The past three years have been a roller coaster of emotions for the young Vegas Golden Knights. They’ve made playoff appearances in all four seasons and came three victories short of hoisting the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season, losing to Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals four games to one. This season presents new challenges as Vegas says goodbye to fan favorites and key players Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Reaves. Although these moves will tug at the heartstrings of the newly-born Vegas faithful, the Golden Knights are focused on revamping this roster and pushing for another solid cup run.
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Vegas has a deep forward group with multiple players looking to crack a top spot. As room may be made for defense down the line, some players need to stand out this season. Throughout last season, Mark Stone showcased amazing defensive awareness. He proved he has what it takes on both ends to be a productive top forward. Breaking 25+ goals for Stone this season will be a milestone to look for, as Vegas still looks for a true number one center to help tend to the lack of offensive production in the clutch. The line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith has shown to be the most electric line on this Golden Knights squad. Look for them to maintain that momentum in the coming season.
There is little room for improvement on the Vegas top defensive pairings, as Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo are locked up for the coming seasons, keeping two big-time defenders on the blue line for the Golden Knights. However, if Shea Theodore is able to recover from his injury, he has the opportunity to prove he should stay in the top four alongside Brayden McNabb. The defense has been a pillar of Vegas’ success so far in the NHL, and with a defensive mindset in forwards like Stone and Smith, this team has shown that they’ve all bought in on a physical and scrappy style of play.
Robin Lehner will be a crucial player in this season’s outcome due to the departure of Fleury. Lehner posted a respectable record last season, but as the new number one, there is reason to believe that Lehner will start at least 55 games or more this season if healthy. Laurent Brossoit is a heavy favorite for the backup spot, although it should be noted that Logan Thompson is under contract and has the chance to fight for that role or potentially fill in if an injury were to occur. The NHL season is a strenuous and brutal marathon, giving plenty of reason to bet on Vegas starting three goalies in the 2021-2022 season.
Stone didn’t score 40 goals or put up 30 assists last year. However, he did prove to be one of the most important players on this Golden Knights team, bringing energy and grit to this team that no other player on this planet could provide. He belongs in Vegas, and this season gives him a chance to get his team back in contention for the Stanley Cup.
Biggest Question Facing the Golden Knights
The ultimate goal in this league is the Stanley Cup. Although the Vegas franchise is only a few years old, this roster has shown they have what it takes to put themselves in a position for top seeding in post-season play. Coming so close to a title in their first season, as well as a Western Conference appearance in 2021, the Vegas front office is looking to show the world that they have the players capable of finishing the job. If injured players can rehab properly and the backup goalie position is solidified, this Golden Knights team has the makings of a playoff threat to the Western Conference.
With an incredible standard of winning hockey already established in Sin City, expectations for this team have never been higher. When this team struggles, it typically isn’t on the defensive side, so adjustments on the offensive end will need to be made. Lower tier forwards will need to step up into a role they may not be familiar with in order for this club to push deep into the 2022 post-season. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Golden Knights back in the playoff tournament in 2022, looking to seal the deal and put a gold banner in the rafters at T-Mobile Arena.
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