The day we’ve been waiting for since November 4th when the Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel is almost here. Eichel’s return to the lineup appears to be right around the corner and it’s finally time to start putting some lineup combinations together.
Of course, to make this happen, it will probably mean Mark Stone is out of the lineup for the next 10 games on LTIR (read my thoughts on that here), which means the Golden Knights are losing their captain and superstar winger and replacing him with one of the best centers in the NHL.
So, let’s throw some names on the board and see what we think with the group of forwards the Golden Knights very well may have as soon as Wednesday. Here are seven different combinations with notes on what I like and what I don’t like about each option.
*Don’t worry, there are a couple of combinations with Stone involved at the end too.*
PowerKill + Pacioretty
What I like: Karlsson and Smith have been a dynamic pair ever since they stepped on the ice together for the first time almost five years ago. As much as Marchessault has thrived in that spot, it’s fair to say Pacioretty is a better scorer and could elevate the old Misfit line even more with his elite finishing. The second line is an offensive juggernaut that should see Eichel driving play and dishing off to two scoring wingers who will fill it up. Below that there’s a strong defensive third line and a fourth line that’s had success this season.
What I don’t like: Breaking up the Misfits can make sense, but the chemistry they have is probably not going to be matched. I’m already a bit concerned with Eichel’s defensive fit on this team and this plan has him on a line that will be 100% focused on offense. And finally, is this an under-utilization of Stephenson? It sure might be as scoring from that third line seems unlikely to be consistent.
Eichel: The Misfit
What I like: The best Vegas has ever been featured a top-line center with 43 goals. Eichel is better than Karlsson and maybe slotting him between two guys with chemistry will bring the best out of him instantly. Pacioretty and Stephenson stay together which has been successful. Finally, a third line that can possibly put the puck in the goal, plus they’ll be defensively responsible.
What I don’t like: Are we getting too cute trying to make Eichel into Karlsson, and at the same time is this too much of a demotion for the guy who has been the best center on the team for five seasons? Also, which one of these lines is going to go up against the opposition’s top line and keep them from scoring?
What I like: Here we have a dominant offensive line, a dominant defensive line, and a third line that should be able to do a little bit of both with the right matchups. Scoring should be possible across the board. And for the first time ever, the Golden Knights would have a true answer to any opposing top line from a group not expected to produce a goal per game.
What I don’t like: This really only works when VGK control the matchups. If the opposing team can get their top guys out against the uber-offensive first line, it may end up in goals against or at the least wasted defensive shifts from the line that’s supposed to shoulder most of the scoring.
The Easy Fix
What I like: This is the path of least resistance which is always good for a team that has been winning. The Misfits stay together, Eichel plays with the best remaining players, and even Stephenson is matched with like-minded players.
What I don’t like: The last few years we’ve seen the same issues in the playoffs and one has to wonder if they won’t crop right back up again. This puts all the pressure on Eichel to be the difference-maker. Also, this could always be used as a backup plan if a different combination doesn’t work. If this is Plan A, there is no Plan B.
Utilize Smith Defensively
What I like: Putting Dadonov with the Misfits certainly should lend itself to a bit more offensive punch. Plus, the third line would be very strong defensively with the ability to attack in transition. Roy and Smith could be an excellent fit too.
What I don’t like: The bottom six would remain unproven from a scoring perspective. Of course, all of these guys have shown they can score, but it’s usually on a line with higher-end players and certainly with more ice time than they’ll get on a third line. Also, while Roy has proven capable defensively, he is prone to a mishap from time to time and that’s not acceptable anchoring a defense-first line.
Strength at center
What I like: If there’s been a weak spot for the Golden Knights the last few years it’s been at the center position. With Eichel, Karlsson, Stephenson, and Roy down the middle, this is as strong as they’ve ever been and they’ll have the ability to match up with just about anyone. Also, this should set up nicely to make the wingers interchangeable depending on opponent and injuries.
What I don’t like: It may not be maximizing Eichel. With Eichel on a stacked team, it would be easy to make a line that can dominate against anyone, however this combination doesn’t necessarily do that.
What I like: Well, balance. This is a team that would come at you in waves and would put relentless attacking pressure on even the best opponents. Each line has a pair of players who should work well together and may help bring out more from their tagalong linemate.
What I don’t like: There would really be no way to properly distribute minutes using this lineup. Every night there would be a guy like Janmark, Kolesar, or Howden seeing more ice time than a Marchessault, Karlsson, or Smith. It looks great on paper, but in reality, it probably doesn’t work.
I’m interested in what you all think is the best combination. Which one of the seven do you prefer, or is there a different combination?
Finally, what fun is it to live in the present when there’s a future to think about? Here are my favorite two options with Stone and Eichel available.