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Graney: Pete DeBoer dreams of what returning players could mean

I assume Pete DeBoer likes presents because, well, who doesn’t? If life really is 95 percent anticipation, consider the Golden Knights coach ahead of such a formidable number.

He’s the kid before Christmas morning shaking all the boxes. Difference is, he knows what’s inside.

And it has the potential to be ridiculously good — if the hits actually stop coming.

We’re not talking about the ones Keegan Kolesar delivers.

The Knights that lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 on Tuesday night have shown some massive resiliency as more and more injuries piled higher than the upper deck at T-Mobile Arena.

Now, there is a COVID-19 issue.

This stuff never ends. What’s next, the Golden Knight losing one of those pregame sword battles? People not shouting during the national anthem? Chance admitting he needs lessons from Gritty?

The company line is most often going to be about taking things one day at a time and that you can only be concerned with those players healthy enough to compete. Yawn. Boring.

Dream the dream

This is a team that just got back its captain, Mark Stone, and will eventually welcome top-end players such as winger Max Pacioretty and center William Karlsson and center Nolan Patrick and defenseman Zach Whitecloud and newly acquired center Jack Eichel.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Marchessault joined William Carrier on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

“I’m trying to stay in the moment,” DeBoer said. “Say, three to four months from now, Jack Eichel walks in the door. We don’t know what our health situation will be.

“I can write down all the line combinations and dream all the dreams I want to as a coach about what we could look like, and yet we know this game changes every day. It’s a bit of a fruitless exercise to try to (look ahead).”

But a fun one.

It’s easy to forget how deep the Knights are and how much management should be credited for it. George McPhee. Kelly McCrimmon. The hands that have delivered good enough players so that such a rash of injuries hasn’t totally decimated their team.

No beer league

Marchessault. Reilly Smith. Alex Pietrangelo. Shea Theodore. Robin Lehner. Alec Martinez (before face slash). Injuries have been — for good reason — a leading narrative. But it’s not as if the Knights have been skating out a nightly beer league roster.

They have found ways with old and new faces, the latter of which have seemingly had more players score their first NHL goal than the man with the athletic tape on which he pens each achievement can barely keep up.

Everyone — no matter the resume — has to play a role right now.

Consider how the team’s two goals went Tuesday:

No. 1 — Brett Howden from Ben Hutton and Dylan Coghlan.

No. 2 — Theodore from Stone and Chandler Stephenson.

You also can’t overstate the importance of Lehner, who by most metrics has been a top-five goalie across the league. He has been the team’s best player most nights as DeBoer tries to mix and match those names available into a competitive side.

Lehner was again Tuesday — the Knights were outshot 42-23 — in what saw his team’s three-game win streak snapped.

“Every game is important,” Kolesar said. “Every point is important now. We’re going to keep on chucking here until we get some guys back.”

Chuck all you want, but don’t be afraid to dream the dream. The hits just need to stop.

Oh, yeah. It was with 1:49 to play when Evgenii Dadonov took a stick to the face and skated off. That came minutes after Theodore caught an edge, went down in a corner, was looked at by a trainer and also went off.

Because of course they did.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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