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Which rookie defensemen could make his Golden Knights debut?

Updated September 19, 2021 - 8:19 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In each of their first four seasons, the Golden Knights dipped into their depth to fill a spot on defense, and this one is expected to be no different.

That leads to an interesting question: Who is next in line when the Knights inevitably call up a defenseman at some point during the regular season?

With a trio of experienced blue liners no longer in the picture, the door is open for youngsters like Kaedan Korczak and Peter DiLiberatore to show whether they are NHL-ready.

Korczak was a scratch for Sunday’s 5-2 loss to San Jose during the Rookie Faceoff at Ice Den Scottsdale after he stood out in Friday’s loss to Arizona to open the tournament.

Meanwhile, DiLiberatore was one of the bright spots against the Sharks, logging heavy minutes on the top pair and playing both special teams.

“Your expectations are always to make it there,” DiLiberatore said. “That’s my mindset. Just do what I can and try not to look too far ahead. Just control what I can control and just have a good time and show what I can do.”

The Knights had eight defensemen play at least 17 games last season and used 10 during the 2019-20 pandemic-shortened season, which included four games for Jake Bischoff.

In 2018-19, nine defensemen appeared for the Knights counting Jimmy Schuldt’s one-game stint and the inaugural season saw 10 defensemen suit up, counting Zach Whitecloud’s debut.

The Knights have seven proven NHL defensemen on the roster with Dylan Coghlan in the fold after signing a two-year contract Wednesday.

Schuldt, Ryan Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom, who each played for the Silver Knights and have NHL experience, are no longer with the organization. Bischoff is injured and not expected to be ready for training camp, according to general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

That sets up an intriguing battle with the rest of the holdovers once main camp begins.

“Those are all questions that we’ll answer here along the way,” McCrimmon said.

Korczak, 20, might be the frontrunner for the first call-up, depending on the role that needs to be filled with the Knights.

The 2019 second-round pick impressed Silver Knights coach Manny Viveiros during his brief time in the American Hockey League last season and nearly made his NHL debut before returning to his junior team.

Korczak got a taste of the NHL when he skated with the extras during the playoffs after the Silver Knights wrapped up their postseason.

“That was a great experience for me, just seeing firsthand how good the playoffs are and how good guys and teams are,” Korczak said. “(I) took that into my summer training and tried to work on little things, and I’m going to try to bring that to this year.”

DiLiberatore signed after his junior season at Quinnipiac and played in 13 games with the Silver Knights. The 21-year-old from Nova Scotia spent the offseason adding strength to his 6-foot, 185-pound frame and it showed Sunday in his tournament debut.

“It’s just a faster game from college,” DiLiberatore said. “That’s something I definitely took into account this offseason and realized how much I got to improve off the ice and on. It was definitely good to get my feet wet and just ready to get going.”

In addition to Korczak and DiLiberatore, steadily improving Zack Hayes and Brayden Pachal also could work their way up the depth chart should the Knights need defensive reinforcements.

“Every day is a new opportunity,” Korczak said. “I’m just going to keep getting better every day and hopefully my time will come.”

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

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