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How do they keep getting away with this? Once again, the Vegas Golden Knights have attracted top talent to the team. They brought in the offseason’s top free agent, Alex Pietrangelo, to bolster their defense. And with the emergence of Shea Theodore throughout 2019-20, the Golden Knights top defenders look incredible. Will Theodore and Pietrangelo play together? They might, but it is not likely according to GM Kelly McCrimmon. Either way, having two defensive lines anchored by legit top pairing defenders is amazing.
As per usual for this team, they had a great season. The Golden Knights finished first in the Pacific Division with 86 points in 71 games, good for seventh in the league in points. Their offense was tied for 9th with 224 goals, but they were middle of the pack defensively with 209 goals against, 14th best in the league.
It was a huge surprise when the Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant. At the time, the team was 5th in the Pacific and sitting in the second wild card spot. But that wasn’t good enough for Kelly McCrimmon, who replaced Gallant with Peter DeBoer, of all coaches, who was recently fired from his spot with the San Jose Sharks. But it worked, I guess, as the Golden Knights went 15-5-2 after the coaching switch and ended up winning the division.
The Vegas Golden Knights had the 27th ranked penalty kill in 2019-20, at 76.64%. This is an area the team will need to improve on to stay as competitive as possible. Alex Pietrangelo will help with this. Alex had the second highest SH TOI on the Blues last season, and will take on the top penalty killing role for the Golden Knights this season. As Pietrangelo has great offensive talents as well, often hitting around 50 points per season, he will help out with the powerplay. Imagine a Theodore-Pietrangelo pairing on VGK’s top PP unit? Scary.
The concern for Vegas moving forward is the cap situation. Luckily most of their core is locked up for years, so losing too many more players due to cap crunch is not the worry. Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny (and soon to be Marc-Andre Fleury, probably) are the main casualties to that. What Vegas will be in tough to accomplish is making the team any better than what they currently are, as they won’t have the flexibility of expiring contracts to move around as easily.
Vegas Golden Knights Roster Overview
Vegas has the privilege of icing two of the best lines in hockey. Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty have made a formidable duo for a couple of seasons. They were most commonly joined by Paul Stastny, but that spot is open now that Stastny has been traded. Chandler Stephenson is my pick to become the mainstay there. He spent a fair amount of very successful time with this line in 2019-20. Stephenson has been a brilliant pickup for this team, as he fits the playstyle of the Golden Knights perfectly. And the system has let him shine. He had 22 points in 41 games with Vegas, setting a clear career high with just that stint.
The other elite line Vegas has is Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. They’ve been a regular trio for a few seasons now and regularly one of the league’s best. They may not be as offensively potent as their first season together, which saw Karlsson and Marchessault posting 70+ points, but the three of them excel in two-way play that dominates the pace when they are on the ice.
There is quite a drop off after those two lines. Vegas’ top 6 handle pretty much everything and every situation. But there is still great value out of the bottom 6 forwards. Cody Glass was impressive in his first year in the NHL. He had 12 points in 39 games, but most impressively was reliable with and without the puck. It ultimately made Paul Stastny expendable. In the absence of Stastny and losing Cody Eakin at the deadline gives Glass first dibs on the third line centre role.
Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier were a commonly used trio, and with all three of them in the 15-20 point range, they make for a solid, hard working, fourth line. That leaves Alex Tuch and Nicolas Roy from last year’s roster, but Tomas Jurco, Gage Quinney, or Peyton Krebs could compete for a spot on this line as well.
As fun as it would be to have Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo on the top pairing, they won’t be paired together under normal circumstances. Alex Pietrangelo will anchor the team’s top pairing, likely with Brayden McNabb. Pietrangelo is a big, puck moving defender whereas McNabb is a physically punishing, defensive presence. Pietrangelo will also become a fixture on the team’s powerplay and penalty kill.
Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore will certainly make up the second pairing. This is a great pairing. Martinez will be the calm, veteran presence that will give Theodore the freedom on the ice to play his game and continue to develop into another great offensive defender and puck mover. Being on the second pair also helps alleviate the threat of high end competition, as Alex Pietrangelo’s pairing will face the brunt of that.
Nick Holden and Zach Whitecloud slot in as the de facto third pairing. Whitecloud was impressive through the postseason and could turn into a solid defender very quickly with this team. But, also look for Carl Dahlstrom and Nicolas Hague to put pressure here to enter the lineup.
The final twist of the sword into Marc-Andre Fleury’s back was the 5-year, $5 million contract given to Robin Lehner this offseason. It spells the end of Fleury as Vegas’ starter. Fleury has regressed each season with the Golden Knights, ending 2019-20 with a 0.905 SV%, a 2.77 GAA and a -6.5 GSAA. This here is one factor to the team’s above average goals against and bad penalty kill.
Robin Lehner has had a couple of excellent seasons and will now have the starter’s role to begin and a long-term contract for stability.
For now, Marc-Andre Fleury is Vegas’ backup. He is, however, top of the list to be traded for cap space, since $7 million for two more seasons is a lot to pay for one of those.
But, when a team has two #1 calibre goalies, it is likely Vegas will roll with the hot hand in net. This could be incredibly valuable through the 2020-21 season, as schedules are going to be condensed and teams may need to split the workload in net a bit more than normal.
Vegas Golden Knights 2020-21 Prediction
1st – 3rd West Division
Luckily for the Golden Knights, they basically have a playoff spot on lock already. The West Division has a clear top tier, containing Vegas, Colorado, and St. Louis, with very little pressure from below. So, with the strength of the roster and additions Vegas has made recently, it is more than a safe bet Vegas will compete for a top three spot in this division, probably closer to winning the division than not.
That concludes our Vegas Golden Knights 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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