5 questions the Golden Knights face entering training camp

Flash back to a year ago when the Golden Knights entered their first training camp with one position settled.

Marc-Andre Fleury was the starting goaltender. Aside from that, every spot on the roster was open.

Just ask Vadim Shipachyov.

A lot has changed since then.

The Knights feature one of the top forward lines in the NHL (William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith) and went from “misfits” to one of the favorites in the Western Conference.

But with rookies set to report Thursday and training camp opening Sept. 13, the Knights have plenty of questions entering Year 2:

1. Can they do it again?

In some way, shape or form, this question will linger throughout the season.

The 2017-18 Knights were the greatest expansion team of all time. In any sport.

They won the Pacific Division, finished fifth overall in the NHL standings with 109 points and reached the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Washington in five games. More than half the roster had career years.

That’s a tough act to follow.

The Knights played with a collective chip on their shoulder in year one after being tipped by most prognosticators to finish in the basement of the league standings.

Their motivation this season is to prove it wasn’t a one-off.

2. What’s the deal on defense?

If the regular season started right now, coach Gerard Gallant’s top six on the blue line would look something like this:

■ Brayden McNabb-Colin Miller

■ Brad Hunt-Nick Holden

■ Jon Merrill-Deryk Engelland

Not exactly the 1970s Montreal Canadiens, right?

The Knights will be without Nate Schmidt for 20 games after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. And they could be without Shea Theodore, who is headed down the Khalil Mack path to a holdout.

Of course, if general manager George McPhee is able to land two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in a trade with Ottawa, then this all goes out the window.

3. Who skates with Paul Stastny?

McPhee blew up his second line — “it wasn’t good enough defensively,” he said — and made Stastny the Knights’ highest-paid forward ($6.5 million per year) in free agency.

Gallant has multiple options to try out alongside the 32-year-old playmaker.

Tomas Tatar made a slow transition after being acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline for three draft picks. But his shoulder is fully healed from 2017 surgery, and he is expected to ease the loss of James Neal and David Perron.

Alex Tuch had 15 goals as a rookie and looks poised to become one of the top power forwards in the Western Conference.

And don’t forget about Erik Haula, who produced a career-high 29 goals as the No. 2 center. His speed could be used on the wing.

4. Which jobs are open among the bottom six forwards?

Barring a trade or roster move, either Haula, Tatar or Tuch will skate on the third line with holdover Cody Eakin.

That leaves Ryan Carpenter and Oscar Lindberg battling in training camp for the other spot on the wing with the likes of Tomas Hyka, Brandon Pirri, Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie.

Or, spoiler alert, maybe a rookie forces his way into the lineup.

Another intriguing roster battle is brewing on the fourth line, where William Carrier, Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves likely are competing for two spots.

5. Will any rookies make the team?

With the third line in a state of flux, it’s possible that 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki get an extended look from the coaching staff.

Players from the Canadian Hockey League are allowed to play nine NHL games before being returned to their junior team, and the Knights could take advantage of that rule.

But let’s go back to question No. 2 for a moment. There could be as many as two spots open on the blue line with Schmidt and Theodore unavailable.

Zach Whitecloud played one NHL game after signing as a free agent following his sophomore season at Bemidji State.

Top prospects Erik Brannstrom and Nicolas Hague also could be ready to contribute.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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