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Golden Knights season preview: Stone expected to lift offense, power play

Having forward for full season should help Pacioretty, Stastny reach potential

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

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Coach: Gerard Gallant (third season)

Last season: 43-32-7, third place Pacific Division, lost to San Jose Sharks in Western Conference First Round

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Full season of Stone

Mark Stone should make a huge impact in his first full season in Vegas. The Golden Knights acquired the forward in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 25 and he had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 18 games for Vegas, setting NHL career highs in goals (33) and points (73) for the season. He led the Golden Knights with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in seven games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not only does he complement forward Max Pacioretty and center Paul Stastny, creating another effective line at 5-on-5, he should bolster a power play that ranked 25th in the NHL last season (16.8 percent).

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

 

2. Full potential of Pacioretty and Stastny 

Pacioretty and Stastny could reach their full potential now that they're healthy, settled and playing with Stone. The Golden Knights signed Stastny as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2018 and acquired Pacioretty in a trae with the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 9, 2018. Stastny missed 32 games and Pacioretty missed 16 because of injuries last season. Pacioretty had a tough adjustment after leaving the Canadiens, for whom he played 10 seasons and was captain. But the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line excelled down the stretch and in the playoffs. Pacioretty has looked especially good in the preseason.

 

3. Top-line rebound

Forwards Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith need to recapture at least some of their magic as the No. 1 line. Marchessault (75), Karlsson (78) and Smith (60) each set an NHL career high for points in Vegas' inaugural season in 2017-18. Then Marchessault (59), Karlsson (56) and Smith (53) each had significantly lower totals last season. Some regression was to be expected, considering Karlsson had an unsustainable shooting percentage of 23.4 percent in 2017-18, for example. Now a bounce back should be expected. It will help if the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line draws the tough defensive matchups.

 

4. Fleury's success at 35

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is like the forwards just mentioned. He had a stellar 2017-18 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, the best numbers of his NHL career, then dipped last season to a 2.51 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Not all of that was on him. He had eight shutouts and finished fourth in the voting for the Vezina Trophy, but he has battled injuries each of the past two seasons, and the question is how well he can play, and for how many games, as he approaches his 35th birthday on Nov. 28. The better Fleury is, the better Vegas' chances are of making a deep run in the playoffs. 

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Fleury

 

5. Opportunities to be seized

Young players must fill roles vacated in the offseason. Colin Miller, who led Vegas defensemen with 70 points (13 goals, 57 assists) in 147 games the past two seasons, was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Center Erik Haula, who scored 29 goals in 2017-18 but was limited to 15 games because of a knee injury last season, was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a presence on the fourth line, on the penalty kill and in the locker room, signed with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent. Forward Ryan Carpenter, who provided depth, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

The biggest decisions concern center Cody Glass and the bevy of young defensemen.

Glass, the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, looks ready to play in the NHL. The Golden Knights were stacked at center with Karlsson, Stastny and Cody Eakin, but Eakin sustained an undisclosed injury in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings. And forward Alex Tuch, who plays with Eakin on the third line, is week to week with an upper-body injury sustained in that game, so Glass could be in the lineup to start the season.

Five defensemen have been competing for one spot: Jake Bischoff, Dylan Coghlan, Nicolas Hague, Jimmy Schuldt and Zach Whitecloud. Each brings something different. So, it is who stays, who goes to the AHL for now, and how will they all develop during the season? Coghlan was the first to be sent to Chicago.

Video: Glass joins the show to discuss his prospect ranking

 

Most intriguing addition

Glass progressed step by step last season, playing for Portland of the Western Hockey League, Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championship and Chicago of the AHL. He turned 20 on April 1 and had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 22 playoff games in the AHL.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Forward Valentin Zykov bounced from the Hurricanes to the Edmonton Oilers to the Golden Knights on waivers last season. But this is a player who scored 33 goals for Charlotte of the AHL in 2017-18 and he spent the offseason in Vegas working hard.

 

Ready to break through

Forward Alex Tuch had 15 goals in his first full season in 2017-18. He had 20 goals last season. Depending on how long he is sidelined, Tuch (6-foot-4, 222 pounds) has the size, skill and potential to produce much more.

 

Fantasy sleeper 

Stastny (average draft position; 158.0) was productive when healthy last season (42 points in 50 regular-season games; eight in seven playoff games) and can be a late-round steal on a line with Stone and Pacioretty. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jonathan Marchessault -- William Karlsson -- Reilly Smith

Max Pacioretty -- Paul Stastny -- Mark Stone

Valentin Zykov -- Cody Eakin -- Alex Tuch

William Carrier -- Tomas Nosek -- Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabb -- Shea Theodore

Nate Schmidt -- Deryk Engelland

Jon Merrill -- Nick Holden

Marc-Andre Fleury

Malcolm Subban

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