For the first time in a long time, the Golden Knights enter the season without a clear picture of exactly where they stand in the Pacific Division. There’s an easy argument to make for them staying among the top contenders, but it’s also not hard to point to the season as a reason why they can’t.
Let’s stay on the positive side today and see what it takes for the Golden Knights to hoist the third division banner in six years. If Vegas hits one of those marks, they’ll not only advance to the playoffs, they’ll win the Pacific.
Brett Howden, Nick Roy or anyone else with a career score under 100 scores 60 points.
One of the biggest questions for the Golden Knights this season is depth. Although they have a host of NHL-quality players in the slot to play in the bottom-six, there are not many proven goal scorers among the lot. Howden and Roy are the clear favorites to take the giant step forward, but the likes of Paul Cotter, Brendan Bryson, Sakari Manninen, Jonas Rondbjerg or a few other names could also jump in.
For the Golden Knights to be the dominant force in the division, they need an unexpected result from someone. It doesn’t matter where it happens in the lineup. If the player lines up with Jack Eichel or Mark Stone, that leaves a more established scorer to bolster the third line. Or, if it happens on the third or fourth line, Vegas can load the top-six.
The combination of Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, William Carlson, Jonathan Marchesout, and Alex Pietrangelo won’t miss more than 30 games.
No team can afford to lose their best players for a while, but some can handle it better than others. The Golden Knights were not prepared to deal with a storm that lacked any of their biggest offensive weapons. Vegas needs one of these five players to score and all of them will take on huge responsibilities defensively against the opposition’s best. If one or more is missing for more than a week here or there, it leaves a roster driver with already shallow holes.
VJK is set up a little better defensively to keep Pietrangelo out, but his shoulder-loading minutes and value in a transition offense will be irreplaceable with the likes of Ben Hutton, Kedan Korchak or Daniil Miromanov.
The team the Golden Knights bring to camp on paper is certainly good enough to win the division, mainly because of the roles everyone falls into at full health. They’re stacked in the middle, have a solid top-six, boast a cohesive defense, and have enough depth to fill a full 18-skater roster. If you miss one or two guys not listed above, you’ll be fine, but even just one month without a single best guy will be expensive.
VGK finishes in the top 10 with 5-for-5 with the least high risk allowed
Bruce Cassidy’s “goalie” system is based on getting the puck out of the middle of the ice and winning pucks in front of the net. During his time in Boston, the Bruins were one of the toughest teams to create high scoring chances at goaltending. Last year, and at times during the first three seasons, the Golden Knights fell short in this category.
If Cassidy’s defensive system fits in Vegas and Boston, at least one of Logan Thompson, Aiden Hill or Laurent Brossoit could hold down the fort, eliminating any goaltending concerns. The scoring woes that have plagued the Golden Knights will be frustrating because it only takes two or three nights to win most games.
The Golden Knights have done it before and still have plenty of players to lead the team to the Jennings Trophy, but they slipped last year, and getting him back is the only way to get back to the NHL elite.
Power play and penalty kill percentage combined of at least 106%
The last part comes on special teams. Cassidy is known as a wizard on the power play, and VGK is widely expected to improve on their 18.4% clip from a year ago. The question is more on the penalty kill. Vegas killed just 77.4% of their penalties last year, which was 21st best in the NHL.
So, combined, the Golden Knights’ special teams finished just 95.8 percent of the time. Only seven teams have done worse, six of which finished in the bottom ten in the overall standings last year. 106% is a lot to ask, but six different teams did it a year ago. They all shot at least 82% or in the league’s top ten on the penalty kill.
The Golden Knights will make significant improvements in both departments. If they do this, every other issue the team has will disappear as the special teams dominance will be scored overnight.
Therefore, you will see the Gual Ansity. Do those four things and the Golden Knights should roll to 105+ points and crush the rest in the Pacific.
Tomorrow, we’ll do the opposite and examine what would have to happen for the Golden Knights to miss the playoffs in back-to-back years.