George McPhee has been touting the Golden Knights’ defense prospects for some time, while simultaneously preaching the need for patience.
The waiting is over. The rookies are NHL ready.
McPhee, the incoming president of hockey operations, said Saturday on the final day of development camp that he plans to carry at least one first-year defenseman on the roster next season.
The Knights sent defenseman Colin Miller to Buffalo on Friday for a second-round pick in 2021 and a fifth-round pick in 2022 to help pave the way for their arrival.
“While the trade was made to help with cap compliance, it was also made to provide some hope for the young defensemen we have in the organization,” McPhee said. “You have to give the young players in your organization some hope that there’s something there for them. If they looked at our team without that move, they could think, ‘Where am I going to play? It looks like I’m destined for the American (Hockey) League.’
“While that’s OK in terms of playing in the American League, if you’re ready to play here, you want to provide that opportunity.”
By shedding Miller’s $3.875 million salary cap hit, the Knights have approximately $5 million in cap space to sign restricted free agents Jake Bischoff, Nikita Gusev, Jimmy Schuldt and Malcolm Subban.
The cost to sign Gusev will determine whether the Knights need to make an additional cost-cutting move, according to McPhee.
“We just keep going back and forth and again, you keep the dialogue going,” McPhee said of Gusev’s agent, J.P. Barry. “We’ve made a couple moves and there’s no real urgency to the Gusev situation. We’re going to try to strike a deal that makes sense and go from there.”
Miller, 26, told the Buffalo media on a conference call he had “mixed feelings” about the deal.
After skating primarily on the third pairing and spending parts of the latter half of last season in coach Gerard Gallant’s doghouse, Miller could feature in a top-four role with the Sabres.
“We like Colin a lot as a player and a person and hope things go real well for him and his role expands. I think that’s what he’s looking for,” McPhee said. “He’s earned a regular job in the NHL and performed well for us. But as we all know, in a cap system, if you’ve got a good team you’ll be close to the cap from time to time. We are this year.”
With Miller no longer in the picture, that opens the door in training camp for rookies Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, Schuldt and Zach Whitecloud to earn a spot.
Bischoff made the opening-night roster last season, though he didn’t appear in a game before returning to the AHL. Schuldt and Whitecloud each appeared in one NHL game after signing as undrafted college free agents.
Hague was one of the standouts throughout the week during development camp after playing last season with Chicago (AHL).
“We have different flavors,” McPhee said. “I’m not sure at this point which one will do it, but it brings some enthusiasm and freshness to your lineup. And we believe it will make us better, because these kids are good.”
Whomever wins the job is expected to be joined on the blue line by unrestricted free agent Deryk Engelland. The 37-year-old Las Vegas resident is close to re-signing with the Knights, according to McPhee.
“We’re just trying to work out some of the bonus stuff, but we’re in a pretty good place there,” he said. “We’re pretty clear on who will be coming back and who’s not.”