Watching Shea Theodore has been one of the most fun experiences this season. He's been excellent since his start in the AHL, and he's successfully transitioning into the NHL at both ends of the ice.
It started in Chicago, where Theodore began the season with the Wolves. He was the number one defenseman, taking shifts on the penalty kill, the power play, and taking a lot of the 5-on-5 shifts. He basically was the Wolves' defense.
Chicago's first two games were in Texas, and he made one of the most impressive plays of the year for the Wolves. He skated around three guys in the defensive and neutral zones, making them look like they were caught in cement. That's not a one-time thing, either. He did this at the NHL level:
Jonathan Marchessault finishes, but look at this freakin' zone entry by Shea Theodore. pic.twitter.com/8oYiZEkJ3y— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
Reminder that the Anaheim Ducks gave this guy away for nothing. pic.twitter.com/oPgLTEFmhH— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 31, 2017
That's the Toronto Maple Leafs — a defensively solid team. Yet, Theodore rips them apart like they're paper. His skating and stick work has consistently been there this season, and that's only part of his game.
Theodore has also become better defensively as the season has gone on. Here's the type of play he's able to make now:
Shea Theodore is figuring out defense. Uh oh. pic.twitter.com/tMsIsdtfZV— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 20, 2017
That's against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 19. Offensive plays weren't the only ones he was making in that game (though he scored four points), and it's not all he's done with the Golden Knights.
Whether his improving defense is a result of his pairing with the experienced veteran Deryk Engelland, the coaching staff in Vegas or his own motivation to get better in his own zone (or a combination of the three), it's working.
Theodore is playing against quality competition and still finding ways to drive possession. According to Corsica, Theodore has played against the fifth best competition of Vegas defenseman at even strength. He rises to fourth if Jason Garrison is excluded.
The defensemen ahead of him? Nate Schmidt, Luca Sbisa, and Brayden McNabb. The three defensemen leaned on most in defensive situations, and Theodore is right there, making a case for himself as a top-four defenseman.
Theodore is also fourth on the Knights' defense with a 52.92 Corsi For percentage at even strength. Theodore's also been the best defenseman in terms of penalties (and penalty differential), as he's drawn three and has taken only one, that being halfway into the season. He is quietly making a case for the Lady Byng Trophy.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Theodore is second amongst all the Knights' defense in shot share with 54.32 percent when he's playing even-strength. That's helped lead to a good goal differential, as he has a 57.45 percent goal share, though that's fifth on the team.
Theodore's offense could change that goal share the rest of the season, however. He has four goals, 11 assists, and 15 points in 31 games.
That's despite Theodore not adding a point until his third game with the Golden Knights, and he didn't score a goal until his seventh game. He turned it on before the break, however, and had eight points in the 10 games before the bye week.
Theodore has a point per game rate of .48 and points per 60 rate of .96 at even strength. He's fourth on the defense in points per 60 and rises to third in primary points per 60, with .72. Theodore has 4.61 points per 60 on the power play, the second-best amongst Vegas defensemen who have played 60 minutes or more on the man advantage.
He has the same amount of even-strength goals (three) as Engelland and Colin Miller despite 200 fewer minutes. That's tied for most on the team.
In every statistical category, Theodore has shown growth from seasons past. He's already gotten more scoring chances than last year, despite playing in three fewer games.
He's close to creating more rebounds and has limited his giveaways while getting more than twice as many giveaways than last season. In other words, Theodore is playing better as he's playing more consistently.
He's playing his fair share of defensive zone shifts at even strength as well, with 44 percent of his shifts starting there. Gerard Gallant is trusting Theodore to play a more all-around game, showing how Theodore may develop going into the future.
Theodore's already shown massive positive change at even strength. Theodore, in his first 10 games with the Golden Knights, had a Corsi For percentage of 50, a shot share of 51.38 percent, and a goal share of 43.75 percent. His takeaway to giveaway ratio was .11 (he had one takeaway and nine giveaways) and averaged 16:07 of even-strength time.
In the last 10 games, Theodore had a Corsi of 55.62 percent, a shot share of 57.29 percent, and a goal share of 68.75 percent. His turnover ratio was 1-for-1 (he had four giveaways and four takeaways) and averaged a full minute more (17:07) of even-strength time. Theodore hasn't been scored on at even strength in four games and has been on the ice for five goals in that time.
Theodore has also gone in the right directions in terms of high danger chances and faceoffs. Theodore has gone from allowing 32 high-danger chances while on the ice along with 28 chances for, to 31 chances for and 25 chances against. He's beginning to lock down the defensive zone while opening up the offensive zone.
With faceoffs, Theodore has gone from 61 offensive zone faceoffs and 42 defensive zone faceoffs (59.22 percent offensive) to 64 and 46 (58.18). That's a smaller change, but it's telling again of his improvements in the defensive zone.
His stats have only improved from the start of the season, and they look to continue to improve.
Yet, as good as this season has been, Theodore has a lot more room to grow. He's not going to be fifth on the team in goal share in five years, or at least, he shouldn't be.
He should continue to grow in his own zone, becoming a better all-around defenseman. He has the best potential of the Golden Knights' current defensemen and is still relatively young at 22.
An elite class
It seems like the sky is the limit for Theodore, and whoever you want to compare him to - whether it be Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty - even Erik Karlsson - it all seems possible.
Rookie seasons because this is essentially Theodore's rookie season. He didn't play consistently in Anaheim, and missed weeks and months at a time, playing only 34 games last season.
Theodore will likely surpass each of those defensemen's offensive production in their rookie seasons, perhaps even their age 22 seasons. Keith only had 9-12—21 at age 22, his rookie season. Doughty had 10-26—36 at 22 (6-21—27 as a 19-year-old rookie) and Karlsson, while hurt, had 6-8—14 (5-21—26, also 19).
He's already past Karlsson at 22 and is just six points behind Keith.
In terms of possession stats, Theodore compares favorably to those three in their rookie seasons. He's better than Doughty in every category except high-danger share and is worse than Keith (in available stats) only in on-ice save percentage.
Theodore has taken more defensive shifts by percentage than Karlsson and has a smaller fall from offensive zone percentage to Corsi For percentage (though he's slightly behind in Corsi).
He's got more points-per-game than Karlsson (.48 versus .43) and isn't far behind in high-danger chance percentage, average time on ice, blocks (42 to 48), and takeaway to giveaway ratio (at even-strength) (.59 to .65). The thing is, Theodore has about half a season left to catch up.
Theodore could continue to grow like they did, as well. If he proves himself for the rest of the season, and his offense continues to excel, there's no reason not to give him more minutes next season. Giving Theodore a bigger, more evenly distributed workload could lead to even better stats.
If Theodore reaches his potential, the Golden Knights may have gotten a top-end franchise defenseman out of the expansion draft.