The season is almost upon us. In just a few hours, the Vegas Golden Knights will make their regular season debut as an NHL franchise! Excitement!
To make the lead-up to puck drop a little more interesting, we’ve compiled a list of bold predictions that we think have a solid shot at becoming reality.
Jonathan Marchessault will lead the Golden Knights in points — Ryan
One could reasonably argue that no player on the Golden Knights’ roster has been as impressive this preseason as Marchessault. The 26-year-old forward, claimed by Vegas in June’s expansion draft from the Florida Panthers, has displayed elite skills as a playmaker and given fans an in-depth look at what made him such a force during his 30-goal breakout campaign last season. Marchessault is reuniting with his former bench boss from the Panthers and will also be playing alongside former and current teammate Reilly Smith, so he shouldn’t feel too out of place while getting acclimated to his new home. It may seem like a stretch now, but don’t be surprised when Marchessault erupts for an All-Star worthy campaign this season.
Vadim Shipachyov will live up to his contract, but will neither eclipse 20 goals nor 40 assists — Dalton
Don’t get me wrong, I love Shippy as much as anyone else. Yes, he scored an absurd 76 points (26 goals, 50 assists) in just 50 KHL contests last season, but this is the NHL, where the competition is better and, with respect to Reilly Smith and Jon Marchessault, he does not have Ilya Kovalchuk on his line anymore. Given that Shipachyov is on the wrong side of 30 and has to adjust to the North American ice, a 20-goal or 40-assist season simply is not in the cards for the veteran Russian pivot. Y’know, unless of course he shoots an absurd 27.1 percent again.
Vegas will end up with exactly 69 points — Dalton
Just hear me out here. First of all, their over/under is currently set at 68.5 points. Now, talent-wise and coaching-wise, I’d lean more towards a point total in the mid-70s, which is certainly an achievement for an expansion team. However, there’s likely to be a fire sale near the deadline in hopes of either tanking (#AllInForDahlin) or acquiring even more picks, especially considering that they have just six picks in the 2018 draft (only two of which are in the first three rounds). That is not nice.
Shea Theodore will end the season as a No. 1 defenseman — Shepard
Shea Theodore, one of the best defensemen and one of the youngest on the Golden Knights roster, was a prize acquired from the Anaheim Ducks prior to the expansion draft. Now, this prediction is particularly bold because of Theodore’s youth and because the Knights currently have him playing for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. But hear me out.
Theodore didn’t play a full season last year. He played in only 34 games. During those 34 games, however, he registered two goals and nine points and had 17 minutes on ice per game. That’s more than Schmidt had, and his .26 points-per-game was also remarkably similar. Theodore also had more points and more minutes during the playoffs. The Ducks, a team that made the Western Conference Final, trusted Theodore with 17 minutes and 25 seconds a night.
Theodore is also in an easier contract situation than Schmidt. He’ll be a restricted free agent next season, which could lead to a bigger pay day. But Schmidt was taken to arbitration, a one-time event in a player’s career, and something that might leave a bitter taste. Theodore can also play in more varied situations, and while he’ll need to prove himself over his first full season, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility he leaves this season as the first true core member of the Golden Knights.
Cody Eakin will set a career high in goals and/or points — Jillian
As we inch closer and closer to the start of the regular season, one name you might not hear too often is Cody Eakin. That's likely because his is not one of the names thrown around in discussions of excitement surrounding the Golden Knights' debut season in the NHL. However, Eakin could surprise you this season by setting a career high in goals and/or points, which would amount to at least 20 goals or 41 points.
A valid response to that prediction would be to cite the fact that Eakin saw time on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in Dallas yet still was unable to hit the 20-goal milestone. Truthfully, that’s quite fair; no matter how much skill the Knights may have in the group's top-six, it's not remotely comparable to the talent of Benn and Seguin. For that reason, it’s reasonable to count Eakin out this year. But the assumption is that Eakin will fill second-line center duties for the foreseeable future, giving him a defined role with more offensive responsibility than he’s had in the past, which could translate into on-ice confidence for the 26-year-old. While his numbers from last season are painful to consider (three goals, 12 points in 60 games), he finished the year with a career-low 3.7 percent shooting percentage, well below his career average of 10.6 percent.
Additionally, don't underestimate the value of a clean slate and a fresh start, especially coming off such a dreadful performance. Eakin (like everyone on this team) has a lot to prove, and playing between David Perron and James Neal certainly won’t hurt. Perron is coming off an 18-goal, 46-point campaign with St. Louis and Neal has scored at least 22 goals in every season of his nine-year NHL career. Plus, he will be plenty motivated in a contract year and coming off a disappointing finish to an impressive Stanley Cup run with Nashville. Perron's hard-nosed style in conjunction with Neal's sniping abilities could make this a formidable line for the Golden Knights, and that bodes well for Eakin’s chances of bouncing back. He tallied four points in three preseason games and could start to pile up the points once Neal is back in the lineup.