This week ESPN chose one player from each NHL team that they deemed indispensable, the “Worldwide Leader” made a surprising choice for the Golden Knights’ most vital performer.
Most indispensable: Chandler Stephenson
We may not have pegged Stephenson as the Golden Knights’ top-line center or leading goal scorer when the season started. But here he is, having a terrific year. He’s averaging a point per game and the most ice time of any Vegas forward. On a team that stumbled out of the gate, Stephenson has been an irreplaceable player helping to keep the Golden Knights afloat.- ESPN.com
It’s hard to argue Stephenson’s value this season. The seven-year veteran is having a career season, leading Vegas in points, shooting percentage (50 shot minimum), and faceoff wins. Overall, Stephenson has been essential to the team’s turnaround since their early 1-4 start.
As a point-per-game player, the highly productive center anchored the top six when Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson were on the mend. In the games that his two linemates were absent, Stephenson emerged as Vegas’ go-to for much-needed offense. Since the season began the Golden Knights are 7-3 when he scores.
As steady as Stephenson has been, ESPN is way off. Here are players more indispensable than Stephenson.
Most Golden Knights fans are in agreement that Pietrangelo became Vegas’ most impactful player since last postseason. The former captain led his new team in postseason time on ice, shots, power play points, and is second in total points behind William Karlsson. In 31 appearances this season, the Golden Knights are 13-4 when the defenseman registers a point. Since the postseason, much of Vegas’ offense flows through the experienced defenseman.
To be fair to the critics, Pietrangelo is frequently on the ice for goals scored by the opposition, but it’s inevitable when he skates 25+ minutes per game. The alternate captain has been on the ice for 32 even-strengthened goals which is 9th worst in the NHL. However, Pietrangelo is 4th best in the league for being on the ice when his team scores. You know which Golden Knight follows Pietrangelo in those columns? You guessed it, Stephenson.
On Ice Even-Strength Goals For
- Pietrangelo 38
- Stephenson 38
- Hague 37
- Theodore 31
- Smith 29
On Ice Even-Strength Goals Against
- Pietrangelo 32
- Stephenson 28
- Hague 28
- Smith 25
- Marchessault 25
I understand deep stats overwhelmingly disregard the 31-year-old’s impact so this comes down to a simple eye test. Pietrangelo is more indispensable.
Since his return, the Golden Knights have posted a 9-4 record and have climbed from third place in the Pacific division to first in the Western Conference. Pacioretty was a major reason for Vegas’ ascent. The 33-year-old registered a point in nine straight games and scored 10 goals in seven consecutive games. Pacioretty’s offensive impact significantly changed Vegas’ confidence and their outcomes. In a game where goals mean everything, I’ll take my chances with the guy that has scored 316 of them.
The captain is as irreplaceable to the Golden Knights as any player is to their team. Stone provides the signature two-way play Vegas is known for, plus he brings energy and emotion. It’s been a difficult three months for Stone, missing a total of 14 games but his production hasn’t really dipped. In fact, his points per 60 are up 1.21 PPG from his career 0.90 PPG average. With him in the lineup, Vegas is much more difficult to contain and to create offense against. Sure, Vegas’ highest-paid player (until Eichel plays a game) has hurt his club with a lack of offensive production in big moments. However, when Stone is in the lineup the Golden Knights have the ability to win 4-3 or 2-1. Stone gets the nod.
Points Per Game Average
- Max Pacioretty 1.31 PPG
- Mark Stone 1.21 PPG
- Chandler Stephenson 1.03 PPG
- Jonathan Marchessault 0.86 PPG
- Reilly Smith 0.79 PPG
- Shea Theodore 0.77 PPG
- Alex Pietrangelo 0.71 PPG
This shouldn’t be a controversial choice but it may be. Some will point to Lehner’s inflating Goals Against Average (3.03) this season or that he has 0 shutouts in 24 starts. But keep in mind the outspoken Swede has only lost 15 regular season games since being traded as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup in 2020. Now, it’s Lehner’s team and without him, Vegas would be forced to rely on backup goaltenders. This isn’t the same Jennings Trophy combo as last year and there is no rotation. The pressure is on one guy and he’s embraced that responsibility. For that simple reason alone, Lehner is much more vital to a Cup quest.
A case could be made for all three being more indispensable than Stephenson is to the Golden Knights. On top of being full-time top-six forwards, Karlsson and Smith are two of the best penalty killers in the league and would be hard to replace. Offensively, without Marchessault, the Golden Knights would struggle averaging three goals a night. After his two-goal game last night, the OGK is on pace to score 40+ goals. I’m not willing to miss out on that.
Goals Per Game Average
- Max Pacioretty 0.75 GPG
- Jonathan Marchessault 0.57 GPG
- Reilly Smith 0.33 GPG
- Mark Stone 0.32 GPG
- Stephenson 0.31 GPG
While this may seem like an unnecessary jab at Stephenson it’s merely a discussion about his contributions this season. It was pointed out that he’s been on the ice for almost as many total goals as Pietrangelo. And that his shooting percentage is higher than both Pacioretty and Marchessault’s. There’s nothing to take lightly, Stephenson is a major reason why the Golden Knights have sole possession of first place in the Western Conference. He’s been an unexpected source of consistent offense that Vegas desperately needed this season.
There’s one last factor. Stephenson may be indispensable now, but what about after Jack Eichel makes his Golden Knights debut?