Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 | 2 a.m.
While many enjoyed Labor Day with barbecues and relaxation, some Vegas Golden Knights players on Monday were busy at work.
Training camp doesn’t start for 10 days, but a handful of players surrendered their holiday for an informal practice.
“It’s going to be key that we get out here and get comfortable with one another,” veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “The quicker we can gel as a team the more success we’ll have.”
The Golden Knights are in a unique situation as their inaugural training camp approaches.
When rookie players hit the ice Friday it will be the first time many have skated together. While many teams overhaul their roster in the offseason, nothing compares to the expansion process where there is little to no chemistry between the 40 players expected in camp.
“Being able to gel and find that familiarity as soon as possible will go a long way,” forward Reilly Smith said. “As soon as we can get our whole team down here it will definitely help a lot. I think we need it more than any other franchise right now just because all of the new faces.”
Smith, along with fellow forwards Alex Tuch, Brendan Leipsic, Reid Duke, Cody Eakin and Stefan Matteau, breezed up and down the rink, carving up the ice at City National Arena.
Standing at center ice wasn’t coach Gerard Gallant, or any of his assistants for that matter. It was Engelland barking out instructions and organizing the drills.
“We got coach to write up a few drills for us so we had something to go by,” Engelland said. “It’s more just explaining the drills to the guys and everyone went at it from there.”
Engelland, who played for the Las Vegas Wranglers in 2003 and has lived here for more than a decade, assumed a leadership role on the team when he was chosen from the Calgary Flames in June’s expansion draft.
“Everyone is feeding off Deryk and the energy that he brings,” Smith said. “We do have a younger team so any voice that steps up will go a long way.”
Not only was Engelland leading drills, but his gritty, tough style of hockey already came through on the ice, as he blocked a shot with his ankle during a scrimmage and limped off the ice momentarily.
“Yeah it hit me in the ankle but not too bad,” he laughed. “It’s better now but it hit me right in the laces.”
Defensemen Brayden McNabb and Jon Merrill also attended the nearly two-hour-long practice, as well as goaltender Calvin Pickard.
“The turnout was good and I expect a few more guys coming in tomorrow and the next day,” Engelland said.
The players will be holding voluntary practices today and Wednesday before the rookies arrive for off-ice testing on Thursday.
“It felt pretty good out there,” Smith said. “I’m sure every day from here will get a little better and a little crisper.”