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VGK Fantasy Hockey Outlook

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If you are anything like me, when you play fantasy sports you have to have at least one player from your favorite team on your roster. You’d think being a fan of the Golden Knights would make this easy. Vegas has been one of the top three or four teams in the NHL each of the past two seasons and are right there again this year. However, fantasy hockey and actual hockey are much different.

NHL.com has released a whole host of fantasy hockey lists from Top 250 to sleepers to rookies to watch and the Golden Knights are notably absent on many of these lists. But, when they added it all up, VGK found themselves in 4th on the overall team rankings. Very confusing, let’s go through it.

The Golden Knights have eight players in the NHL Top 250. The first guy on the board doesn’t come until #24 though, that’s Robin Lehner. Then we find Max Pacioretty (#33), Mark Stone (#43), Alex Pietrangelo (#54), Shea Theodore (#63), William Karlsson (#138), Alec Martinez (#152), and Jonathan Marchessault (#164). Alex Tuch is also listed in “Key Injuries” which means he would likely have been in the Top 250 as well.

Lehner certainly earns the Golden Knights a lot of weight in the fantasy world and actually, Laurent Brossoit behind him helps out as well. The pair are ranked 4th in the NHL in fantasy goalie tandems behind the Islanders, Lightning, and Avalanche.

One slightly surprising omission is Peyton Krebs on the rookie list. Spencer Knight and Cole Caufield headline the list, but names like Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale, and Quinton Byfield made the cut. In fact, there are even a few “other” rookies listed and Krebs couldn’t even get his name included there.

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Hunting Career Highs: Defensemen And Goalie

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Though hockey is a team sport and the ultimate goal for every player involved is hoisting the Stanley Cup, individual numbers matter too. Each guy is always looking to build what they’ve done so far in their respective careers. With a pair of shortened seasons in the books, the last two years, and the Golden Knights primed to be one of the best teams in the NHL, many players have a chance to put up career-high numbers in numerous statistical categories.

We’re taking a look at each individual player and choosing the statistic they are most likely to set their career high in this season. Today we start with goalies and defensemen, later in the week we’ll move on to forwards.

Robin Lehner
Stat: Wins
Career High – 25

Lehner has his name engraved on the Jennings Trophy twice in the past three seasons. He has also received Vezina votes in two of those years. He did both of those as part of a goalie tandem though. Before that, he was the starter in Buffalo but for just two seasons, neither of which were his best. Now, Lehner has been handed the reins in Vegas and will likely be looking at 55-60 games in the net. His career-high mark in wins is just 25, the year he came in 2nd for the Vezina. Assuming health, he should get there with ease.

Other options: Shutouts (6), Quality Starts (32), Games Started (58)

Shea Theodore
Stat: Points
Career High – 46

Shea is the perfect guy to break through statistically this year because he doesn’t even need to improve his game to do it. In the 71 game season, in which he finished 6th in Norris, Theodore posted 46 points, an awesome number, but very reachable with 11 more games. He improved on it last year going off for 42 in 53 games. That’s 0.8 points per game. To set his career-high this year, he’ll need just 0.57 points per game.

Other options: TOI (1,588), Assists (34), Shots (219), Goals (13), Power Play Points (16)

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Can Alex Pietrangelo And Shea Theodore Succeed Simultaneously? Last Year Raises Concerns

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The moment the Golden Knights inked the mega-deal with Alex Pietrangelo the identity of the defense changed. Where VGK had previously been seen as a balanced group, Pietrangelo’s addition turned them into a collection of six defined by the two superstars. With Shea Theodore’s emergence the year prior and Pietrangelo captaining the Stanley Cup winner the year before, Vegas’ pair could be put up against any other defensive duo in the league.

Then the season came.

Theodore started off red hot amassing 14 points in his first 15 games while Pietrangelo took some time to settle in. Over the course of the year both missed time but throughout the balance of the regular season, it was clear that Theodore was the better performer. In fact, he earned himself 109 Norris votes, good for 6th place, where Pietrangelo did not receive a single vote.

Then the postseason came. And it flipped.

Pietrangelo was the best player in a Golden Knights jersey for the entire 19 game run while Theodore faded to the background going pointless in 10 of the first 12 and 13 of 19 playoff games. Pietrangelo racked up four goals including a stretch where he scored three of the team’s four total goals while Theodore lit the lamp just once in 439 minutes.

Due to the shortened season and the nature of the playoffs, the sample sizes are both fairly small. However, it seems like much more than a coincidence that when Theodore was on Pietrangelo was not, and vise versa.

I wanted to take a simple statistical approach to looking at this odd phenomenon before potentially diving deeper into it tactically and/or systematically. So, I went back over the 38 regular season games and 19 playoff games that featured both Pietrangelo and Theodore. I was focused on the two simplest stats, goals and points.

