2017-18 Player Review: Shea Theodore emerges as Golden Knights’ top young star

The 23-year-old defenseman gets high marks for his first full season, but there’s still room to improve.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

One of the most important things that happened during the expansion draft and the build up to it were the trades. That’s how the Vegas Golden Knights acquired players like Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch and Erik Haula, and William Karlsson. Several of the most important pieces in Vegas’s success.

The trade that’s the most forgotten about is the one that netted the Golden Knights a young defenseman by the name of Shea Theodore. The Anaheim Ducks needed to protect other defensemen, and so gave up Theodore along with the contract of Clayton Stoner (promptly put on long-term injured reserve).

If his first season was any indication, Theodore is going to just get better and may end up becoming Vegas’s franchise defenseman. The Ducks may have made a mistake as big as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, or Minnesota Wild.

Season in review

It took Theodore a little longer than expected to earn a permanent role in the Knights’ lineup, but once that happened, there was no turning back. Granted, there were a few hiccups along the way. Theodore didn’t play consistently until the middle of November, and even then, missed the second half of February due to an injury.

Once Theodore found his footing, however, he became a crucial member of the Knights’ blue line. He was second in points per 60 at even strength with 1.05 behind only, and this is confounding, Luca Sbisa. He also ranked first in primary points per 60. He faced the third-best competition of all Vegas defensemen (who played in at least half of Vegas’ regular season games) with a 28.78 time on ice percentage based on competition.

His possession stats mirror his excellent production. He had a 52.43 percent Corsi (second amongst Knights defensemen with more than 500 minutes), 52.97 percent shot share (second), 52.04 percent goal share (fifth), 52.34 percent scoring chance share (fourth), 46.07 percent high-danger chance share (seventh) and 54.76 percent high-danger goal share (second) at even strength. And he accomplished all of this with a 54.8 percent offensive zone start percentage.

Theodore’s defensive heat maps look interesting, though, bringing up a major area in which he can improve. With Theodore:

Without Theodore:

He’s done a fine job at preventing shots from the circle, but still needs to get better at keeping opposing players out of the high-danger and high-rebound areas. This all makes sense, considering Theodore was tied for the most high-danger chances against per 60 at 5-on-5 (the tie is with his partner Engelland).

Quite simply, Theodore needs to be better defensively, and he was in the playoffs. Theodore’s even strength possession stats in the postseason: 55.13 percent Corsi (second), 53.58 percent shot share (first), 53.13 percent goal share (seventh), 56.77 percent scoring chance share (third), 53.13 percent high-danger chance share (third) and 54.55 percent high-danger goal share (fifth).

He became the third-best in terms of high-danger chances allowed, even as his offensive zone shift percentage began to even out. Engelland, known more as a stay-at-home defender, ultimately allowed over a whole percentage point more in chances against per 60 at 5-on-5 (12.64 for Theodore, 13.75 for Engelland).

Theodore also made his partners better as well, at least in terms of possession stats.

Shea Theodore and Friends

Pairing (EV)TOICorsiShot ShareGoal ShareScoring ChanceHigh-DangerHD Goal ShareOn Ice Save %Off. Faceoff %
Engelland with803:45:0049.3250.2351.5249.7344.2853.570.92553.28
Engelland without555:28:0046.2246.348.3346.7645.45500.90138.36
Miller with125:39:0063.664.3435.7162.7551.2842.860.80467.86
Miller without1177:43:0055.3754.035155.7554.5943.640.9161.09
Playoffs Engy w/279:07:0054.3953.5558.3357.1453.8555.560.92451.37
Playoffs Engy w/o70:58:0042.8637.52539.7339.2900.9444.12
Playoffs Miller w/26:46:0072.1368076.1983.3300.62577.42
Playoffs Miller w/o280:07:0051.8248.1272.2255.5652.0469.230.96456.71
Playoffs Schmidt w/36:42:0055.415066.6753.3340500.94741.67
Playoffs Schmidt w/o356:16:0050.3649.7160.7149.0241.0961.540.93641.87
Theodore w/o Engy254:04:0060.9260.9653.1359.2151.0257.140.86860.8
Playoff Theo w/o Engy92:30:0057.2953.6837.555.5650500.88660.32

As you can see, Theodore’s presence routinely improved his defensive partners’ statistics, especially in getting the puck back up the ice. Even Nate Schmidt, when starting more in the defensive zone with Theodore, had better possession stats and got the puck on the opposing net more often.

It’s also important to look at what Theodore is able to do when he’s not with Engelland. Yes, his on-ice save percentage dips dramatically, but part of that may be not playing with Marc-Andre Fleury for parts of his time away from Engelland. With a faster defensive partner, someone like Schmidt or Brayden McNabb, Theodore has the capacity to be even better.

Standout moments

Theodore’s biggest play of the year didn’t come at a crucial time. It didn’t change a game, it didn’t make an impact in the playoffs. It came when the Golden Knights already had a big lead, and Theodore’s play just helped maintain it.

Vegas has the lead, 4-2, over the Blue Jackets. Theodore passes the puck up ice to William Karlsson, who tucks it home and makes it 5-2. Here’s the play:

The reason this is such a huge moment: it looks a hell of a lot like this play.

Any time a defenseman looks like one of the best, it’s a significant moment. Theodore resembles Erik Karlsson besides that play as well.

If Theodore can get to the holy land, where he’s a contender for Norrises, there’s a good reason why Vegas didn’t give up Theo for Karlsson.

Also, if you’re looking for a significant moment, a signature move from Theodore, here it is. Game one of the Stanley Cup Final, he sets up the game winner.

KOI composite grade: B+

Theodore didn’t get an A from anybody on the Knights on Ice staff (except for me). That might be because Theodore left room for improve, especially in his own zone. It may be the fact that he only had 29 points in 61 games, or perhaps Game 3 is still fresh in every one’s minds (but everybody [except Schmidt] had moments of weakness in the Final).

I gave him an A because he looked impressive in every game he played. He’s one of the best pure skaters on the Golden Knights’ roster, probably the best, and he has all the tools to be an excellent offensive defenseman, and he showed it. He improved over the course of the season, especially in his own zone. He was also a key reason the Golden Knights did so well in the playoffs, and when he was given a partner who could cover for him better than Engelland could, he was excellent.

Especially in terms of pre-season expectations, Theodore did excellently. At most, it was thought he would be learning on the job, likely playing on the third pairing with a veteran, getting minutes but not being asked to do too much. He became one of the most dependable defensemen on the team, and was used heavily in the playoffs. Still, there is room for improvement.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

First, Theodore needs a contract. He’s the last restricted free agent left, and because he wasn’t arbitration eligible, there’s no timeline. He’ll likely get a bridge deal, as it’s too early to tell what he can do long-term, and Theodore should be willing to gamble on himself at this young age.

There will be more responsibility for Theodore this season, in all likelihood. He’s proven that he’s an NHL-caliber defenseman and more. Depending on whether the Golden Knights acquire more help, Theodore could even be on the top pairing with Nate Schmidt. That pairing did work well in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and it would be interesting to see what they could do together long term.

It seems like his offensive production is bound to grow, as it doesn’t feel like Theodore will be a .5 points per game producer past his first full season. Especially with a defensive partner more offensively capable than Engelland.

If he does move up, look for Theodore to be one of the best scorers among defensemen.

How would you grade Theodore’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0