Chandler Stephenson continues to be one of the Vegas Golden Knights’ best acquisitions in the team’s brief history. Since coming to Vegas, he has solidified his role as the first-line center between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. However, this season has not been kind to Vegas as a majority of their top players find themselves on the injured reserve list. This goes for Stephenson’s linemates as well. Many thought this would slow his production and see him take on a lesser role, based on his time with the Washington Capitals, but instead, the opposite has happened.
Stephenson’s Continued Production
Without Pacioretty and Stone, there were concerns that Stephenson would see a decrease in ice time as many saw him as a placeholder on the first line until Vegas could find a true No. 1 center. However, it appears that he did earn that spot. As it stands, Stephenson is currently leading the Golden Knights in points and assists. He is also averaging a point per game on the season.
This is impressive considering he went from playing with Vegas’ two leading scorers to playing with nearly new linemates each night. His continued production is from the Golden Knights’ decision to keep him on the ice. Currently, Stephenson is leading all Vegas forwards with 19:26 time on ice on average. In the absence of players, he now finds himself on the power play as well.
Another reason for his continued success can be credited to how he plays the game. Throughout his time in Vegas, Stephenson is known to be the first one in on the puck during the forecheck. He is relentless when he tries to regain possession. He also is smart defensively. He is currently third on the Golden Knights with a plus/minus rating of plus-3. His abilities as a two-way player can cause opposing teams trouble in transition as well.
As the only member of the first line healthy, many eyes have now switched to him. Instead of being the third piece on the line, his stock is moving upwards. Many of the little things he does each night are now being noticed. Although he does not lead the team in face-off percentage. His ability to win clutch face-offs is being noticed. In the Golden Knights’ last game against the Detroit Red Wings, he won 17 out of 25 draws and was one of the leading forces fighting to come back in the eventual 5-2 loss.
Stephenson Moving Forward
As the season progresses, Stephenson should have no worries about losing ice time, even with the news of Jack Eichel heading to Las Vegas. Pacioretty and Stone are progressing with their injuries and should be finding themselves skating alongside their centerman soon. However, things may change once Eichel is healthy.
The acquisition of the former second-overall pick will see the Golden Knights lineup go through some changes. One of the main changes is expected to be Eichel centering Pacioretty and Stone. This would leave Stephenson in limbo. Luckily for him, he has experience playing on the wing and can slot in perfectly with any line on the Golden Knights. The question would then be which one.
With Eichel’s contract coming off long-term injured reserve in a few months, Vegas will most likely need to make some trades to be cap-compliant. There are some players on the Golden Knights who may be traded because of their current cap hit. It is unlikely Stephenson will be included in this due to his team-friendly contract. But the imminent trades will determine which line and which position he plays.
Overall, Stephenson has been one of the few players leading the Golden Knights while they deal with their injury struggles. He is leading by example and has been rewarded with his offensive production and increase in minutes. As the season progresses, he will continue to be an important part of the roster no matter which line he finds himself on.