Alas, the day has come. After what’s seemed like an eternity of waiting, the Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season is finally about to begin. Tonight, the Knights take on the Philadelphia Flyers in front of what will likely be a full house at T-Mobile Arena.
Folks, we made it.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we have some predictions to make. We made some bold predictions last season that were, um, pretty bad! But this year, we’re confident that our hot takes will be at least a little more plausible.
Ryan — Tomas Nosek will hit the 30-point threshold
This may not be all that bold, especially considering Nosek posted 15 points in 67 games last season. But with a new role on the third line, it’s hard to imagine Nosek won’t end up doubling his point total from the 2017-18 season. He was one of Vegas’ most impressive players throughout the preseason and looks a lot more confident with the puck on his stick.
Let’s also not forget that he’ll be spending a lot of time with Alex Tuch, who could also be on the verge of breaking out after a largely successful rookie season. Vegas’ first and second lines are getting a lot of attention, but that third line should be pretty fun to watch as well.
Ellis — Max Pacioretty will score more goals than William Karlsson
Last season, William Karlsson and Max Pacioretty (playing for the Canadiens at the time) put up numbers no one really expected. Pacioretty scored only 17 goals with Montreal, making it his first season since 2012–13 that he earned less than 30. Meanwhile, William Karlsson came out of seemingly nowhere with 43 goals for the Knights.
Almost no one is expecting these two to have repeats of the previous season. A rebound is widely anticipated for Pacioretty, and many believe Karlsson’s red hot performance in 2017–18 was a fluke. Clearly these players can be unpredictable, but it’s not impossible to think that Pacioretty could score more goals than Karlsson. It might only be a difference of three or four goals, though. I’m predicting Pacioretty will notch at least 34, while Karlsson could score anywhere in the high 20s or low 30s.
Shepard — Vegas’ second power play unit will outscore the No. 1 unit
If Theodore and Pacioretty remain on the second unit power play, there’s a real chance that unit outscores the first. Theodore had better metrics at even strength last season than Miller and should again this season. He was also better in terms of possession on the power play.
Pacioretty has been good on the power play, but with a better group of forwards in Vegas and with an offensive generator like Theodore, he has room to be even better. He peaked with 10 power-play goals and seven assists in 2013-14, a feat he could accomplish or beat with the Golden Knights.
Throw in the possibility of Alex Tuch playing net-front and Paul Stastny winning faceoffs and the second unit could be the more complete, especially once Nate Schmidt returns.
Mike — Vegas will win a wild card spot at best
I may take the heat as perhaps the most pessimistic KOI writer. My prediction is that the Golden Knights do not finish in the top-3 of their division and, at best, win a wild card spot.
But also possibly miss the playoffs.
I can already hear the readership, including my No. 1 fan, screaming “What is this guy smoking?!” but here is my rationalization which, admittedly, I hope will end up being wrong.
Every player (more or less) on Vegas last season had a career year. Every goalie on Vegas last season somehow managed to finish at, or close to, .500 for the season. Including the third- and fourth-string goalies. Deryk Engelland played 20-plus minutes a night. William Karlsson shot 23.4%. On and on the list goes. The season that was stood in not-so-quiet contradiction to all that we know about the game of hockey and I cannot fathom that kind of magic happening again.
Fleury will be fine. He won’t be Vezina calibre, but he’ll be fine. And if he is injured all will not remain well as it did in 2017-18. The top line will produce, but it will not be top of the league level. The second line will be very good if it manages to stay healthy. However, the depth of the lineup, the average defensive core, the overuse (or use in general) of average-to-below players will hurt them, and the team will struggle. Vegas might still make the playoffs, but fans should be in for a significantly different kind of season this year.
Dalton — William Karlsson will score under 27.5 goals this season
Depending on who you talk to, this is either bold or obvious. Karlsson’s otherworldly shooting percentage will be nearly halved, and he will settle into high-end second line production (50-55 points). This should have major implications on his next salary, which — if I had to take a stab now — will be something in the vicinity of five years and $6.75M.
As a bonus, Tomas Hyka will score at least 15 points for the Knights this year.
Hyka showed promise in his cup of coffee with Vegas last year and has the wheels, the hands and the hockey sense to be a competent third liner. Vegas’ top nine is tough to crack, but injuries are a very real thing in a game such as hockey, so Hyka is likely to see some NHL minutes. He will make the most of them, and cement himself as a reliable bottom-sixer.
Brandon — Marc-Andre Fleury finishes as a Vezina finalist
Fleury was saddled by injuries for much of last season and only ended up starting in 46 games. When healthy, though, he was phenomenal, going 29-13-4 with a 2.24 GAA and .927 save percentage. His strong play also carried into the playoffs, and he was easily the team’s best player during the postseason.
Fleury has played over 60 games seven times in his career, and the 33-year-old should hover around that mark again this season if he can stay healthy. While Malcolm Subban is a reliable backup, the team’s success this year will heavily rely on Fleury’s play. With three Stanley Cup rings in his pocket, the former first-round pick has never been nominated for the Vezina Trophy. That will change in his 14th season, when the veteran netminder will finally get the nod.
Jillian — Tomas Nosek will score 20 goals
This would be a significant jump from the seven he netted last season, but Nosek seems poised for big things in 2018-19. He elevated his game in the Golden Knights’ historic postseason run, scoring four goals and six points in 17 games, including a team-high three goals in the Stanley Cup Final. His strong play carried over to the preseason, and it has not gone unnoticed; in fact, Nosek is set to begin the season on the Knights’ third line, a much-deserved promotion.
Nosek was one of Vegas’ best players in the postseason and arguably the best in the Stanley Cup Final, and he played a crucial role on the fourth line and penalty kill throughout the season. It’s not much of a stretch to expect an increase in production, especially since he’ll get more than the 11:06 of average ice time he got last season. But he seems like a reasonable candidate for a breakout season, and 20 goals feels plenty bold albeit doable for the 26-year-old.
Danny — The Golden Knights will return to the Stanley Cup Final
All this talk of regression. All this talk of coming back to Earth. All this talk of how last year could’ve been a fluke.
I waited all last season for the wheels to fall off the car. I waited for that one moment for the everyone to throw their hands in the air and go, “Son of a bitch, it’s time to get off the magic carpet.” Not this time. Vegas will return to the Stanley Cup Final. Once they get there, it’s fair game.
This team is good, and it got even better this offseason with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. A healthy Alex Tuch will round out the top nine and give the Golden Knights a much more deeper scoring attack than last year. Their 200-foot games will be difference makers this year, unlike James Neal and David Perron.
William Karlsson may not score 43 goals again, but he’ll hit 30. Jonathan Marchessault will ascend to being one of the best playmakers in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury will be steady enough in net, and will stay healthy, to push the Golden Knights close to 109 points once again. Nate Schmidt’s eventual return should hopefully be the cap to this blue line being one of the most dynamic in the league.
There’s no definitive reason to believe Vegas can’t do what it did last year, and then more. Sign me up. The Golden Knights are going to repeat as conference champions and challenge for Lord Stanley’s grail once more.