The 2021-22 campaign was not a memorable one for the Vegas Golden Knights as they missed the postseason for the first time in their brief history. There were more injuries than highlights, as three of their offensive stars – Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone – all played fewer than 40 games.
For as dismal as the season seemed, they only missed the playoffs by three points. One of the bright spots for the club was Chandler Stephenson, who had a breakout season with 21 goals and 43 assists for 63 points – shattering career bests in all three categories. The Golden Knights need Stephenson to not only replicate that success in 2022-23 but improve on it. The good news for Vegas is that Stephenson looks poised to do it. Even though it took him seven seasons to get there, the talented forward’s trajectory might still be rising.
Vegas Hit Jackpot With Stephenson Trade
The beginning of Stephenson’s career wasn’t anything special. Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t play his first full season until the 2017-18 campaign. He scored just 33 points over the next two-plus seasons in Washington, getting only around 12 minutes of ice time in a steep bottom six role. Then the trade came. Midway through 2019-20, he was dealt to Vegas for a fifth-round pick, and the change of scenery changed everything.
Stephenson tallied eight goals and 14 assists to close out that 2019-20 regular season. Despite getting those numbers in just 41 games, those were both career highs thanks to his ice time ratcheting up to nearly 16 minutes per game. He increased those career highs to 14 goals and 21 assists in his first full season in Vegas in 2020-21 and then notched his first 20-goal campaign last season on the way to being the team’s second-leading scorer.
Stephenson’s Career Year Flew Under the Radar
Despite almost instant contributions from when he arrived in Vegas, Stephenson has dodged any recognition for his work. His stats weren’t out of this world, but they were a definite step in the right direction as Stephenson finished just two points behind established 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault. Despite being known for his tremendous speed, Stephenson wasn’t flashy, just incredibly consistent. Stephenson had only one stretch of more than three games without a point.
Stephenson’s season definitely turned heads in Las Vegas, but part of the reason his campaign went relatively unnoticed was because of the overall struggles by the Golden Knights. The rampant injuries up and down the Vegas roster may have turned off the national attention, but Stephenson never slowed down. He had 14 multi-point games and he was also durable, missing just three games during the season – and all of those were due to COVID. The 21 goals were certainly nothing to sniff at, and his current trend means that Stephenson might raise more eyebrows in 2022-23.
Stephenson Should See Even More Opportunity in 2022-23
Pacioretty is gone, having been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason. Stone is expected to be ready to go at the start of the season following back surgery, and Eichel should be ready as well after finally getting his first action with the Golden Knights last February. He played in 34 games through the end of the season, racking up a respectable 14 goals along the way.
However, neither Eichel or Stone might be as reliable as they used to be. Eichel admitted to playing injured the last six weeks of last season, and how Stone recovers from surgery is a question mark. However, Pacioretty’s departure might mean regular first-line time for Stephenson with Eichel and Stone. Marchessault is also in the mix, as usual, but Stephenson’s speed and goal-scoring acumen in transition might play very well with new head coach Bruce Cassidy.
At the very least, Stephenson is going to get serious top-six minutes and should get some serious minutes on the power play. And the time is now for Vegas to take advantage of Stephenson’s bargain contract, which is in place for two more seasons. The goal-scoring has gone up, but so has Stephenson’s value – meaning his price tag might be too high for Vegas when he hits free agency. The Golden Knights are looking to bounce back after the most disappointing season in franchise history, and they should lean on Stephenson if they want to return to making noise in the playoffs.