Hard-hitting McNabb quietly does his job for Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vegas Golden Knights fans should be thankful defenseman Brayden McNabb can handle a hockey stick on skates.

The 30-year-old from Saskatchewan, home to nearly half of Canada’s agricultural production, grew up smack dab in the middle of farmland with houses sprinkled here and there and could just as easily be wielding a hoe in cowboy boots.

“It’s a different lifestyle,” said McNabb of Davidson, Saskatchewan, population maybe a little more than 1,000. “I’m very fortunate to grow up with that, it brings a lot of character to yourself. I had a great upbringing with my parents so I’ve been very fortunate.”

With that upbringing came an appreciation for work ethic, discipline, and an understanding of what you can and can’t control — all attributes that have led to a respectable nine-year career in the NHL.

An original member of the Golden Knights, McNabb has been a consistent contributor while quietly taking a backseat in the headlines to top-name blueliners such as Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez, who have three Stanley Cup rings between them, and rising star defenseman Shea Theodore.

“He brings some things to the table that no one else does back there,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “That physicality, that intimidation element that he has ... he brings a nice blend of that to the group because we have a skating skilled group with some of those guys.

“He’s got underrated hockey sense and offense to him and just a solid pro. Big part of our team.”

Big, like the hits he’s delivered over the years.

McNabb was already physical during his time with his previous team, the LA Kings, but with increased minutes since being taken in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights, came increased numbers, including some arena-rattling hits that have ignited T-Mobile Arena.

Like on Nov. 9, when he hit Seattle’s Brandon Tanev so hard they both were lifted off the ice.

Or on Nov. 11, when he gave the Knights a boost after laying his shoulder into Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick.

And on Nov. 13, when he sent the crowd into a frenzy after he leveled Vancouver’s Vasily Podkolzin.

“He puts his body on the line every night for us,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “He’s been a gamechanger for us when we need a big hit, a big play, he’s always there. He does his job amazingly, I think."

Since entering the league with the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, McNabb ranks 15th among defensemen with 1,330 hits. Since joining the Golden Knights, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder ranks sixth among blueliners with 765 hits after leading the team with five during Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

“You want to be hard to play against, you want to be hard on top players, you want to make it uncomfortable for them and that’s what I try to do,” said McNabb, who leads the team in blocked shots (42) and ranks second in hits (41).

This year McNabb is on pace to set career highs in goals, points and blocked shots, while it remains possible he could do the same with assists and hits.

“He does whatever he can to make the team win,” captain Mark Stone said. “I think that’s one of the bigger compliments you can get in a player. He does things that other guys don’t do to help us win.”

The only lingering question with McNabb is if he survives another offseason — or trade deadline — with the team.

McNabb will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. His $2.5 million annual salary could be needed when recent acquisition Jack Eichel recovers from neck surgery, or be put to use next summer, as the Golden Knights have always been active during the offseason.

The recently married McNabb said he would love nothing more than to continue his career with the Golden Knights.

“I control what I can control, my effort and attitude and that’s what I’m gonna do. As of now it’s home and plan to make it home even if I’m not back. We love the community, we love the city and we hope to be here a long time. It means a lot to be here since the first year and be part of this organization,” McNabb said.

“I love doing what I do and helping the team to win with my style of play. My ultimate goal is to be here and to win here and I hope to do that."

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

W.g. Ramirez, The Associated Press

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