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NHL Free Agency 2018: Paul Stastny would be a logical addition to the Golden Knights

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The NHL’s best free agent middle-six center could come to Vegas. Here’s why that makes sense.

Winnipeg Jets v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Paul Stastny is one of the best second-line centers in the league, and has the ability to both set up plays and score goals. He’s spent his career with three teams — the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, and now the Winnipeg Jets.

With the Jets, who acquired Stastny at the trade deadline, Stastny ran the second line. He and Patrik Laine were an excellent combination, and Nikolaj Ehlers also played a large role on that line.

Strengths

The trio of Stastny, Laine and Ehlers combined for 34 points in 17 playoff games, with Stastny contributing 15 points, including six goals. That highlights his ability to support excellent linemates, which would come in handy for the Golden Knights.

Stastny had 13 points in 19 regular season games with the Jets as well. He had 16 goals and 53 points in 82 games across the season, and is a career .78 points-per-game player. He’s only at .27 goals per game, and he’s a better playmaker than scorer.

Generating offense isn’t the only thing Stastny does, however. He plays defense well (just 187 high-danger chances against through 82 games and over 1,200 minutes at 5-on-5) and was able to support an even workload in terms of zone starts. Stastny played 73 minutes on the penalty kill with St. Louis and 8:13 with the Jets. He had a shorthanded assist and was on the ice for two goals for and just 10 goals against.

His possession stats also signify how good Stastny can be. In 67 games with the Blues, Stastny had a 55.14 Corsi For percentage, a 54.99 percent shot share, 52.86 percent goal share, 55.71 percent scoring chance share and 52.54 percent high-danger share. That came with just a 54.1 percent offensive zone start rate.

In a limited sample size with the Jets (19 games), Stastny had a 50.81 percent Corsi, 48.50 percent shot share, 64 percent goal share, 50.41 percent scoring chance share, and 50 percent high-danger share. That was in a much more defensive role, with just a 51.6 percent offensive zone start rate.

He faced the sixth-best competition on the Blues’ roster, and had the third-best Corsi based on competition. That’s after Beau Bennett, who played less than 10 games, and Magnus Paajarvi, traded 44 games into the season. Stastny has the ability to handle quality competition, which means he can play a very good support role and thrive.

In addition, Stastny had 38 takeaways this season to just 12 giveaways at even strength, and won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs at even strength. On the power play, that percentage was 58 percent on the power play (though it was 48.39 percent with the Jets) and 50.8 percent on the penalty kill.

Stastny has skill and the underlying numbers to back it up. He’s able to play on all three units, and he’s been successful there, especially recently. He’s a playoff contributor, and a good depth add.

Weaknesses

However, there are several weaknesses to Stastny’s game. Namely, the fact that he hasn’t hit 20 goals in four seasons and in 11 seasons has only hit that total six times. Stastny’s shooting percentage has fallen in that time, but his shot production has also fallen.

During his first five seasons, when he hit 20 goals four times and only missed once because of a 9.3 shooting percentage (his career low), Stastny was generating shots at an average rate of 2.36 shots per game.

Over the past five seasons, that rate has fallen to 1.87 shots per game. He was at 1.61, 1.70 and 1.94 in each of the last three individual seasons. With the Jets, Stastny only produced 1.26 shots per game.

Stastny is also 32, which means any long-term deal is risky. While he could keep himself in great shape, find a way to remain productive and continue his success, that’s not a guarantee. Still, he doesn’t play an overly physical style, has good size, and relies on passing more than anything. He could age gracefully, like Joe Thornton.

He was also flawed on the power play this season, getting only 16 goals for with the Blues and allowing five goals against. Those aren’t good numbers, especially on the man advantage. He’s allowed eight shorthanded goals in the past three seasons, and in his first five seasons was on ice for 21 shorthanded goals against. That seems telling about his team’s defensive abilities on the power play with him.

Stastny does much better in that area in the playoffs, however, only being on ice for four goals against in seven postseasons, including 72 games. Stastny does wonderfully in the areas where he struggles in the postseason, and he had three game-winning goals for the Jets. In fact, Stastny’s goal scoring rate goes up in the playoffs.

Fit with the Golden Knights

So where does Stastny fit on the Golden Knights’ roster? Right between Alex Tuch, who should blossom into more of a goal scorer, and perhaps David Perron, or otherwise another scoring winger. If the Knights sign Stastny, a move for a goal scorer like Jeff Skinner or Max Pacioretty would be a wise move.

Still, on the likeliest roster, Stastny makes an excellent second line center who plays the second unit power play (the one with two defensemen) and the second penalty kill unit. He’s an excellent passer, it’s just about setting him up with players who can score off of those passes. Winnipeg saw that in action and loved it.

Stastny isn’t the fastest skater, but the fact that he has a lot of talent and can pass extremely well speaks for how he could transition to a team like Vegas. He can also get to the high-danger areas (doing so 57 times in 63 games with St. Louis) and can score, though that’s not his main focus. He’s also a two-way forward who can help with defense, which fits into the Gerard Gallant system.

If Stastny reaches free agency, the Golden Knights should come knocking.