. Louis. As a 20 goal scorer, putting up 50 points a season, he fits in well on the second-line. Shipachyov had an amazing season in the KHL, scoring 26 goals and racking up 50 assists. Can he translate it into the NHL? We know Radulov did, but that’s not always the case. It’s a decent top six, and if Shipachyov can bring his production over, he makes it better.
The bottom six is okay. Eakin can be better than what he showed in this past season. Lindberg was a solid third-liner for the Rangers. Tuch has potential, and Vegas believes in him, but his impact is uncertain. The fourth-line is decent, but nothing to write home about.
The defense isn’t bad. Garrison, despite what some fans might say, is a very good defenseman. I’d say he is more of a top 4 guy, but he’ll be fine as a top 2. I’m not sure I’d put Schmidt on the top pairing, but it again will be fine if he’s penciled in that spot. Colin Miller and Shea Theodore is a pretty solid second pairing, and McNabb and Engelland is a very good third pairing.
The Golden Knights are set in goal. Fleury, of course, has been an elite number one for most of his career. While he didn’t play in the Finals, Pittsburgh doesn’t defend their championship without his goaltending in the first two to three rounds. Picard was very good for Colorado last season, inspite of what his numbers show. It’s actually baffling why the Avalanche left him unprotected. While Varlamov has had his elite seasons, it’s been about three years since his last good one, and he has become injury prone.
I still question some of the moves they made. I get they are building for the future, but at some point, you have to question if what you are getting in return is worth not taking specific players. Is Erik Haula and an unproven Alex Tuch worth more than a Matt Dumba or Eric Staal? While I’m not complaining as a Hurricanes fan and loved the move, a fifth round pick is nowhere near the value of a Lee Stempniak or Joakim Nordstrom. McPhee should have either demanded a better return, or he should have taken the best available player.
I believe this will be a competitive team, but will win about 30 games. While I am predicting them finishing eighth in the Pacific, I think they will be ahead of Colorado, and possibly could jump Vancouver.