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August 23, 2017

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Projecting the Vegas Golden Knights’ line combinations

Golden Knights’ leading scorer might be on the second line

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Joel Auerbach / AP FILE

In this Dec. 23, 2016, file photo, Florida Panthers center Jonathan Marchessault (81) clears the puck from behind the net during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, in Sunrise, Fla. The Golden Knights could land Marchessault in their expansion draft on Wednesday, June 22.

The Golden Knights’ roster remains full of question marks as they close in on their inaugural training camp beginning next month.

Each player will enter his Vegas career with a clean slate. No captains, first-liners or special-teams staples are set, making it difficult but fun to project which line combinations will hit the ice in October.

The Golden Knights have a few standouts at each position clearly destined to be top-six players, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess which combinations coach Gerrard Gallant will choose for each line.

Here are my best predictions for who will be line mates in Vegas.

Forwards

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Russia’s Vadim Shipachev celebrates his second goal during the Ice Hockey World Championships quarterfinal match between Russia and Germany, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Line 1 – James Neal (LW), Vadim Shipachev (C), David Perron (RW)

While it’s weak compared to most counterparts in the league, this could be the most potent first line ever for an NHL expansion team. Shipachev was a coveted free agent after his 26-goal, 50-assist season in Russia last year. Neal has scored at least 20 goals in 10 of his last 11 seasons, and Perron is fresh off of an 18-goal season of his own. That means that even if Shipachev has growing pains adjusting to the NHL, he’ll have the luxury of experienced players around him.

Line 2 – Erik Haula (LW), Jonathan Marchessault (C), Reilly Smith (RW)

With 30 goals last season — the same as Edmonton Oilers’ superstar Connor McDavid — Marchessault could be the Golden Knights’ leading scorer. Here, he would pair nicely with a speedy winger in Haula, who can also play center, and Smith, a teammate with the Florida Panthers last year.

Line 3 – Cody Eakin (LW), Oscar Lindberg (C), Teemu Pulkkinen (RW)

With an average age of only 25-years-old, this would be a youthful third line with a lot of potential, even though it may struggle early. Lindberg has shown the ability to be a solid center, but not consistently. Eakin and Lindberg are both strong two-way players, making them a good match with Pulkkinen, who’s offensively talented but defensively deficient.

Line 4 – Will Carrier (LW), William Karlsson (C), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (RW)

The fourth line could be a strength for the Golden Knights. Bellemare played in all 82 games as a fourth-line mainstay for the Flyers last season. Karlsson was a solid two-way center in contributing to the Blue Jackets’ outstanding season last year. Carrier is only 22-years-old, but played in 41 games for the Sabres. The experience of this group should help Vegas tremendously.

Reserves – Alex Tuch, Tomas Nosek

Tuch showed he was one of the best prospects on the team during June’s rookie development camp. He could end up on a line, but for now, let’s wait to see how he looks against the veterans in training camp.

Defensemen

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Los Angeles Kings' Brayden McNabb, right, pauses on the ice during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Kings 5-3.

Pairing 1 – Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt

McNabb, 26, and Schmidt, 25, have massive opportunities to become “the guy” with the Golden Knights after being second- to third-line defenders with their previous teams. They also have potential to emerge as offensive weapons. Schmidt had 17 points last season, more than any other Vegas defender.

Pairing 2 – Jason Garrison, Colin Miller

Garrison and Miller would give the Golden Knights a dependable duo for its second line. Garrison played 70 games last season as a top-four defensemen for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Miller is a great skater, but had a troublesome turnover tendency with the Boston Bruins last year.

Pairing 3 – Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland

The most exciting defenseman on the roster is Theodore. The 22-year-old was spectacular for the Ducks in the playoffs – racking up eight points in 14 games – and has the potential to quickly become the best defenseman on the team. Teaming him up with a trusty veteran in Engelland is a no-brainer.

Reserve – Luca Sbisa

Goaltenders

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Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blocks the puck during the first period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators in the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 16, 2017. The Penguins won 1-0.

Starter – Marc-Andre Fleury

Backup – Calvin Pickard

Undoubtedly, the strength of the Golden Knights in their first year will be in net. Marc-Andre Fleury is the face of the franchise after helping the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Pickard is a more-than-serviceable backup, and could start for a hand full of teams.

Injured Reserve

Mikhail Grabovski, David Clarkson

Grabovski and Clarkson may never play again in the NHL. Grabovski missed all of last season with a concussion and Clarkson hasn’t played since 2015-16 with a slew of back problems. The Golden Knights took both as part of deals during the expansion draft to acquire first round picks.

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.

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