Ryan McDonagh – Alexei Bereglazov
Brady Skjei – Brendan Smith
Nick Holden – Steven Kampfer
Extras: Neal Pionk, Kevin Klein
This might be wishful thinking, but the offseason is for dreaming. The defensive group needs to be revamped with an infusion of youth, so I’m going with the unrealistic three rookies in my group of eight.
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have been warriors, but their value has crumbled. It will be hard to buy them both out, with dead money counting against the cap until 2025, but it’s time for them to go.
I don’t think they’ll be able to bring in a big fish like Kevin Shattenkirk, but will find room to bring back Brendan Smith. Nick Holden’s reasonable contract will keep him around and Klein will play out his last year.
Alexei Bereglazov is big, strong in his own zone, and he can skate and contribute offensively. Though he’s a lefty, he can play on both sides. Still, he has a chance to make the squad if he can adjust to the NHL game.
Steven Kampfer fits in as a depth guy and could find himself with a spot on the third pair. Look for Ryan Graves to get a shot with the big club after a solid year at Hartford. Additionally, the offensive-minded Neal Pionk is an intriguing player out of UMD.
While I know Vigneault is unlikely to trust three rookies and they may not all be ready to make the jump. But they need some youth and some skill back there to fit their system.