Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
The Vegas Golden Knightsrookies on Friday morning skated for their first practice of camp, and the team is already nearing its first exhibition game.
The youngsters have only three more practices before they head to El Segundo, Calif., where they will take on the Los Angeles Kings in back-to-back rookie games.
That leaves Rocky Thompson, head coach of the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, very little time to develop chemistry among his players. Thompson is running the rookie camp in Las Vegas and will serve as the head coach during the rookie games.
On the first day of on-ice practice, he had already begun developing line combinations.
“They are already practicing in their lines right now because it’s kind of a time crunch and you want them to get as much chemistry as they can and get comfortable with each other,” Thompson said.
Some of the players have prior experience playing with each other, making the transition slightly easier.
The line that may gel the fastest is Alex Tuch, Reid Duke and Tyler Wong.
“I’ve known Duke for a while,” Tuch said. “We go back to getting drafted to Minnesota together. He’s is a great guy, a really good player and I’m excited.”
Tuch was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2014 draft and Duke was taken by the Wild five rounds later. The two have yet to play in a game together but have practiced quite a bit.
Their line mate — Wong — played alongside Duke for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey league in the 2013-14 season. Wong had 17 goals and 14 assists that season while Duke racked up 15 goals and 25 assists.
“They had some chemistry between them,” Tuch said. “They’re both really high-end skilled guys and that’s the type of players I like playing with so hopefully we have chemistry right off the bat.”
Another line combination will feature the Golden Knights’ No. 6 overall pick Cody Glass grouped with Tomas Hyka and Alex Barre-Boulet.
“I’m trying to build some chemistry early,” Glass said. “Hyka is a really smart player, so I’m looking forward to that going into the game.”
And while Thompson knows the most important aspect of the rookie games is evaluating the players, he can’t completely suppress his competitive nature.
“I’d like to say that (the score) doesn’t really matter, but when you get into a competition, you always want to win,” Thompson said. “We are going to play everybody and it’s a great opportunity for us to evaluate these players.”
Thompson is assisting Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant in evaluating the rookies for the NHL squad, but he’s also getting to know the players who he may be coaching with the Chicago Wolves this season.
The Wolves will be using the same system and strategy as the Golden Knights this year for synchronicity.
“With the five-on-five play it’s a foundation implemented by the Golden Knights that we will follow and adhere to, so that when they get called up it’s a transition as smooth and easy as possible,” Thompson said.
Following the trip to California the Golden Knights will have only three days before their preseason opener against the Canucks in Vancouver on Sept. 17.
“The NHL happens so quickly,” Thompson said. “You don’t have a lot of time. You’re playing a lot of exhibition games and you’re trying to get your systems in place. “
It’s a hurdle every NHL team must clear but it’s magnified for Vegas, who has an entire roster scrambling to find familiarity.
“That’s what the whole start of the franchise is honestly,” Tuch said. “Everyone is going to be rushing to try to find chemistry.”