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Young Golden Knights trio push for rosters spots

Paul Cotter got lost the first day of Golden Knights training camp.

The left wing looked around one of the prospects’ locker rooms at City National Arena for a stall with his name plate but couldn’t find one. Teammate Jonas Rondbjerg had to flag him down and point him in the right direction.

Cotter was looking in the wrong place. He was with the NHL guys.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, am I in the big room?’” Cotter said.

Cotter wasn’t the only one there. His frequent American Hockey League teammates Rondbjerg and Jake Leschyshyn joined him in the main locker room for camp in a clear message from the Knights.

The three played some in the NHL last season and no longer can be sent to the minors without giving other teams a chance to claim them on waivers.

They’re going to get plenty of opportunities in the Knights’ seven preseason games — starting 6 p.m. Sunday at Colorado — to see if they’re ready to break camp with the big club.

“We’ve all been together for a long time,” Leschyshyn said. “It’s fun to see how we’ve all grown and worked hard to get to this spot.”

Leschyshyn and Rondbjerg are entering their sixth seasons with the Knights after being drafted in 2017. Cotter, picked in 2018, is starting his fifth.

It’s clear this season feels different.

“I think this is the first year that I really see an opening,” Cotter said.

The Knights are starting camp with 12 clear NHL forwards, but they could opt to start with 13 or 14 if any of the three show they’re ready.

“It’ll be a really important camp (for them),” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “They’ll get lots of games.”

All three offer something different.

Leschyshyn led the group with 41 NHL games played last season, scoring six points. The 23-year-old earned time with an improved skating stride last season and spent his summer building more strength. He can play center or left wing, but coach Bruce Cassidy said he already trusts Leschyshyn’s defense in the middle.

“There’s more opportunity for myself to push for a spot this year than there has been in the past,” Leschyshyn said. “It’s exciting.”

Rondbjerg scored six points in 30 games with the Knights. The 23-year-old right wing plays a responsible two-way game. Cassidy said Rondbjerg has been using his size to get to the inside parts of the ice.

Cotter, 22, brings speed, energy and more grit than his 6-foot-1-inch frame would suggest. He scored two goals in seven NHL games last season and dished out 17 hits in 62 minutes. Cassidy said Cotter has been driving the net well and could provide offense at five-on-five.

It will be up to Cassidy and McCrimmon to see which skill sets they prefer. It’s up to the players to prove that they’re worthy of sticking around.

“Does it translate to the game?” Cassidy said. “Is it better than what we have? That is to be determined.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.