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31 in 31

Three questions facing Vegas Golden Knights

Regression from players coming off career highs, how Stastny fits in among concerns

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Vegas Golden Knights.

 

[Golden Knights 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. How many players can reach new heights?

Ten returning Golden Knights had NHL career highs in goals last season. Twelve had NHL career highs in assists and points, including each of the top five forwards and top five defensemen in terms of scoring.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had the best goals-against average (2.24) and save percentage (.927) of his NHL career too.

That all makes sense, considering how many players landed larger roles with an expansion team. Now they face the challenge of building on that, and some might be ripe for regression.

Center William Karlsson is the most intriguing case. He scored 43 goals, third in the NHL and 34 more than his previous NHL career high, shooting 23.4 percent, 15.7 higher than his previous NHL average. He had 35 assists, 16 more than his previous high, and 78 points, 53 more than his previous high.

Video: 31 in 31: Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 season preview

 

2. Can Paul Stastny and Tomas Tatar replace David Perron and James Neal?

Perron signed a four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues and Neal signed a five-year contract with the Calgary Flames as unrestricted free agents after the Golden Knights didn't offer them the same terms.

That meant Vegas lost two second-line wings who combined for 110 points (41 goals, 69 assists) last season.

The Golden Knights signed Stastny to a three-year contract July 1, and they have Tatar, who was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings for a first-, second- and third-round NHL Draft pick on Feb. 26.

Stastny and Tatar combined for 87 points (36 goals, 51 points) last season, and Stastny is a center. Does he bump Erik Haula to the wing, and if so, how does that affect Haula, who had NHL career highs in goals (29), assists (26) and points (55) last season?

Video: Discussing Stastny signing with the Golden Knights

 

3. How does the identity evolve?

The Golden Knights jelled under unique circumstances last season. The players were in the same situation: cut loose by their former teams, doubted individually and collectively, but given a fresh start. There was relatively little hierarchy. Then came the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1, giving them a shared experience with their city. They got off to a hot start and kept rolling all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to the Washington Capitals.

The good news is that these are mostly the same players, and they are being doubted by many again. But some hierarchy has emerged, even if there is still no captain, and some changes have been made. Neal, who dubbed them the "Golden Misfits" when he created a group chat after the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, is gone. Stastny and defenseman Nick Holden aren't misfits; they chose Vegas as unrestricted free agents.

Who are the Golden Knights now?

"The team is the biggest part of us, and we have to realize that quick that we're playing for something that's bigger than us," center Pierre Edouard-Bellemare said. "Last year, we did it, because it became natural with what happened in October. You forget about yourself. But now we have to redo it, and it's just going to be from us the players."

NHL.com staff writers Tom Gulitti and Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report.

Video: Can Vegas repeat its inaugural season success?

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