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31 in 31

Inside look at Vegas Golden Knights

Having Stone for full season fuels Stanley Cup expectations

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

31 in 31: Vegas Golden Knights

31 in 31: Vegas Golden Knights 2019-20 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's Mike Johnson discuss the biggest questions facing the Vegas Golden Knights for the 2019-20 season

  • 05:11 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospects and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Vegas Golden Knights have the highest expectations entering their third season in the NHL.

"I really feel we can do some significant things," center William Karlsson said. "We are ready to win."

 

[Golden Knights 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospectsFantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

The Golden Knights stunned the hockey world when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18.

They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs again last season and had a 3-1 series lead against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. They had a 3-0 lead in the third period of Game 7, but after San Jose scored four goals during a major penalty, they ended up losing 5-4 in overtime.

"By now, I've definitely gotten over it," Karlsson said. "It was tough in the playoffs when [the Sharks] were still in it. But after [the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time], it was a fairy-tale story, and it was easier to forget.

You try not to look back. You look forward, and we think we are stronger."

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Fleury

The Golden Knights will have a full season of forward Mark Stone, who was acquired in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 25 and signed to an eight-year contract March 8, giving them an outstanding top six. Which is the first line? Karlsson between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith? Or Paul Stastny between Max Pacioretty and Stone?

The latter three jelled in the postseason. Stone led the Golden Knights with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in seven games during the playoffs; Pacioretty was second with 11 points (five goals, six assists); and Stastny tied for third with eight points (two goals, six assists).

The bottom six is solid. On the third line, Alex Tuch has room to grow, and several players will compete for the other spot on the wing with center Cody Eakin, including Cody Glass, Tomas Nosek, Brandon Pirri and Valentin Zykov. Nicolas Roy, acquired in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Erik Haula on June 26, has a chance to become the fourth-line center.

Vegas is deep at defenseman. The big question is which of the many highly regarded prospects will seize a spot. Nicolas Hague? Zach Whitecloud? Jake Bischoff? Dylan Coghlan? Jimmy Schuldt?

And in goal remains Marc-Andre Fleury.

"We're certainly motivated to have a good season, try to be a playoff team again, which is very challenging in the NHL," said assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, who will become GM on Sept. 1 while George McPhee will remain president of hockey operations. "We're now at a point organizationally where we can legitimately look at our prospect pool as players who may be ready to make our team.

"So it's our third season on the ice. Our organizational depth is improving. Our organization is continuing to evolve and to grow. That's our mindset heading into the season."

Video: Mark Stone lands at No. 13 on the list

To clear space under the NHL salary cap and create opportunities for younger players, the Golden Knights parted with several players in the offseason: Colin Miller, who led Vegas defensemen with 70 points (13 goals, 57 assists) in 147 games the past two seasons; Haula, who scored 29 goals in 2017-18 but was limited to 15 games because of a knee injury last season; center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a presence on the fourth line, on the penalty kill and in the locker room; and forward Ryan Carpenter, who provided depth in the bottom six.

They also traded forward Nikita Gusev to the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on July 30. Gusev was the most valuable player of the Kontinental Hockey League after leading the KHL with 82 points (17 goals, 65 assists) in 62 games for SKA St. Petersburg last season, but the restricted free agent and Vegas couldn't agree on a contract.

"We've been a real good team," McPhee said. "We expect to be an even better team this season. What we didn't want to do was tear the team apart to accommodate one player."

NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report

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