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December 16, 2017

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Golden Knights hope patience will pay off with talented rookies

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Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

Vegas Golden Knights’ Griffin Reinhart, Shea Theodore, Stefan Matteau, Tyler Wong, back right, and Tomas Nosek, of the Czech Republic, celebrate Wong’s third goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.

Less than five minutes into his NHL preseason debut, Golden Knights first round pick Cody Glass lifted a rolling puck into the air, just behind the back of a Canucks’ defenseman.

The puck landed softly on the ice, right on the tape of Tyler Wong’s stick. Wong finished the play by beating Vancouver’s goalie for the first goal in team history.

Minutes later, Glass fed another pass through three Vancouver defenders to Tomas Hyka, who easily scored.

It was tough not to notice Glass, who seemed to command the offense every time he touched the ice during the Golden Knights' 9-4 win.

Also, he is only 18 years old.

“It even kind of took me by surprise when I made that first pass,” Glass said. “But I know what I’m capable of and how good of a passer I am, so I think it just comes with confidence and I’ve been playing with a lot confidence lately.”

Glass has been one of the best players on the ice throughout training camp, the rookie exhibition games in Los Angeles and now preseason. Fellow first-round pick Nick Suzuki also impressed on Sunday, netting a goal and an assist in Sunday’s preseason win.

They look like two of the best players on the ice, but neither will play for the Golden Knights this season, as they will both likely spend at least another season in junior hockey. That’s largely due to the design of NHL, which benefits the Golden Knights greatly by keeping them in juniors as long as possible.

Glass and Suzuki both signed three-year entry-level contracts when they were drafted by the Golden Knights in June. Both get paid $925,000 per year through the 2019-20 season, unless they remain in juniors.

If a player, signed to an entry-level contract and 18 or 19 years of age (as of Sept. 15 of the signing year), does not play in a minimum of 10 NHL games, his contract is extended by one year.

That means if they stay in juniors for two more years, the Golden Knights could keep Glass and Suzuki on their entry-level deals through the 2021-22 season. By then they could both be top-line superstar players in the NHL, and they’d be making the NHL equivalent of minimum wage.

It's not about saving money. It's about compiling the most possible talent under the salary cap, and having two star centers for less than $2 million combined per year is a huge start.

It allows General Manager George McPhee to spend on other players around them. Once those entry-level years run out, they will both likely be looking for big paydays, so why waste one of those precious years on a season where the Golden Knights aren’t expected to contend?

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Don’t expect Glass, Suzuki or any rookie to play more than a handful of games in the NHL this season, no matter how dominant they are during camp and preseason games.

“They obviously had a really good game and they just keep getting better every day,” Gallant said. “The kids are going to develop whether it’s in juniors or with our team this year, but they’re going to get better and stronger.”

Glass has the frame to be a big forward in the NHL, but his body has yet to fill out yet. At 6-foot-2 he weighs only 180 pounds. Suzuki is even smaller at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.

“I know I’m not the thickest person right now but in time it will grow on me,” Glass said. “I know I need some improvement in strength areas, so I think another year in juniors would help that. Then again I think I’m prepared and my hockey IQ is at (an NHL) level.”

Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch knows what Glass and Suzuki are facing. He was a first-round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2014, has been through the development and is finally ready to take the next step to the NHL.

“The development process needs to take place,” Tuch said. “It’s a night-and-day difference. There are glimpses of myself from a couple of years ago, but I think I’ve become more of a physical all-around player.”

Tuch spent two seasons at Boston College and another in the American Hockey League with the Iowa Wild, and he admits Glass and Suzuki may not need as much time.

“Everyone is different,” he said. “They have a little bit more skill when they were drafted than I did. It’s unbelievable. I don’t think I ever learned to stick handle like Suzuki and I never learned how to pass like Glass.”

It’s better for their long-term development, and the future of the franchise, for them to wait.

“That’s going to be a tough decision for management staff, but we will go through it and make the best decision for the long run,” Gallant said. “We aren’t going to put someone into a lineup that will make our team a little bit better this year. We are going to make sure they’re ready to play, and when they are we want them.”

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

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