The NHL’s newest franchise had another strong showing in 2018-19. They finished third in the Pacific Division with 93 points, securing the team’s second playoff berth in as many seasons. The Golden Knights were a surprise contender in their first season, and general manager George McPhee was eager to prove it wasn’t a fluke. The pre-season deal for Max Pacioretty and the deadline acquisition of Mark Stone gave Vegas one of the deadliest looking top sixes in the NHL.
The new-look Golden Knights seem poised to make another deep post-season run, jumping out to a 3-1 series lead over the San Jose Sharks in round one. The Sharks would storm back to force a game seven, setting up their dramatic come from behind victory, highlighted by a four-goal power-play late in the third period.
It was a controversial, heartbreaking end to an otherwise encouraging season for the Golden Knights, but they should get another kick at the can this spring. They have arguably the deepest roster in a top-heavy Pacific division. A playoff spot is all but guaranteed, and they have the talent to claim the divisional crown over Calgary and San Jose.
McPhee had a relatively quite off-season as he worked on clearing the space necessary to retain his core players. Colin Miller, Erik Haula, and Nikita Gusev were all dealt as the league’s newest team endured it’s first cap crunch.
Vegas has quickly put together one of the league’s strongest group of forwards. William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault will continue to form the nucleus of line 1A, while Paul Stastny and Pacioretty project to start the year together on line 1B. Reilly Smith has spent the majority of the last two seasons alongside Karlsson and Marchessault, but Stone has been getting some looks there in the pre-season. For now, Stone looks set to start with Stastny and Pacioretty. The three of them averaged over 35 scoring chances per 60 last season, resulting in a 60.0 GF%. The blossoming Alex Tuch could cut deeper into Smith’s minutes, while Cody Eakin will anchor line three.
Mark Stone (RW)
Entering his first full season in Vegas, Stone should enjoy a much larger role in 2019-20. Despite his line’s dominance at 5v5, Stone registered just 11 points in 18 games after being acquired by Vegas last season, with his 7.8 on-ice SH% being mostly to blame. Stone should enjoy some better puck luck across a full 82 games, and the 17:39 a night he averaged is due to increase. You can expect him to be closer to the 21 minutes a game he was seeing in the post-season. Stone is a No.1 fantasy right-winger and should be right around a point per game this season.
Jonathan Marchessault (C/LW)
Marchessault may no longer be the team’s number-one offensive option, but he remains a valuable fantasy asset. He’s registered 268 and 278 shots in his two seasons with the Golden Knights, making him a rather safe bet for 25 goals. He should continue to be an effective play driver at even strength and is an excellent playmaker on the man advantage, giving him 40-assist upside.
William Karlsson (C)
Karlsson did not disappoint as the most obvious regression candidate heading into the 2018-19 season. The 24 goals he scored were 19 less than the year before, and his point total fell from 78 to 56. The emergence of Stastny, Stone, and Pacioretty means Karlsson’s minutes likely won’t reflect that of a typical first-line centre. He can be relied on for 55 points with modest upside, but don’t expect any sort of performance that resembles his 2017-18 season.
Max Pacioretty (LW)
Pacioretty is set to reassume his spot-on Vegas’ most productive line with Stastny and Stone. The trio dominated the opposition in their brief time together last year, lending a lot of upside to all three players heading into 2019-20. The main concern for Pacioretty stockholders is the declining shot volume. After years of getting the puck on net at an elite rate, Pacioretty registered just 191 shots in 66 games last season. A career 11.1% shooter, Pacioretty needs to be around 300 shots to have a shot at topping 30 goals. He seems more likely to finish in the 25-goal range this season, so draft accordingly.
Alex Tuch (RW)
2018-19 marked another step in the right direction for Tuch, and his production figures to still be on the rise heading into 2019-20. He scored 20 goals while tallying 32 helpers and 180 shots on goal in just 74 games last year. Tuch can be expected to top 60 points if manages to play a full 82 games. He’ll have to outduel Smith for a spot in the top-six to truly unlock his potential, but Tuch is a steal either way at his current ADP of 204.
