Christmas came early this year for the Vegas Golden Knights. Early on this season, the Golden Knights created a wish list for Santa and number one on that list was more depth scoring.
Their first infusion of depth scoring came after an unfortunate injury to Erik Haula on November 6th. The promotion of Cody Eakin to the second line, provided a spark, and quickly Eakin, Alex Tuch, and Max Pacioretty started producing like a top line. Eventually that luck ran out, as Pacioretty hit the injured reserve, for the second time this season. Seeing they were down another top-six forward, Santa George (McPhee) went back to his workshop to find a fix.
Brandon Pirri (USA Today Sports)
Flying down from the north, way up in Chicago, was a young man named Brandon Pirri. Upon his arrival, he looked very familiar to some of the Golden Knights' players. "Hey, I know him!", exclaimed Jonathan Marchessault beaming from ear to ear. "Yeah, me too", shouted Alex Tuch from across the locker room. Then Coach Gerard Gallant jumped up in the air and shouted with his usual bright and cheery demeanor, "He's the guy that scored three times for us last April, in only two games! I coached him in Florida too! Remember Marchy, Reilly?"
Pirri was a teammate of both Marchessault and Reilly Smith in Florida during the 2016-17 season, under coach Gallant. During his three seasons in Florida (2014-2017), Pirri totaled 40 goals and 22 assists, for 62 points. Gallant knew what he was getting in Pirri, throwing him right on the second line in Pacioretty's vacated spot. He also decided to give the AHL's leading scorer, time on the Power Play. At the time Santa George came calling, Pirri was the scoring leader in the American League. He actually still sits in first at the time of this publication, with a 6 point lead over fellow Chicago Wolf, Daniel Carr. Pirri has racked up 17 goals and 24 assists, 41 points in just 28 games this season with the Golden Knights' AHL affiliate. He certainly earned his call up.
Although a jump to the NHL brings an upgrade in competition, Pirri has not been phased. Drawing back on his previous NHL time, Pirri said, "The pace is a little quicker up here, there is a little adjustment, so I try to keep it a little more simple...". In his first game with the big club, Pirri notched a power play goal, an area he calls "a niche of mine". In the next game against Montreal, he scored two goals, although Vegas lost that game in overtime. On Festivus (for the rest of us) against the Kings, Pirri was held goalless for the first time as a Golden Knight. He did air his grievances, picking up an assist on Ryan Reaves' power play goal that tied the game, prior to another OT defeat. So far, he has been a great addition to Gerard Gallant's sack full of toys.
Pirri, Reaves (USA Today Sports)
On Christmas Eve, Pirri was designated for assignment back to the Chicago Wolves. With the Golden Knights on break until their December 27th home game against the Colorado Avalanche, this elf has to believe that it is simply a paper transaction. Pirri has been a bright spot in his three games and this move has to be a way to save three calendar days of service time. Once Pirri reaches 30 calendar days on the Golden Knights' active roster, he will have to clear waivers, risking him being claimed by another team, if they want to send him back to Chicago.
Now, there is no way they should want to do that at any point the rest of this season. Pirri has shown an ability to hang in the NHL, in multiple places, including Vegas. This elf even thinks he should stay right where he is, on line two, with Tuch and Paul Stastny. They have shown great chemistry and have the point production to match. For a brief time, Tuch and Smith were swapped and the new combinations didn't look bad. Looking deeper into the metrics, you will find sky-high Corsi For numbers, when Pirri and Stastny shared the ice together.
Corsi For % (w/ Pirri-Stastny on ice)
12/20 - 70.37%
12/22 - 42.42%
12/23 - 62.96%
Keep in mind that in the game on 12/22, Pirri scored two goals. So while it was a down game for the duo, point production was there. Midway through the Kings game, Gallant swapped Tuch and Smith back, which gives the Golden Knights their best look on both lines. Tuch can certainly be a top line player and Smith does a good job facilitating to anyone he plays with, but the move was a good one and should be given a chance to stick, even upon Pacioretty's impending return.
Pirri, Linemates (USA Today Sports)
Simply putting a player back into a spot, regardless of what happened while they were out, is a dangerous and narrow view for NHL coaches. Pacioretty showed no signifcant spark on the wing, compared to what Pirri has provided. Additionally, inserting a guy with Pacioretty's talent, next to Cody Eakin, who he had great chemistry with, could give Vegas three threatening scoring lines, as opposed to two. There is no guarantee that Pirri would work out with Eakin and Nosek on the third line, but we have seen results from Patches and Eakin, prior to Stastny taking the 2C role back from Eakin.
Most fans would look at Pacioretty on the third line as being a "demotion" or being "too low for him", but on a team that rolls four lines rather fluidly, Pacioretty will have more than enough minutes and opportunities to score. It would be prudent for Gallant to keep Pirri with Tuch and Stastny, until that line's production dries up. Pirri can be the gift that keeps on giving. Either Ryan Carpenter, Will Carrier, or Oscar Lindberg will need to be sent down to keep Pirri and activate Pacioretty, but Vegas is better suited keeping Pirri and having the ability to roll three proficient scoring lines.
As we all prepare to open presents, eat cookies, and spend time with our loved ones, rest assured that Pirri will be in the lineup on Thursday evening. He has been a bright spot this past week, quickly becoming a fan (and media) favorite. Envisioning a scenario that keeps him in the AHL past Thursday morning, is near-impossible. With Vegas dropping their last two games in OT, they will want all the scoring possible, at their disposal. Pirri gives Vegas the depth scoring they need. If all goes well, we may be unwrapping Brandon Pirri's #73 jerseys at this time next year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you Vegas Golden Knights fans. Every article I write for you is a piece of a lifelong dream of mine. If I wasn't going to play professional hockey, I wanted to coach it or cover it. I am very thankful for the ability to write about this team, for all of you. I hope to continue meeting more and more of you in person and through our Twitter discussions. Thank you for this opportunity!
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