They say defense wins championships, which in most cases is true. But in the NHL, a surefire way to be successful is having a solid center group to build your team around. The Vegas Golden Knights have a slew of centers who may not be the highest-rated among superstar-center-laden teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, but they do just fine.
In saying that, today, I want to analyze and grade the Golden Knights’ center depth and see how it compares to other teams across the league.
The Golden Knights’ first-line center is speedy, intense Chandler Stephenson, who has made a name for himself since coming over in a trade from the Washington Capitals a couple of years ago. The Saskatoon native has enjoyed his highest point totals with the team from Sin City, which is probably a direct result of having played alongside offensive superpowers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
Still, Stephenson has proven his rugged effectiveness, especially in the playoffs. Compared to other first-line centers, the Golden Knights fall behind the pack, but the 27-year-old Stephenson can hold his own and has turned into a top center. Just look at these metrics:
His points-scored-per-hour has crossed the “first-line” threshold and establishes him as a true number one center. It took a while for Stephenson to find his footing, but the late-bloomer seems to have hit his stride and is entering the “peak” (the first red box). Compared to other 1Cs, he’s not the best, but in Golden Knights fans’ hearts, he is.
Many fans consider Karlsson the “real” number one center of the team, but for now, his spot is on the second line between Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. Karlsson exploded in the Golden Knights’ inaugural season with a whopping 43 goals, and fans were ecstatic that they didn’t have to wait long for this expansion team to have a star.
Well, over the past two seasons, Karlsson has slowed down, but it’s nothing to be worried about, as he still put up solid numbers. He ranks among the top-10 second-line centers because he can easily move up to the first line. Equipped with excellent hockey sense and smooth, effortless skating, he reminds me of Oilers star Leon Draisatl (just a bit less skilled).
Although he doesn’t slot into the first-line center role, he does see first-unit power-play minutes, as he has shown to be very effective on the man advantage. Karlsson is a gem, and the Golden Knights are lucky to have him in the rotation.
The new kid on the block, Nolan Patrick, comes in with fewer expectations than those associated with a second-overall pick. The main goal the Golden Knights are trying to accomplish is to help him find his NHL footing.
Patrick will be slotting into the third line and will hope that linemates Mattias Janmark and Evgenii Dadonov can lend a hand to a steady career resurgence. If anyone needs it now more than ever, it’s Patrick, whose numbers don’t look too good.
Patrick started last season near the top of third-line center production but took a nose-dive and is now barely scraping the bottom of the barrel in third-line production. The bright side is that he is young, and with the confidence that Golden Knights management will instill in him, he has all the tools to succeed in Vegas.
Nicolas Roy enjoyed a memorable playoffs last season. He came through as a solid depth option for the team and a player the coaching staff could count on when they needed to inject some intensity into the game.
Scoring a huge goal in the series against the Montreal Canadiens, Roy solidified his spot as the team’s fourth-line center. I wouldn’t want anyone else occupying that fourth-line spot, as he brings the perfect blend of intensity, offense, and defensive awareness to the position. Oh yeah, and he’s only 24 years old, leaving him room to grow within the lineup.
Compared to the Rest of the League
The Golden Knights have a perfect blend of youth, experience, and offensive and defensive awareness across all four center positions, giving them a perfect balance to their lineup. There are teams with much stronger center cores, but Vegas has a pretty solid core of their own. That’s why they find themselves in the middle of the pack, ranked 15th and 16th. There are definite improvements to make, but they are not the worst.
Final Overall Center Depth Grade: B-
What are your thoughts? How do you feel about the overall depth of the Golden Knights at the center position? Let me know in the comments below.
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.