Reilly Smith (RW)
Just like his linemates, Smith’s production fell back within reason in 2018-19, yet he still managed 19 goals and 34 assists in 74 games. The key to Smith’s fantasy value this season is his usage. He would certainly be worth rostering if he were to play another full season on the top line, but that would be a pretty optimistic projection at this point. I’d be wary of going after Smith before the last couple of rounds in standard leagues.
Paul Stastny (C)
A lack of goal scoring caps his upside, but Stastny’s usage should keep him relevant in standard leagues. A full season alongside Pacioretty and Stone is an exciting proposition, but there are durability concerns as well. Stastny’s missed 66 games since the start of the 2015-16 season, including 32 last year. He’s worth rostering so long as he’s healthy, and offers pretty fair value at his current ADP of 165.
Miller’s departure frees plenty of minutes on what was a crowded right side of the blue line. Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore should see an increase in ice-time as a result. Brayden McNabb is the best bet to start alongside Schmidt on the top-pair, while Jon Merrill figures to occupy the final spot in Vegas’ top-four. Merrill yielded great results last year, albeit in a sheltered role. A 65.2% offensive-zone start percentage helped him post a 59.1 CF%. Deryk Engelland will continue to play on the third pair as the team’s resident defensive-defenseman.
Shea Theodore (D)
This blue line doesn’t offer a ton of offensive upside, but Theodore is the Golden Knight defender you want to own. He picked up 12 goals and 25 assists last season with an ATOI of 20:06. He was a terrific play driver at 5v5, registering a 57.1 CF%, but his production was hampered by a 6.5 on-ice SH%. A little bit of regression there combined with the uptick in usage could result in a breakout campaign for Theodore.
Schmidt produces at a respectable clip at 5v5, but he should continue to be an afterthought on the man advantage. An 8.0 SH% and a 11.2 on-ice SH% suggest Schmidt was rather fortunate to pick up 30 points in 61 games last season. He’ll have a hard time maintaining that half a point per game pace over a full 82 games, rendering him irrelevant in standard leagues.
While Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t quite as dominant last year as he was in 2017-18, he did manage to stay healthy. The 15-year-vet started 60-plus games for the first time since the 2014-15 season. He registered an above-average .913 SV% to go along with a 35-21-5 record. His usage on one of the league’s best teams gives him tremendous value in standard re-draft leagues. He deserves to be one of the first five goalies off the board on draft day.
Fleury’s backup, Malcolm Subban, is at best a handcuff for Fleury in standard leagues. His career SV% of .903 is underwhelming to say the least, but he’s worth keeping an eye on for spot starts as the season unfolds. He won’t be worth dedicating a full-time roster spot to so long as Fleury is healthy.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|M. Stone (36)||M. Stone (36)||M. Stone (72)||M. Stone (7)||M. Stone (18)|
|J. Marchessault (28)||J. Marchessault (35)||J. Marchessault (63)||J. Marchessault (7)||J. Marchessault (18)|
|M. Pacioretty (25)||R. Smith (34)||W. Karlsson (57)||W. Karlsson (7)||W. Karlsson (14)|
Golden Knights in the DFO Top 300
- 31 — Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
- 36 — Mark Stone (RW)
- 85 — Jonathan Marchessault (C/LW)
- 132 — William Karlsson (C)
- 155 — Max Pacioretty (LW)
- 169 — Alex Tuch (RW)
- 178 — Reilly Smith (RW)
- 182 — Shea Theodore (D)
- 210 — Paul Stastny (C)
- 221 — Nate Schmidt (D)
|1||VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS||46-28-8||100 PTS|
|2||CALGARY FLAMES||44-29-9||97 PTS|
|3||SAN JOSE SHARKS||42-30-10||94 PTS|
|4||ARIZONA COYOTES||39-32-11||89 PTS|
|5||EDMONTON OILERS||39-34-9||87 PTS|
|6||VANCOUVER CANUCKS||39-34-9||87 PTS|
|7||ANAHEIM DUCKS||36-36-10||82 PTS|
|8||LOS ANGELES KINGS||33-42-7||73 PTS|
They may not boast the strongest blue line in the league, but a wealth of offensive weapons and elite goaltending should be enough for Vegas to push for the Pacific Division title. The top-heavy nature of the division results in a relatively easy schedule for the Golden Knights, affording them one of the highest floors in the Western Conference. They look destined to keep the franchise’s perfect playoff streak alive in 2019-20.