As we head into the Golden Knights’ third regular season, it is reasonable to start to wonder just how the upcoming season will go. Some have come, some have gone, and some have signed new deals to stay, but just how much of an impact will those comings and goings have on this team that has become accustomed to playoff hockey. Without being too
unreasonable, here are Five Bold Predictions for the upcoming 2019-20 season.
Mark Stone Will Score 40 Goals and Win His First Selke
How could I open a bold
article, without talking about the biggest, boldest player on the roster? Stone is a budding superstar and although he has yet to surpass 35 goals in his career, he will get 40 this season. Since his acquisition at the trade deadline, the city of Las Vegas has gone gaga for No. 61. It’s clear to see his potential and as cringy it is to say, the situation in Vegas is much more accommodating than the roller coaster in Ottawa he finally escaped.
Mark Stone will have a big year (USA Today Sports)
While there is a chance Stone forms a new “first line” alongside Jon Marchessault and William Karlsson, a more likely projection is him returning to L2, with last season’s linemates. Skating with the playmaking Paul Stastny and the goal-scoring Max Pacioretty, Stone has the talent to support those two in any way needed, due to diversity in his game. He can play the half wall, be a presence out front, forecheck with the best of them, or snipe from the faceoff circle. He is a plus passer and shooter with good enough skating to pose a threat night-in, night-out. A full season with high-quality linemates will lead to big things for the 27-year-old.
Perhaps more impressive than his offensive prowess is his two-way game. Stone is a decorated defensive player, which is something unique when it comes to wingers. Typically, wingers are schemed to simply cover the blue line within their own zone, but Stone supports his defensemen low in the zone and in the high slot. His reach and surprising closing speed help make him dangerous without the puck. Centers are typically looked at as the best defensive forwards on the ice, but when Stone is on, it’s clearly him. His 122 takeaways led him to a second-place finish in the 2018 Selke voting and a full season in Vegas will lead him to his first – of many – Selke Trophy wins.
Mark Stone AND Shea Theodore Will be All-Stars
Last season, Marc-Andre Fleury was the sole All-Star representative for the Golden Knights as a member of the Pacific Division team. This prediction is not to say Fleury will have a bad season. What this prediction says is that Stone will get his recognition as an elite player and more importantly, Shea Theodore will get his. Theodore is immensely talented and has proved to be extremely poised in his own zone, at the ripe age of 23. Having just celebrated his 24th birthday, Theodore will be ready to solidify his status as an elite defenseman and the league will take notice.
The sky's the limit for Shea Theodore (USA Today Sports)
As a puck-moving defenseman, his Corsi game is strong (57.1% EV) and this is despite playing primarily with Deryk Engelland, who has had a negative effect on every defense partner he’s had over the past two seasons.
Theodore looks good regardless of the partner.
Don’t be shocked to see the young Canadian blueliner push for 20 goals and 50 points without Colin Miller in the mix this season. He’s not afraid to play with the puck and shoot often and will be the Golden Knights’ number one option on the PP heading into the season. Theodore is primed for big things people, you have been warned.
Malcolm Subban is Going to Start 30 Games
Over the past two seasons, Head Coach Gerard Gallant has shown a tendency to lean heavily on Fleury. Despite injuries in both of his Vegas seasons, the man they call Flower has appeared in a whopping 107 games, the 16th highest in the league over that time. Although he has played well and is one of the steadier netminders in the league, the soon-to-be 35-year-old certainly isn’t getting any younger.
Malcolm Subban is the goalie of the future in Vegas (USA Today Sports)
Fleury is heading into the first season of his new three-year deal with an AAV of $7 million, the most he’s made in his career. While I will stop short of calling the deal a bad one, it is ill-advised to give an aging, injury-plagued goalie so much money, without a solid contingency plan. Here’s where Subban comes into play.
Marc-Andre needs more nights off (USA Today Sports)
In relief of Fleury, Subban has seen mixed results and is at the center of many fan debates on social media outlets. In Vegas, the fans are divided. A large contingent sees him as the netminder of the future, while others think he’s simply not good enough. Subban flashes his high-level ability each time he takes the ice and his 100% shootout record speaks volumes to his pure ability and talent. A former first-round draft pick, Subban is in the perfect position to become a solid starter, as Fleury’s understudy.
While his numbers as a Golden Knight aren’t extraordinary (2.81 GAA, .906 SV%), let’s put them into context. Subban goes extremely long stretches of inactivity, even for a backup, playing behind Fleury. Fleury likes to play as much as possible, with minimal rest, and that’s tough on a backup. Practice reps are not game reps, the longer you sit the bench, the less sharp you’ll be.
