Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt have both played in over 200 games for the Golden Knights in the regular season and playoffs. They are #1 and #2 in average ice time per game, goals, assists, points, shots, and takeaways among all Golden Knights defensemen, yet in the three-year history of the team, they’ve only been paired together for three games.
The first was in the very last game of the magical inaugural season, Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Schmidt was then suspended for the first 20 games of 2018-19, but when he returned, he found himself paired back up with Theodore. It lasted two games before Schmidt was put back with McNabb and he’s been with Brayden or Deryk Engelland ever since.
Theodore’s partner has been a bit of a revolving door over the course of his 228 games with the Golden Knights, specifically this season. This year he’s played with Nick Holden, Nic Hague, Jon Merrill, Engelland, and McNabb. His most common partner (for 22 games), Hague, isn’t currently on the Golden Knights roster and Shea has played at least even games with four different guys.
Both have played both sides quite a bit, but have each settled in on the right despite being left-hand shots.
With the acquisition of Alec Martinez, maybe now’s the time for the Golden Knights to give Schmidt and Theodore another look. They’ve both grown to be the Golden Knights best defensemen both offensively and defensively, they are interchangeable playing the left and right side, they’ve shown they can eat up minutes and play against the opposition’s best players, and their games really should be much more complimentary now than they were a year and a half ago with Theodore’s defensive game taking a big leap.
Here’s how he D-pairs would likely look with them together.
Merill-Holden OR Holden-Whitecloud
It’s quite top-heavy and it would obviously rely upon Martinez and McNabb to work out as a defensive-first shutdown pair, but it gives the Golden Knights a more dangerous look every time Schmidt and Theodore are on the ice together.
No matter how you feel about the addition of Alec Martinez, the fact is if he’s simply placed in Nick Holden or Jon Merrill’s place in the lineup, the upgrade will be minimal (if at all). Even if Martinez can return to the form that made him one of the league’s better shut-down defensemen in the mid 2010’s, he’s still only going to be fractionally better than Holden at even-strength paired with Theodore or Whitecloud.
Matching Schmidt and Theodore changes the entire look of the defense corps and the way they’ll be deployed. Rather than relying upon getting Schmidt and McNabb against the other team’s top line, the situation could dictate the matchup more than the opposition. Schmidt and Theodore would be used in more attacking situations and McNabb and Martinez when the puck is in the Vegas zone.
And, this setup gets even better if the Golden Knights continue shopping and add another puck-moving defenseman prior to the deadline. Say it were to be Erik Gustafsson or Sami Vatanen, he slots in on the 3rd pair and now there’s a dominant pair, a shut down pair, and an offensive-minded pair.
Adding Martinez represents an upgrade as there’s no reason he can’t outperform both Merrill and Whitecloud. His impact could be even larger if he can end up proving himself to be a better option than Holden, or even McNabb. But for the Golden Knights defensive corps to truly look like a changed unit, the only way is to pair Schmidt and Theodore.