Over the course of the two seasons, before the pair played together, Theodore had scored 25 goals and 83 points in 150 regular season games. He ramped it up scoring nine times and adding 27 points in 27 playoff games. Pietrangelo’s scoring numbers are similar. In 141 regular season games he scored 29 goals and 93 points while he added four goals and 25 points in 35 playoff appearances.

Goals Per Game
Theodore – .19
.17 regular season
.33 playoffs
Pietrangelo – .19
.21 regular season
.11 playoffs

Points Per Game
Theodore – .62
.55 regular season
1.0 playoffs
Pietrangelo – .67
.66 regular season
.71 playoffs

The idea of acquiring Pietrangelo was to add his blue line production to the already excellent production Theodore had been generating. In theory, rather than having one defenseman scoring every fourth or fifth game, Vegas would have two. They’d also have two guys generating more than a half-point per game meaning there should rarely ever be a night where neither are on the board.

It didn’t pan out that way though. Here are their numbers this season in the 38 regular season games and 19 playoff games both were active,

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Shea Theodore Knows Better Than To Underestimate The Seattle Kraken

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Shea Theodore had a front-row seat as to how wild of a ride an expansion team can be. He was traded the day of the Expansion Draft, sent to the AHL for opening night, came up about a month into the season, and then started all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Now, Theodore is a key cog in one of the best teams in the NHL and there’s a new team in the Pacific Division looking to replicate Vegas’ incredible rise to power.

I was talking to somebody a while ago and I said I bet when the schedule comes out you’ve got to think the two expansion teams will start the season off. So, that’s how it is and it’s definitely going to be interesting. -Shea Theodore

Theodore is very familiar with Seattle. At age 15, in 2010, he was drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. He would go on to play 257 games, score 212 points, become an alternate captain, and eventually earn the captaincy in 2014 after he was selected 26th overall by the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kraken are actually scheduled to play a preseason game at Theodore’s old home arena, the accesso ShoWare Center, on October 2nd. Shea said it would have been great to have been able to play in that game, but he’ll have to wait for his first crack at Seattle about two weeks later.

As for what he expects in that opening game and the Kraken as a whole, Theodore has learned his lesson.

I’m not putting any expectations. I went back a while ago and read all the articles that came out when we were an expansion team. And a couple of weeks ago somebody posted our opening day lineup and I don’t know how people can say we were gifted this team. I’m not putting any sort of quotes that they’ll label on the ice. I’m sure they’ll be a good team and they’ll compete and it’s going to be a good rivalry. -Theodore

No one truly expects the Kraken to mirror the success the Golden Knights saw in their inaugural season. But, like Theodore, no one with any memory of 2017-18 is going to completely rule it out either.

Which Golden Knights Have the Best Odds To Win Individual Awards In 2021-22?

Last year the Golden Knights got back atop the individual awards podium when Marc-Andre Fleury took home the Vezina Trophy. Before that Vegas had seen wins by William Karlsson (Lady Byng), Deryk Engelland (Messier), Gerard Gallant (Jack Adams), and George McPhee (GM of the Year) all in 2017-18.

With a stacked roster and the expectation of being a Cup contender once again, there’s a good chance a VGK player could win another individual award this year. Recently, William Hill listed all of their awards futures on the mobile sports app and all are available to bet right now. Here are the VGK candidates.

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Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)

Shea Theodore: +2500
Alex Pietrangelo: +2500
Alec Martinez: +6000

As the odds suggest, this truly is a toss-up between Theodore and Pietrangelo. While Shea had the much better regular season and finished 6th in the voting a year ago (and the year before), the postseason put in by Pietrangelo was the closest thing the Golden Knights have ever seen to a Norris-level performance. Martinez was stellar in the playoffs but his chances of being a true Norris finalist are probably long gone.

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Vegas’ Unheralded Unit Comes Through Again

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It’s fair to say the Golden Knights’ defensive unit have outperformed their opponents all postseason. Vegas’ defense have allowed the second least goals per game, and consistently cause star snipers to shake their heads and shrug their shoulders on the bench. However, last night was evidence of how the Golden Knights’ blue line can change the outcome differently when they’re pitching in offensively.

They got some solid d-men over there. They were finding lanes, getting pucks through and jumping in to the rush. That’s what good D does. I’ll have to find a way to mitigate that. -Carey Price, MTL goaltender

In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, three Golden Knights defensemen scored and five registered a point. Vegas’ blue line produced more points than Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, and Mattias Janmark combined. Yet it didn’t matter for Vegas.

