The Vegas Golden Knights were the feel-good story of the 2017-18 season. The expansion team rolled to a 51-24-7 record in the regular season, shocking the NHL as they finished atop the Pacific Division. But they weren’t done there; Vegas defeated Los Angeles, San Jose, and Winnipeg on route to the Stanley Cup final. They were eliminated in five games by the Washington Capitals, falling just short of a cup in their inaugural season. General manager George McPhee took full advantage of the NHL’s generous expansion rules and built Vegas into an immediate contender.
McPhee was named the NHL General Manager of the Year and had an encore presentation in his first off-season. He solidified the Golden Knights’ top-six by signing free-agent centre Paul Stastny and picked up perennial 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty from Montreal. The additions of Stastny and Pacioretty should offset the regression that William Karlsson and the top line are bound to suffer. Another year of seasoning should do wonders for the Vegas blueline, as Colin Miller and Shea Theodore are set to assume larger roles. Another solid year of goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury should be all the Golden Knights need to get back to the playoffs in 2019.
➕ Max Pacioretty (Trade)
➕ Paul Stastny (Free Agency)
➕ Nick Holden (Free Agency)
➕ Daniel Carr (Free Agency)
➕ Curtis McKenzie (Free Agency)
While their production won’t be what it was last season, the Golden Knights’ top line will continue to be a dominant force in 2018-19. Karlsson, Joanthan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith posted a 55.24 CF% at 5v5 last year. They averaged 31 scoring chances per 60 in over 700 minutes together. As many pundits have pointed out already, Karlsson will be in tough to come anywhere close to his 23.4 SH% last season. Applying his career conversion rate still has him set for around 25 goals, and he could easily notch a 30-goal season if he continues to increase his shot total. Smith’s production might take a similar hit, particularly with his assists, but Marchessault’s numbers appear to be more sustainable. He is the driving force of this line and should flirt with another 70-point year.
The aforementioned Pacioretty and Stastny are set to play together on Vegas’ second line. Even at this point in his career, Stastny would be hands-down the best centre Pacioretty has played with. David Deharnais, Phillip Danault, and more recently Jonathan Drouin headline the underwhelming group of centremen that collaborated with Patches in Montreal. A year alongside Stastny should be more than enough to get Pacioretty back to 30 goals this season. The 29-year-old is coming off a frustrating season in which he scored just 17 times in 64 games. His 8.0 SH% was his lowest since his rookie season, suggesting a bounce back is inevitable. Alex Tuch seems to have a leg up on Erik Haula for the final spot in Vegas’ top-six, though that could change. Tuch is coming off a respectable rookie campaign that saw him pick up 15 goals and 22 assists in 78 games.
Haula is the highlight of an otherwise mediocre bottom-six. Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are serviceable third and fourth liners, but they’re not adequate replacements for their top-two centres. Vegas’ depth upfront falls short of what they had last season. That could come back to bite them if one of Stastny or Karlsson miss time.
After leading all Golden Knights’ blueliners in ice time last season, Nate Schmidt is set to miss the first 20 games of the 2018-19 season after testing positive for PEDs. Miller, a fellow right-handed defenseman, should be the biggest beneficiary of Schmidt’s suspension. Miller led all Vegas defensemen with 10 goals and 31 assists last year despite being sixth in ice time. His offensive proficiency earned him a larger role at 5v5 and he’ll start the year on Vegas’ top pair. Theodore’s contract holdout made it difficult to project Vegas’ pairings, but he has skated alongside Deryk Engelland since reporting. That leaves Brayden McNabb to start with Miller on the first pair. McNabb’s production is underwhelming but he is an effective two-way defender.
Nick Holden is set to start the season on the Golden Knights’ third pair after signing a two-year deal in the off-season. Holden can chip in offensively and has proven himself to be an effective penalty-killer. He posted a 54.0 CF% in 18 games with the Bruins after being acquired from the Rangers mid-season. Holden’s partner is yet to be determined as Vegas is expected to carry eight defensemen to start the season. Brad Hunt, Jon Merrill, and Jake Bischoff are all in competition for that final spot.
After mustering just a .909 SV% and 3.02 GAA in final season as a Penguin, Fleury regained his form as a Golden Knight. The 33-year-old netminder was outstanding for the Golden Knights last season, registering 29 wins and a .927 SV% in 46 games. He would have been in contention for the Vezina Trophy had a concussion not forced him to miss 25 games. Fleury’s play is known to be inconsistent from year-to-year but he has looked nothing short of fantastic as a Golden Knight. Should he struggle or miss more time in 2018-19, the Golden Knights have a competent backup to turn to in Malcolm Subban. P.K.’s brother made a name for himself last season, winning 13 of his 19 starts while posting a respectable .910 SV%. The former first-round pick will be ready whenever he gets the call this year.
|Max Pacioretty (33)||J. Marchessault (39)||J. Marchessault (71)||J. Marchessault (8)|
|J. Marchessault (32)||Paul Stastny (33)||Max Pacioretty (64)||Max Pacioretty (8)|
|William Karlsson (27)||Max Pacioretty (31)||William Karlsson (55)||Reilly Smith (7)|
Golden Knights in the DFO Top 300
- 55. Jonathan Marchessault — LW11
- 75. Max Pacioretty — LW15
- 76. Marc-Andre Fleury — G11
- 109. William Karlsson — C30
- 138. Shea Theodore — D34
- 145. Reilly Smith — RW28
- 150. Colin Miller — D38
- 205. Paul Stastny — C47
- 218. Alex Tuch — RW44
- 231. Malcolm Subban — G39
- 282. Erik Haula — C59
Predicted Pacific Standings
1. San Jose Sharks
2. Vegas Golden Knights
There were fluky aspects to the Golden Knights’ finals run last season; you don’t reach the Stanley Cup final in your inaugural season without a little bit of luck. Still, McPhee did everything he could to offset any regression heading towards the Golden Knights in 2018-19. The acquisitions of Stastny and Pacioretty more than make up for the departures of James Neal and David Perron. The blueline is the biggest area of concern for this team as they still lack a legitimate top-pair defenseman. McPhee’s effort to go after both Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh suggests Vegas might make a move for a blueliner before the deadline. An elite defenseman would make cup contenders out of the Knights, but this roster is poised to get back to the playoffs in 2019. They project to finish just behind the new and improved San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division.
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