When free agency opened on July 1, 2018, the Vegas Golden Knights began making moves that would shape the team's roster heading into the franchise's second season in the NHL.
One of the moves made that day was the signing of forward Paul Stastny to a three-year contract. Stastny was seen as Vegas' biggest offensive boost added in the offseason until the Golden Knights made another splash during training camp when they acquired forward Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens. Just before the trade deadline, the Golden Knights added another punch to their forward depth chart by bringing in Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators.
Each of these three forwards made their presences felt during their first season with the Golden Knights. In 50 games, Stastny posted 42 points (13G, 29A) and scored two game-winning goals. Pacioretty put up 40 points (22G, 18A) in 66 contests and potted five game-winners. Stone skated in just 18 regular season games with the Golden Knights and accumulated 11 points (5G, 6A) in that time.
The trio was slotted together at times during the season and made up Vegas' second line when the puck dropped for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. During the seven-game series with San Jose, the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line combined for 31 points (13G, 18A) and was a key factor for the Golden Knights as they took the Sharks deep into overtime of Game 7.
"We just wanted to be one solid unit and I think that's what happened there in playoffs, where we got hot early on and then all of a sudden [William] Karlsson's line started playing better," Stastny said. "When you have a combination like that, you kind of have an internal competition within each other and it brings out the best in everyone."
Reaching the playoffs was a success for the Golden Knights. While falling in the first-round stings for the franchise, Pacioretty said he thinks the bigger story is what's to come for the Golden Knights.
"This team is built to contend year-after-year," Pacioretty said. "It's the mindset of the coaches, the management, the ownership that were always going to be a team in contention. We gave ourselves that opportunity this year and we don't see any reason why we shouldn't be in contention year-after-year."
Excitement about next year's potential starts with training camp in September. A full offseason to recharge and the excitement of reuniting with the team are things that have Stone ready to fast-forward the summer and get to work for the 2019-20 season.
"We want to be a consistent group," Stone said. "I think that speaks for not just our line; I think it speaks for the 23 guys are going to be on the ice next year. We want to be a top team so, for us, we know we are going to have to contribute to make that happen. It was a great first couple months playing with them, but there is room for not only our line to grow but everybody to grow."
Setting expectations for a season that's still months away can put pressure on a team before it needs to be there. Pacioretty is looking forward to when the Golden Knights get back together to get to work in September and worry about what comes next as it happens.
"I'm very happy in the situation that we're in, the team we have, the depth we have, not just next year but the years to come," Pacioretty said. "I'm really looking forward to coming into a comfortable environment, knowing what to expect right from day one and finding our game a little bit quicker and that's what we're looking to do."
Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone have all demonstrated leadership qualities that fit in with Vegas' "23 captains" mantra and they're more than comfortable being part of the broad leadership core in the locker room.
"There are tons of different ways to be a leader," Stone said. "Sometimes you just look at the way guys who just have that game that can kind of bring everybody together and bring everybody into the fight. You just want to make sure that you're performing and let the rest of it take care of itself."