On Wednesday, Mark Stone was named the first captain in the history of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise. On Thursday, he began to prove why it was the right call.
In his first game sporting the ‘C’ on his chest, Stone played an integral role in the Knights’ 5-2 season-opening victory over the Anaheim Ducks at T-Mobile Arena. The 28-year-old scored the game-winner and set up another, putting his fingerprints all over the win.
“[Stone] led the way, that’s why he’s wearing the ‘C,'” said Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer. (from ‘Mark Stone shows his captain’s stripes in Golden Knights’ win,’ Las Vegas Review-Journal, 01/14/2021) “He has the ability to raise his level at important times and that’s what you want your captain to do in those moments in the game.”
While Vegas boasts no shortage of high-character veterans with leadership capabilities, the choice of Stone wasn’t a difficult one in the end. Following the Golden Knights’ 2019 trade deadline deal for the six-time 20-goal scorer, he quickly earned the respect of the locker room for his work ethic, cerebral two-way game, and likable personality.
On paper, Stone’s impact on the Knights has been clear. In the little under two years since he arrived, the former Ottawa Senator has collected more points than any other Vegas player during that same period. Beyond his scoring prowess, he’s also been one of the leading practitioners of the club’s heady, two-way style of play. At the end of the 2018-19 season, Stone finished second to Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues (and another newly crowned West Division captain) in Selke Award voting.
The Wheat King Connection
The impressions Stone has made with his Golden Knights teammates and coaches aren’t likely a surprise to Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon. The two men share a long history that dates back to Stone’s junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
It was McCrimmon, who also owned the club, who elected to give Stone the captaincy in Brandon. From there, Stone led the Wheat Kings to the Memorial Cup Final with McCrimmon behind the bench. They lost that Final to Taylor Hall and the loaded Windsor Spitfires, but the long-time executive had already witnessed Stone’s natural leadership instincts and his drive to help his teammates improve.
“He’s really committed to being the best player he can be,” McCrimmon said in announcing the captaincy. “He’s got a real good understanding of a team, he’s got a real good understanding of a dressing room, of the people involved. I think he’s a player Pete has a really good relationship with as far as a leader has with a coaching staff. Those are just maturity things. I can’t tell you that I’m shocked with the path he’s traveled based on the person he is. I feel happy for him to be recognized this way for our team.”
A Long-Time Knight
To be clear, Stone’s captaincy stands as a testament to the quality of his character and all the traits that make him a great teammate both on and off the ice. But if we’re being honest, the contract plays a role here too.
The eight-year, $76 million extension that Stone signed soon after his trade from Ottawa all but ensured he would remain a Knight for the long run. The club had plenty of captaincy options to choose from, but Max Pacioretty is four years older and doesn’t have the same tenure left on his contract, William Karlsson hasn’t established himself as a vocal leader, Shea Theodore is probably still a bit too young and Alex Pietrangelo hadn’t played a game for the club at the time of the announcement.
The A’s Got Announced, Too
Stone’s captaincy was, rightfully, the headline news on Wednesday’s eve of the season opener. But along with the franchise’s first official leadership coronation (you could argue that the now-retired Deryk Engelland was the team’s first unofficial captain), it was announced that Pietrangelo and Reilly Smith would get As on their jerseys as alternate captains.
Interestingly, Pietrangelo and Smith earned their respective letters for entirely different reasons. The free-agent defenseman hadn’t played a single game as a Golden Knight, but arrived with a significant leadership pedigree from being the captain of the Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues. On the other hand, Smith has never come across as a natural-born leader or locker room voice, but he is a well-liked Vegas original with the respect of the room.
Stone’s excellent week aside, we still don’t quite know what type of captain he is. Inevitable losing stretches and adversity will challenge him, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Still, he has a lot of believers throughout the organization and a strong team behind him. He fits in well as a respected West Division captain, among the likes of rivals O’Reilly, Ryan Getzlaf, Gabriel Landeskog, Anze Kopitar and Logan Couture. Now, success is expected in Vegas – and Stone surely wouldn’t have had it any other way.