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Can the Golden Knights Defensemen Have Another Strong Season?



Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights playoff win, Edmonton Oilers

The Vegas Golden Knights have one of the best defensive units in the National Hockey League. Much was made about their blend of physicality, skill, and speed. Anchored by 15-year veteran Alex Pietrangelo, there is no shortage of experience among the three defensive pairings.

Coach Bruce Cassidy brought a goaltender-friendly system to the Vegas Golden Knights upon being hired prior to last season. In short, Cassidy’s goaltender-friendly system protects high-danger chances and limits odd-man rushes by taking fewer chances in the neutral zone. The Golden Knights defensemen have a huge role in keeping Cassidy’s system friendly for the goaltenders.

Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Nicolas Hauge, and Zach Whitecloud make up the top defensive units for the Golden Knights. Of a possible 492 games, the top-six defensemen appeared in 427 contests (86.7%). This is not one of the youngest defensive cores in the NHL so 86.7% seems like a decent number.

Below is a breakdown of the top defensive pairings.

Pietrangelo / Martinez: The 2022-23 season was a healthy one for the top defensive pairing. The two combined for 150 of a possible 162 games played. If not for missing time due to a personal matter, Pietrangelo might have played every game last season.

It’s fair to be concerned about the wear and tear on Pietrangelo and Martinez. After all, they combined for a total of 1,972 NHL games played. Regression is looming. However, their experience will keep them as one of the top defensive units in the league.

Theodore / McNabb: These two couldn’t have more opposite styles. Theodore can rush the puck and contribute from the opposition’s blue line and McNabb is the definition of a stay-at-home-defenseman. McNabb appeared in all 82 games last season while Theodore appeared in 55 due to injuries.

The outlook remains bright for the second pairing. One has to wonder if Theodore is on the verge of breaking out. Theodore was pacing for a 60-point season last year.

Hague / Whitecloud: Hague appeared in 81 of the 82 regular season games. He missed the first game due to his contract situation. Whitecloud appeared in 59 games for the second season in a row. Is Whitecloud going to spend large portions of each season injured as his career progresses?

The Hague / Whitecloud defensive pairing is quite possibly the best third defensive pairing in the NHL. Many teams are struggling to have two consistent defensive pairings, the Golden Knights have three solid pairings. The future is bright for this pairing.

As the story is with all NHL teams, injuries will be the key factor for the Golden Knights defensemen. If the the top six defensemen can play around 85% of next season’s regular season games, the Golden Knights will continue to be known as having one of the best defensive units in the NHL.

It will be interesting to see how long general manager Kelly McCrimmon wishes to keep the Golden Knights defensive pairings intact. Martinez becomes an unrestricted free agent for the 2024-25 season. Theodore and McNabb will become unrestricted free agents in the 2025-26 season. Pietrangelo is locked up through the 2026-27 season and Whitecloud is locked up through the 2027-28 season.

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