Not only were the Golden Knights’ defensive core one of the highest-scoring in the regular season but they’ve nearly matched it in the playoffs. In the regular season, Vegas’ blueline combined for 142 points, adding 0.39 of offense per game. In the postseason it’s been equally as impressive.

VGK’s Offense From Defensemen

Regular Season: 142 Points (36 Goals, 139 Assists), 0.39 Points Per Game
Postseason: 37 Points (9 Goals, 28 Assists), 0.38 Points Per Game

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Former Norris Winner Roman Josi Names Shea Theodore As Most Underrated Defenseman

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Here in Vegas, Shea Theodore is anything but underrated. On a team that spent nearly $62 million on a different defenseman this offseason, most Vegas fans would still declare Theodore as the best on the roster.

He’s grown into his role as a top-pair option, adding penalty killing and defending top lines to his resume, but Theodore’s bread and butter has always been his ability to generate offense. This season he sits in 3rd place on the entire Golden Knights roster in points with 42. He leads all defensemen by 13 points and he has more points this season than Brayden McNabb, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague, three of the other five starters, combined.

Theodore has become the number one option on the Vegas power play, even taking the entire two-minute shift at times when Alex Pietrangelo was out. He’s currently in the Top 10 in the NHL in points (7th) and Top Five in points per game (5th) after missing a few games earlier this season.

Last year, Theodore had a monster postseason in the bubble scoring 7 goals and adding 12 assists to lead all VGK players with 19 points in 20 playoff games.

Recently, on the 31 Thoughts Podcast, the reigning Norris winner was asked to give his opinion on which defensemen are the most underrated in the NHL. He was offered the option to go with any player in the league and Josi, who plays a similar style of game to Theodore, picked Shea.

He’s more well-known now, because he had a really good playoffs and he’s having a good year this year. Even before that, I always thought he was an unbelievable skater and (had great) hockey sense. Great puck mover. Still underrated. –Roman Josi, Predators defenseman on 31 Thoughts Podcast

Not only is Josi one of the elite defensemen in the league, but he plays for a team outside of the Golden Knights’ division. In fact, the last time the Predators and Golden Knights played each other was February 1st, 2020. There’s literally been a global pandemic since the last time Josi shared the ice with Theodore, and he’s still the first name that comes to mind for the 2019-20 Norris Trophy winner.

This is incredibly high praise and very meaningful stuff coming from a superstar in the NHL. It still boggles my mind how the Anaheim Ducks chose to give Theodore away at the Expansion Draft when they could have let go of Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, Brandon Montour, or Josh Manson instead.

Thank goodness they did though, because no one wants to envision the Golden Knights without Shea Theodore… maybe except for Roman Josi if they happen to meet in the final four.

VGK Defensemen Struggling To Get Shots To The Net

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When Pete DeBoer came on as head coach of the Golden Knights one aspect of the game we expected to see change was the way the team was going to try and generate offense. Where Gerard Gallant teams thrived in transition and on opportunistic chances, DeBoer wanted to bring a much more reliable style of offense to the fold.

One piece of that is generating offense from the back to the front. The concept is to work the puck in deep and then send it low to high back to the defensemen. From there, the defensemen can make a number of decisions about what to do with the puck, but if a shot lane is there with traffic in front, that’s the preferred choice.

This was majorly successful with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose, it worked with Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky in New Jersey and it worked with Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe with the Panthers. Now, with Vegas, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo are among the top five players on the team in shots per game and the Golden Knights lead the West division (and the NHL) in points from blueliners.

There is one concern with this strategy though, and that’s when shot attempts from defensemen are blocked or don’t hit the net. Blocked shot attempts have a chance to quickly lead to rushes the other way while missed shots force forwards to work to recover the puck and can lead to easy breakouts.

A bit of excellent research from JFreshHockey shows us that a few Golden Knights are struggling at the skill of hitting the net from the point.

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Will Defensive Scoring Continue Into The Postseason

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If I told you before the season the Golden Knights defensemen would score a total of 29 goals in 38 games you’d be pleasantly surprised. If I then told you they were scoring 0.68 goals per game and only two from Alex Pietrangelo you’d call me a loony.

Since this season is 26 games shorter, offensive numbers from defensemen stand out a little more. Not only are goals from defensemen necessary, but assisting and generating them as well. This season the Golden Knights are getting it all from their blueline.

2021 VGK Defensive Scoring

Theodore: 29 Points (6 Goals, 23 Assists)
Martinez: 22 Points (7 Goals, 15 Assists)
Hague: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists)
Pietrangelo: 11 Points (2 Goals, 9 Assists)
Whitecloud: 8 Points (2 Goals, 6 Assists)
Coghlan: 5 Points (3 Goals, 2 Assists)
McNabb: 3 Points (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
Holden: 2 Points (2 Assists)
Total Defensive Points: 94 Points (26 G, 68 A)

Most of the eight defensemen to suit up this season are far beyond their pace for career years. All but two have eclipsed their points per game average. If this were a normal 82-game season it’s plausible the majority of the Golden Knights defense would cruise past their previous high campaigns.

