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Chandler Stephenson Not Ready to Give Jack Eichel His Spot as Golden Knight’s Top Center

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Chandler Stephenson Vegas Golden Knights (Photo- Vegas Golden Knights via Twitter)

The Vegas Golden Knights have been no stranger to blockbuster trades and acquisitions. After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in year one, the team has gone all-in on acquiring talented players like Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and now Jack Eichel to try and recapture that lightning trapped in a bottle.

But one of the best trades in Golden Knights history did not involve any major prospects like Peyton Krebs or Nick Suzuki, rather just a simple fifth-round pick. On December 3, 2019, the Vegas Golden Knights acquired Chandler Stephenson from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick.

That pick would, in turn, become Ty Murchison who has currently never played in the NHL. Stephenson also signed a four-year $11 million dollar contract which pays him $2.75 annually, a contract.

First Line Center Chandler Stephenson

Fast forward a few years later and Stephenson has 28 points in 27 games, seven assists in his last two games, and leads the Vegas Golden Knights in scoring. His chemistry with Stone and Pacioretty has been off the charts and the three are working like a machine on the ice since the line has been reunited.

Most of the attention and praise has been directed towards Pacioretty’s scoring, and rightfully so, the winger has twelve goals in eleven games. But even when both Stone and Pacioretty were out of the lineup, Stephenson led the team in scoring playing with different linemates.

Since then the Golden Knights have gotten back both Stone and Pacioretty, and also importantly, William Karlsson. Having Karlsson back in the lineup allows the Golden Knights to re-establish their one-two center punch with Karlsson and Stephenson.

Chandler Stephenson Deserves to Stay on the Top-Line

But that was not enough for Golden Knight’s general manager Kelly McCrimmon as on November 4th, 2021, Jack Eichel was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel, once he comes back is without a doubt the best center that the Golden Knights have at their disposal.

A while back I wrote on what could become of the Golden Knights line combinations once Jack Eichel returns. I, like many others, pictured Eichel centering Stone and Pacioretty on the Golden Knights first-line. Truly an elite trio and the best three players the Golden Knights have at each forward position.

But with Stephenson continuing to score and the chemistry continuing to grow, it is becoming more likely that he stays with Stone and Patches. It is also very unlikely that Golden Knights head coach Peter Deboer will separate the second line of Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault. These three players have played together for five seasons now and also have tremendous chemistry.

Where Does Jack Eichel End Up?

So does this mean that Jack Eichel will be the Golden Knight’s third-line center? Well, from a technical standpoint, yes. But from a lineup depth perspective, no. What many people tend to forget is that line combinations in hockey are not power rankings. When a coach puts together his lines he isn’t doing so by ranking his players by who is the better players.

Managing the ice time will be a challenge for DeBoer as he has a heck of a lot of players that can play big minutes. But it is a good problem to have and the lineup depth for the Golden Knights is set to be insane.

The Golden Knights are in a unique situation in which they have essentially three first lines. Jack Eichel on his own can make any line a good line (just look at some of the players he played with in Buffalo).

Who Will Be Eichel’s Wingers?

But who does Eichel play with? The easy answer is to assume that he takes the wingers from the Golden Knight’s third line in Mattias Janmark and Evgenii Dadonov. Cap issues will likely prevent that from happening as it is likely that a forward will have to be sacrificed for cap space.

I am under the assumption that it will not be Smith that gets moved. It makes no sense for the team to trade a player of his caliber when they are in win-now mode.

For the sake of this thought exercise, let’s assume Dadonov and his $5 million cap hit is shipped out.  That leaves Janmark on the left side with Eichel.

William Carrier, Nicolas Roy, Keegan Kolesar, Brett Howden, Adam Brooks, Michael Amadio, and Nolan Patrick are the remaining forwards in the Golden Knights organization left to pick from. None of these names scream top-line right-winger. But again, the Golden Knights will be in a unique situation where the discussion of numbered lines is just a suggestion.

I have Carrier, Roy, and Kolesar as fourth-line players. Howden, Brooks, and Amadio who are already struggling to find consistent ice time will likely have it worse once Eichel comes back.

Is Nolan Patrick the Answer?

Nolan Patrick is an interesting case. The 23-year old is similar to Eichel in that he is a former number-two overall pick who has also been injury-prone. He has only played four games with the Golden Knights this season and is now sidelined once more with an unknown return timetable. He has been skating with the Golden Knights in a red no-contact jersey for the past couple of practices.

Patrick is typically a center but can play right-wing as well. His career numbers aren’t anything special with him plateauing out at around 30 points in this first two seasons in the NHL. But again, thanks to injuries, we have not had a good look at Patrick this season in Las Vegas. For the brief time that he was with the team, he played in a top-six role due to injuries.

You never know with a guy like Patrick. All you can hope for is that he can get healthy and stay that way for the Golden Knights. But the talent is certainly there and he is still young. Playing with Jack Eichel would also allow him to potentially boost his numbers and gain some confidence.

Here is to hoping both Eichel and Patrick can come back better than ever for the Golden Knights. Having both of them back will allow the Golden Knights to have deadly Stanley-Cup caliber forward depth.

Vegas Hockey Now’s Projected Golden Knights Line Combinations.

Max Pacioretty- Chandler Stephenson- Mark Stone

Mattias Janmark- Jack Eichel- Nolan Patrick

Jonathan Marchessault- William Karlsson- Reilly Smith

William Carrier- Nicolas Roy- Keegan Kolesar

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Owen Krepps covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now and writes for the Boulder City Review-Journal. A 2022 Robert Morris University graduate, he has previously written for RMU Sentry Media, Colonial Sports Network, The Titusville Herald, Pittsburgh Sports Now, and Pittsburgh Hockey Now.

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