Silver Knights’ Pachal made mark as leader in difficult season

Photo: Zak Krill

📝 by Patrick Williams

Brayden Pachal’s third pro season ended far earlier than either he or the Henderson Silver Knights wanted, but there are not many captains in pro hockey who had to navigate as much as he did this season.

Start with the shock of head coach Manny Viveiros having to take a leave of absence in October after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Then move on to a roster pummeled by injuries, to assuming the team captaincy at midseason, and through to the normal ups and downs that any American Hockey League prospect must confront and overcome.

At 22 years old, Pachal’s task list featured all of the above, along with his National Hockey League debut for the parent Vegas Golden Knights.

“I think it was a hard season in a lot of ways,” Pachal said after the Colorado Eagles eliminated the Silver Knights in the teams’ opening-round series.

Like so many prospects in his age group, the start of Pachal’s pro career has been an uneven one. The COVID-19 pandemic halted his rookie season in March 2020. And like others, he went 11 months between games before taking part in the abbreviated 2020-21 AHL season.

But the undrafted Pachal, who captained Prince Albert to a Western Hockey League championship during his final junior season in 2018-19, made the most of it. Along with the team captaincy, he dressed for 65 of Henderson’s 68 regular-season games and finished with 11 points (two goals, nine assists). He plays the type of simple, uncomplicated, and physical game that any blue line still needs.

Viveiros described Pachal as a “very abrasive player.”

“When he’s on the ice you’re going to know he’s on the ice.”

Along with the troubling news for the team’s head coach, the Silver Knights also had as many as 14 injured players at one point early in the season. The pandemic’s resurgence in December created another obstacle for the team, and Viveiros had to take a second leave of absence at midseason.

On January 22 the Silver Knights appointed Pachal their captain. They had put another challenge in front of him.

“That’s a big part of all these guys getting to the next level, how they can lead in their own way,” said Viveiros.

But Henderson did have a strong, capable group of veteran personalities who worked to help ease Pachal’s transition into that pro captaincy.

“I learned a ton being the younger guy and being a leader,” Pachal said. “It was difficult at times, but I had a lot of teammates around me, veteran leadership that helped me out a lot. Being a younger guy, those guys I really leaned on, and they helped me out a ton.”

Then came a mid-March call from the Vegas during the middle of a Silver Knights road trip. Pachal played his first NHL game on Mar. 15 at Winnipeg, and earned a second appearance on Mar. 21 in Minnesota before settling back with Henderson for the team’s run to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Dotting much of the season were injuries with the Golden Knights that left a substantial impact on the Henderson roster. Goaltender Logan Thompson did not appear in a game with Henderson after March 5 and spent the remainder of the season with the NHL club. Forward Jake Leschyshyn went more than a month between games late in the regular season. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot was lost on waivers to the Seattle Kraken. Veteran forward Alan Quine’s year did not even begin until January as he was still recovering from a knee injury.

And on it went for the Silver Knights. Pachal acknowledged that injuries affected the team ― “We didn’t have our full team for most of the year,” he said ― but he still left a strong impression on the organization in the crucial third pro season of any prospect’s career.

“I thought he did an admirable job in a difficult year like everybody else,” Viveiros said. “And I also thought his game also picked up to just give him extra confidence. We’re real pleased with how far he’s come.”

Now the work continues back in Saskatchewan this summer for Pachal.

“I think it was huge for me to show where I need to get to make it to the next level,” Pachal said of his first two NHL games. “It was an amazing experience to be at those couple of games. It’s a dream come true, and hopefully there’s more where that came from.

“Strength-wise and physically, I feel like I can play at that level. The guys in the NHL just handle the puck so well, so that’s something that I need to work on and get better at to hopefully become a stay-at-home guy at the next level.”

Pachal is spending time at his family cabin with his grandparents. With a summer alongside his 92-year-old grandfather, he is preparing for what he hopes will be a full-time role next season at T-Mobile Arena with the Golden Knights.

“Those NHL games kind of give you that extra motivation to try to stay up there,” Pachal explained. “Those two games I played were the [most fun] hockey games of my life. It gives you that extra boost to work your butt off all summer and improve on what you need to improve on, and hopefully try to make the team out of camp next year.”