The Vegas Golden Knights are one game off from the halfway mark of the 2021-22 NHL season. They currently sit first in the Pacific Division with 48 points in their 40 games played. For the most part, the team has had a successful season so far with a winning record and a current spot in the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.
With the team once again on a multi-day break from game action, let’s go over some of the pleasant surprises the Golden Knights have had this season. This is part one of a two-part mini-series released going over both the positive and negative surprises from the Golden Knights season which is now almost halfway over.
1- Jack Eichel Is A Vegas Golden Knight
Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Jack Eichel is a Vegas Golden Knight. Not only that but he is skating with the team, and is inching closer and closer to his return/debut which is expected in February. Eichel is coming off of artificial disk replacement surgery which he had done to his neck in mid-November.
I think we all knew that the Golden Knights were interested in Eichel, but never truly thought about how realistic the trade could have been until it happened. On November 4th, the Golden Knights traded Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 second-round pick in exchange for Eichel and a 2023 third-round pick.
This is only the beginning of the Jack Eichel saga in Las Vegas. The superstar center has yet to even play a game for the Golden Knights but will no doubt be an impact player for the team. This is less of a pleasant surprise and more of an exciting blockbuster deal by Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
2- Chandler Stephenson Is Becoming Borderline Elite
On just about any team in the NHL Eichel would slot in as your first-line center. But Golden Knights forward Chandler Stephenson has some different ideas for when Eichel joins the Golden Knights. As the team’s current first-line center, Stephenson has 37 points in 39 games played. He leads the team in scoring by almost ten points from the next player.
He has been one of the few Golden Knights who has stayed fully healthy, only missing one game for personal reasons. Due to this, Stephenson has seen several linemates this season from William Carrier and Evgenii Dadonov to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. But no matter who Stephenson plays with, he ends up finding success.
Stolen from the Washington Capitals for just a mere fifth-round pick, Stephenson has emerged as a top-six player for the Golden Knights. When Eichel is inserted into the Golden Knight’s lineup, head coach Peter DeBoer will have plenty of options with his centermen.
3- Alex Pietrangelo Is A Horse
The other night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Alex Pietrangelo played 32 minutes and 55 seconds of ice time which set a new career-high for the veteran defenseman. At 32 years old today (happy birthday) Pietrangelo still continues to be one of the top defensemen in the entire National Hockey League. Petro has six goals and 20 assists for 26 points in 38 games.
We have seen Pietrangelo’s role increase throughout the season when certain defensemen have gone down due to injury and COVID-19. In the same aforementioned game against the Maple Leafs, Pietrangelo played his off-side of left defense with Alec Martinez, Nicolas Hague, and Shea Theodore all out. Similar to Stephenson, Pietrangelo has played well no matter who he is skating with on a line/defensive pairing.
With the health of the team always fluctuating, having Pietrangelo as the reliable puck-moving defenseman on the back end has been a major part of the Golden Knight’s success this season. There is a reason why the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion is headed to the 2022 NHL All-Star Game with Mark Stone and Peter DeBoer.
4- The Emergence Of Zach Whitecloud
Another name on the defensive side of the game that may not be getting as much respect is Zach Whitecloud. After signing a six-year extension in October, the defenseman has emerged as a reliable two-way option for Peter DeBoer. Whitecloud missed twelve games with a wrist injury in the early parts of the season but came back in dramatic fashion, scoring two goals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Whitecloud has five goals, six assists, and eleven points in 28 games played this season. He has two multi-goal games and has seen his ice time take a drastic increase as he now averages 19:07 of ice time per game. With the Golden Knights being the cap-strapped and often injured team that they are, Whitecloud could become a top-four defenseman with the team in the next couple of years.
5- Adversity Through Injury
Part two of this series will be released later today which will go over five negative surprises for the Golden Knights. But I want to make it clear that all things considered the Vegas Golden Knights are in a very good spot halfway through the 2021-22 season all things considered.
Injuries have ravaged the team especially early on, and COVID-19 has continued to affect every team in the NHL. But the Golden Knights have taken it in stride, persevered, and sit atop the Pacific Division standings.
The depth in the organization has really come to life. We have already talked about the workload of Stephenson and Pietrangelo but how about guys like Nicolas Roy, Keegan Kolesar, and Brayden McNabb? Even Henderson Silver Knights call-ups in Jonas Rondbjerg, Daniil Miromanov, and Jake Leschyshyn have had a part in the Golden Knight’s success.
The phrase “when fully healthy” is one that gets said far too often in sports these days. I think we are starting to realize that, especially with COVID-19, some teams will never get to that point. But for the Golden Knights, it is reassuring knowing that the team can still compete even without key players like Max Pacioretty, Alec Martinez, or Mark Stone.