Over/Under on Golden Knights’ Player Projections by ESPN

With the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2023-24 season starting in just a few weeks, it’s time for fans and analysts to give their final thoughts on which players will be amongst the NHL’s top scorers.

ESPN has officially released their point projections for the upcoming season, and in this piece, I’ll be looking at a few of the Golden Knights players and giving my thoughts on whether they’re going to be over or under their projected point totals. ESPN takes a number of situational factors and previous statistics to try and provide accurate predictions on over 300 NHL players, in hopes of helping fantasy hockey managers prepare for their drafts.

There are only two Golden Knights in the top 100 players on their list, but there are a few other surprises in how they believe some others will perform this season that are worth taking a look at.

Jack Eichel

2022-23 Stats: 67 games played (GP), 27 goals (G), 39 assists (A), 66 points (PTS)

2023-24 Projections: 78 GP, 37 G, 55 A, 92 PTS

Prediction: Over

While I believe that Eichel can surpass his 92-point projection, I don’t think it’ll be by much. He’s taken a larger focus on rounding out his defensive game and it has made him a perfect fit for the organization. Plus, the system that the Golden Knights play in doesn’t typically produce 100-point players.

It’s important to note that the Golden Knights don’t really need Eichel to put up 100 points in order to be successful. I’m sure head coach Bruce Cassidy would much prefer that he doesn’t allow his offensive game to take priority over his defensive responsibilities. This team is extremely deep, and they’ll be much better off if everybody is able to contribute rather than the scoring being carried by just a few players.

Jack Eichel Vegas Golden Knights
Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With that being said, after acquiring Ivan Barbashev from the St. Louis Blues, Eichel’s offensive game was taken to a new level. If they are able to stick together for an entire season while also staying healthy, there’s a serious chance that Eichel could get back to being considered one of the best centers in the NHL. If he can put up around 40 goals while playing Selke Trophy-level defense, this season will be an overwhelming success.

Alex Pietrangelo

2022-23 Stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 43 A, 54 PTS

2023-24 Projections: 79 GP, 14 G, 45 A, 59 PTS

Prediction: Under

Alex Pietrangelo has been the Golden Knights’ most important defenseman since he signed with the team in 2020. In 194 regular season games, he’s put up 121 points, while also being a key contributor in the postseason with 22 points in 40 playoff games.

Not to mention that he’s done all of this in his 30s, typically when defensemen begin to trend downward. He’s been able to adapt his game and become much more of a shutdown threat than he was during his time as captain of the St. Louis Blues, while also maintaining his role as a power play quarterback on the Golden Knights’ top unit.

Alex Pietrangelo Vegas Golden Knights
Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The main reason I have him going under this point total, and why I’m also surprised that ESPN has him producing similar numbers, is because of the emergence of Shea Theodore. Pietrangelo averaged the highest amount of ice time on the Golden Knights last season with 23:59, but it’s been a steady decline from what he’s averaged over previous seasons. In Theodore’s case, his ice time was steadily increasing year after year before he missed 27 games due to injury in 2022-23.

Pietrangelo finished the regular season with 14 power play points on the top unit, tied for third on the Golden Knights with Eichel. With Theodore entering his prime at 27 years old and being regarded as the much more offensively creative defenseman of the two, there’s a strong chance that he could take over Pietrangelo’s spot on the power play and take away a good chunk of his offensive opportunities.

Pavel Dorofeyev

2022-23 Stats: 18 GP, 7 G, 2 A, 9 PTS

2023-24 Projections: 70 GP, 22 G, 20 A, 42 PTS

Prediction: Under

Out of all of the players on this list, this projection was by far the most surprising. With just 20 total NHL games played since being drafted in the third round by the Golden Knights in 2019, ESPN has Russian winger Pavel Dorofeyev projected to score 22 goals and have 42 points this season.

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Dorofeyev has put up decent offensive numbers at the American Hockey League (AHL) level on a lackluster Henderson Silver Knights team and also made a strong first impression in his short stint with the Golden Knights last season. However, there are some areas in his game that will need to mature before I think he can become a 20-goal scorer.

Pavel Dorofeyev Vegas Golden Knights
Pavel Dorofeyev, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So much of Dorofeyev’s success will rely on him taking hold of a permanent spot in the top-six, replacing Reilly Smith. While ESPN clearly believes that he’ll be able to do that, there are a number of factors that make me feel like this type of success could be projected one year too early.

Related: Golden Knights Have 4 Good Options to Replace Reilly Smith

It’s unlikely he’ll break into the Golden Knights’ top power play during his first full season with the team, and it’s hard to believe he can hold on to a spot on the second line with guys like Paul Cotter, Mike Amadio, and Brett Howden all proving to be strong candidates for the job last season. There’s also a chance that the Golden Knights will try to upgrade their top-six through trade to prepare for another playoff run, making his timeframe to make an impact this season short.

Shea Theodore

2022-23 Stats: 55 GP, 8 G, 33 A, 41 PTS

2023-24 Projections: 74 GP, 11 G, 36 A, 48 PTS

Prediction: Over

While Dorofeyev’s projections were the most surprising, Theodore is a close second. Following a regular season where he averaged 0.75 points per game and tied Brandon Montour for second in playoff scoring among defensemen, ESPN projects that he’ll play nearly 20 more games and manage to put up just seven more points than he did in the 2022-23 season.

As previously mentioned, Pietrangelo’s role for the upcoming season will be a significant factor in Theodore’s production and overall offensive opportunities. However, I think the biggest thing standing in the way of Theodore breaking out is his injury history. In his six seasons in the NHL, he’s yet to play a full 82 games, including three seasons where he missed 20-plus games.

Shea Theodore Vegas Golden Knights
Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While it’s nearly impossible to project how many games someone will end up playing, it’s hard to believe that a player of Theodore’s caliber and importance to the offense would have such a drastic decrease in production. If he is able to stay healthy and take over the role as the top power play quarterback, I would go as far as to say that Theodore has a serious chance to enter the Norris Trophy conversation this season.

Final Thoughts

While individual player projections can be fun to talk and debate about, it’s hard to read too much into them with the NHL season being so unpredictable. For example, the offensive output from the Golden Knights in the 2022-23 postseason was uncharacteristically high in comparison to how they performed in the regular season. Combining that with the absence of one of their most consistent offensive players in Smith, it makes it difficult to project which players will succeed.

Regardless, the Golden Knights have much higher aspirations for the 2023-24 season, and won’t be too concerned with individual accolades. Following a Stanley Cup championship the expectations for this team are incredibly high, and the competition in the Pacific Division has only gotten stronger. There’s going to be a ton of intriguing storylines to follow throughout the entire season, and I hope you’re as excited as I am for things to get started.

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