Who knows when a puck will drop for the 2020-21 season, but it’s never too early to start looking at who could be taking the ice on opening night for the Vegas Golden Knights. Between the blockbuster acquisition of Alex Pietrangelo, the departure of Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt, and the rise of some of the system’s youngsters, the lineup is assured to look a lot different than the one that closed out the 2020 playoffs.
So who’s gonna be rocking one of the four Golden Knights jerseys whenever the next season starts? Here’s a breakdown of my best prediction…
Max Pacioretty-William Karlsson-Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault-Cody Glass-Reilly Smith
Chandler Stephenson-Peyton Krebs-Alex Tuch
William Carrier-Nicolas Roy-Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb-Alex Pietrangelo
Alec Martinez-Shea Theodore
Nick Holden-Zach Whitecloud
Healthy Scratches: Tomas Nosek, Nic Hague, Carl Dahlstrom
In terms of a top-six, there is potentially none more explosive than that of the Vegas Golden Knights. If the top group can stay healthy, particularly the top line, the lack of secondary scoring that plagued them last season will not be as much of an issue. Stone is coming off a near point-per-game season (63 points in 65 games) and is quickly establishing himself as one of the top forwards in the league.
There isn’t much of a debate when it comes to the second line wingers. Both Marchessault and Smith have continued to produce, but the top line has developed too much chemistry to break up. As for Cody Glass, he is coming off of a disappointing rookie season (5 goals and 7 assists in 39 games) but his talent is too great for him to not bounce back. His experience on the team means that he could have some pre-existing chemistry with his new linemates that will hopefully translate into early results, especially post-training camp.
Moving down the lineup, Krebs slots into the center slot between established third-liners Tuch and Stephenson, who both came into their own throughout the 2020 playoffs. Krebs slots in on the third line thanks to his elite playmaking ability, which would be an incredible asset to Tuch. The right winger showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs and a consistent playmaker down the middle could be the key to him unlocking that next level. Roy just wasn’t that player last season, with a mere 10 points, and when it comes to style of play, Krebs is simply more complimentary to the guys in place.
Roy does offer a perfect complement to the fourth line, along with Carrier and Reaves. The big, gritty, physical line previously had Nosek at center, but Roy still has some skill to his game that would allow for the bruising line to produce at some rate. The biggest asset to adding Roy to the fourth line is not losing the size from Nosek, while also adding some youthfulness and innate offensive ability.
Once the Knights landed Pietrangelo, there was little question about him slotting into the top pairing. While the temptation is there to pair him with Theodore, the fact of the matter is that it would leave roughly 60% of the game with neither offensive defenseman on the ice.
It’s no secret that Vegas wants offense from Pietrangelo, and pairing him with McNabb could limit his output based on him often being slower than the opposing teams’ top forwards. Should the offense really not be flowing from Pietrangelo, the team does have options to make a change, but this looks like the most likely option heading into opening night.
The second pairing of Theodore and Martinez is really a no-brainer after watching the two surge last season and into the playoffs. Theodore blossomed as an offensive defenseman under the veteran guidance of Martinez and anyone who would advocate for breaking the pair up at this point would have to be questioned.
The bottom pairing of Holden and Whitecloud balances veteran experience with youthful explosiveness. Whitecloud has surged under DeBoer, averaging 14:19 in ice time last season and thrived in high-pressure situations throughout the playoffs. Combined with Holden’s strong play, this pairing is a solid option to round out the lineup.
Come puck drop for the 2020-21 season, Robin Lehner will be the undisputed starter. The biggest reason for this is the fact that you don’t give a guy a $25 million extension to then sit him on your bench. Especially when doing so puts you in the financial bind as it did with Vegas. Lehner was quite simply elite in the playoffs, with a 1.99 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage.
As for Fleury, he’s still got plenty in the tank, despite an incredibly inconsistent season last year. Nevertheless, his game is still at a level that can offer the Knights one of the best tandems in the league. The platoon system could become vital in what is looking like it will be a truncated 2020-21 season. What could be an accelerated season, the ability to divide the workload among two experienced goaltenders could very quickly become something other teams envy.
The Golden Knights have the pieces to roll out one of the most complete and threatening line-ups of all 31 NHL teams. Do you think the puzzle will be made of these pieces, or do you have a different lineup taking the ice on opening night? Let me know in the comments below!