When you add the total goals from each defensemen’s best offensive season the number is just 20 goals short of what they’ve amassed in only 38 games played this year. Lately, Vegas D-men have been so effective it’s made up for the slump Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone are currently in. Which is good sign for postseason droughts. Especially, when youngsters Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, and Dylan Coghlan are getting involved offensively.

VGK Defensemen Previous Career Highs

Pietrangelo: 16 Goals (54 Points)
Theodore: 13 Goals (46 Points)
Martinez: 11 Goals (39 Points)
McNabb: 5 Goals (24 Points)
Hague: 1 Goal (11 Points)
Whitecloud: 0 Points
Coghlan: 0 Points
VGK Defensemen in 2021: 26 Goals (0.68 PPG)
Combined Career Highs: 46 Goals (0.56 PPG)

Currently, the Golden Knights defensive unit is the highest-scoring in the NHL. When the Golden Knights get contributions from the blue line or bottom-six it softens the pressure around the stars. Which allows them to get to work and do their jobs. Also, it makes Vegas a much more potent club in the postseason.

Scoring 0.68 goals per game from the blue line will help win many regular season games, but that additional offense is even more vital in the playoffs when games tend to tighten up. It’s unrealistic to rely on Vegas defensemen to score at their regular season pace. They might bail out the top six on certain nights but Vegas can’t survive if the defense is relied upon for three or four postseason games.

VGK Defensemen Postseason Points Per Game

Theodore: 0.67 PPG (67 Games)
Pietrangelo: 0.55 PPG (92 Games)
Martinez: 0.28 PPG (84 Games)
Holden: 0.25 PPG (40 Games)
McNabb: 0.17 PPG (52 Games)
Whitecloud: 0.15 PPG (20 Games)
Combined Postseason Average: 0.345 PPG

Only Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore average more than 0.30 points per playoff game. Sure, Alec Martinez has one of the most memorable Cup-clinching shots of all time but he’s never been relied on to produce offensively. That’s not his role.

The best-case scenario would be Pacioretty, Stone, and other top-six forwards consistently driving offense in the postseason. In that situation, any point from the blue line would be an added bonus. Momentum changing, insurance type goals or series clinchers.

Ask Alec, that’s how the Stanley Cup is won.

Sharks Credit Limited Golden Knights Fans For Noisy Game, Poor Officiating

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It may have only been 20% but it felt like a full house last night at T-Mobile Arena. Not only did Vegas get a boost from their star goaltender but also from the 3,473 fans in attendance. Labeled the loudest fans in hockey, the limited amount of VGK faithful made sure San Jose heard them loud and clear.

According to San Jose coach Bob Boughner, the building was loud.

We were in another team’s building. There were fans in here tonight. It was loud and I think that makes things harder on everybody. -Bob Boughner, San Jose coach

One theme brought up several times by members of the Sharks was the officiating. San Jose felt there were two or three missed calls that should’ve gone their way. Even Sharks broadcaster Randy Hanh was upset with the zebras.

It’s possible the officials were distracted by the crowd. Like the players, they’ve been skating in empty arenas as well. More than likely Boughner was complimenting the noisy crowd by taking a jab at the referee. Either way, last night the fans made some impact on the ice.

Defenseman Shea Theodore sure thought so.

Yeah, even when we had 15% the fans were still buzzing. The more fans the better. I thought they were loud and there was definitely times we were feeding off that. Hopefully, that continues moving forward. -Shea Theodore

Since the inaugural season, Vegas fans have been recognized as one of the loudest and supportive fanbases in hockey. The team on the ice has undoubtedly benefited from their faithful’s rowdiness. Including last night’s victory against the Sharks, the Golden Knights are now 86-35-12 when playing on home ice.

Home ice advantage hasn’t existed in over a year now, but it should in these upcoming playoffs. More so if the Golden Knights play a team in California or Canada who aren’t rushing to open venues. Playing in an opponent’s empty building while they must come to Vegas and contend with a half-packed T-Mobile Arena should be a major advantage for VGK.

Everyone from fans to the state government is hoping T-Mobile Arena will get back to normal occupancy by the start of the postseason. Signs are beginning to point in that direction but nothing can be certain in 2021. (From what we are hearing, 50% seems likely soon but 100% still seems a bit far off.)

We now know what 3,400+ fans sound like and the effect an opposing coach believes they have. Imagine what 8,000+ can do.

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