When Subban got into games, the team in front of him didn’t always have their best night, which isn’t uncommon. Relieving such an important player, at such infrequent spurts, will have an impact on the team and more specifically, the defense. If you don’t believe me, just look at the stinker the team put up in Calgary last season, losing 7-2 despite Subban coming up huge on multiple breakaways and odd-man rushes.
As mentioned previously, Fleury is getting up there in games played and age and Subban will be called upon much more frequently in order to keep the number one healthy. Last season Subban started 20 games for the Golden Knights. I believe this season, Subban will start at least 30 games this season, with or without an injury to the starter. Subban is ready, it’s time he gets more action.
Tomas Nosek Will Make Us Forget About the Loss of Bellemare
If you follow me on Twitter or read any of my work, you know I love me some Pebbles. Bellemare is the perfect “team guy”. He’s a great leader, amazing penalty-killer, and embraces the less sexy sides of the game. He will do whatever the team needs. He is a big loss for this hockey club.
How could you not miss this face? (J. Paul)
With that out of the way, Tomas Nosek will make us forget about Bellemare (well for the most part). Coming out of training camp last season, Nosek was the story. He was on a roll, looking amazing during the preseason, and projecting to jump into a permanent middle-six role. Unfortunately, he did not sustain that level of play into the regular season and even served as a healthy scratch on multiple occasions.
As constructed, it looks like Nosek will be the new fourth line center, with Bellemare signing a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche. Although he primarily played the left wing, Nosek is a solid fourth-line center who is a very good skater. His mobility will fit well with the forecheck-heavy style of wingers William Carrier and Ryan Reaves. He is still young at just 26-years-old and could continue to grow into more than just a bottom-sixer, which he flashed last fall.
Along with Cody Eakin, Nosek will be a vital member of the Golden Knights’ penalty kill. He will need to be at the top of his game with the departures of two solid PKers in Bellemare and Ryan Carpenter. If Nosek is able to fulfill his potential and minimize the damage of losing the enigmatic Bellemare the Golden Knights could have all the pieces in place to…..
Vegas will Win Their Second Pacific Division and Western Conference Championships
Yeah, I said it. Sue me.
Will George be bringing home more hardware? (USA Today Sports)
Now before you readers from “real hockey cities” get triggered, I grew up and remain a Philadelphia Flyers fan. I know pain, I live in pain, I look forward to and at the same time dread every regular season opener. I have seen good teams, I have seen bad teams, and I am certainly not a Vegas “homer”. Objectively speaking, when dissecting the Golden Knights’ roster and looking at the Pacific Division, how could you not project big things for this team?
Their first line, while lacking a “superstar”, has shown the ability to put up a ton of points and have played built a ton of chemistry over the past two seasons. Marchessault is a legitimate 25-goal scorer, Karlsson had that monster year one and now looks to be a solid 60-75 point two-way center, and Reilly Smith is the glue that makes it all work. Line two features three highly-skilled forwards, who have 60-plus point potential. Pacioretty has multiple 30-goal seasons to his name and Stone will certainly be there sooner rather than later. Line three has one of the best two-way third line centers in the league in Eakin and a blossoming superstar in the 23-year-old Alex Tuch, who led the team in points mid-way through last season.
An area of concern is the power play, which goes dormant far too often and a defense corps that could feature Engelland way more than necessary. Their power play woes should be a thing of the past with how much offensive firepower they possess and a full offseason to get acclimated to the new pieces. As far as the defense goes, Nate Schmidt and Theodore are elite players, on both ends of the ice. Brayden McNabb is one of the better stay-at-home defensemen in the league and is a force on opposing zone entries. Jon Merrill will be looking to duplicate last year’s solid season, quite possibly with a rookie (Nic Hague) playing across from him.
Nic Hague is an intriguing option on defense (USA Today Sports)
Goaltending will be solid once again with Fleury’s Stanley Cup Champion pedigree and his fellow first-round draft pick backing him up. Depending on the play of the sixth defenseman who has yet to be named and the eldest defenseman who just signed a one-year deal to return, the Golden Knights could be hanging banners next October.
I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know everything (don’t tell my wife). What I do know, is the Golden Knights are loaded with top-end talent, young players with tons of potential on team-friendly deals, and the intangibles needed to make deep playoff runs. Hockey in the desert is never boring and this will clearly be a team to watch throughout the 2019-20 season. With Rookie Camp just around the corner, we are gearing up for the best time of the year, hockey season!
Be sure to follow me on the Twitter and I will keep you up-to-date on the team’s comings and goings, including my trip to California during Rookie Camp, in early September!