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What the Golden Knights’ bottom six should look like this season

It seems like Vegas has figured out its top two forward lines. But what should the third and fourth lines look like?

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights
Tomas Hyka #38 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates his first career goal with teammates Ryan Carpenter #40, Cody Eakin #21, Luca Sbisa #47 and Deryk Engelland #5
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith make up the top line of the Vegas Golden Knights. That is a fact unlikely to change, even with the recent additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Those two likely will head to the second line to play with Alex Tuch. This raises a question, however, especially with the departure of Tomas Tatar.

Who plays on the third line?

This has been in question since Stastny signed with the team July 1. Erik Haula seems like the natural fit at center, but the Knights still have Cody Eakin, who should not take the place of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the fourth line. So does Eakin play wing in what should be considered an already-crowded wing corps? After all, the Golden Knights have Tomas Hyka, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves and William Carrier vying for ice time. Plus, don’t forget about Brandon Pirri, who found instant success when he was called up from the AHL last year.

Then there are the young guns who will be fighting for roster spots in training camp, like Keegan Kolesar, Ben Jones and Cody Glass, who could force Haula to the wing, at least for a few games.

So if the top six is set, what will the bottom six look like this year?

The third line

It’s a safe assumption that Haula will be guaranteed a spot on the third line. Whether that’s as a center or a wing remains to be seen. He was the second-line center this past season and has already made it clear that he considers himself a center (and a top-six forward). He played well at the center position and seems like an obvious fit there. With some skilled candidates in contention for the right wing slot, Haula could present a fast and skilled depth line, a dangerous weapon for Gerard Gallant to employ.

Here’s a look at Haula’s possession stats at even strength in the regular season and postseason last year:

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Haula in the TOI Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance High-Danger Chance HD Goal Share On-Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
Haula in the TOI Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance High-Danger Chance HD Goal Share On-Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
Regular Season 1098:01:00 50.66 49.87 45 50.8 46.74 40 0.887 54.51
Postseason 254:52:00 51.4 45.96 43.48 54.66 44.95 40 0.912 57.3

Those may not be great, but he’s an upgrade over Eakin in every category except zone start percentage. Eakin is not talented enough offensively to warrant the third-line center position with the Knights, scoring just 11 goals and 27 points last year compared to Haula’s 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games.

While Eakin makes up for his lack of offensive firepower as a penalty killer, playing 129 minutes in the regular season (behind only Bellemare and Karlsson in time on ice among forwards), it’s unclear whether his decent stats are a reflection of his defensive ability or whether they can at least be partially attributed to the talent of his linemates. He often played with Karlsson or Smith on the penalty kill, as it was unlikely he’d crack the top duo of Bellemare and Nosek unless one was injured. But when it comes down to it, Vegas would be better off putting Karlsson and Smith on the PK together rather than using Eakin.

Since it was evident in the Stanley Cup Final that Vegas lacked secondary scoring, every player on the Knights’ opening-night roster needs to be able to score.

So if Haula is the third-line center, who would be his ideal wingers? He’s never played meaningful minutes with Reaves or Pirri. He’s played between 12 and 19 minutes with Carrier, Carpenter and Nosek, but he and Hyka played 30-plus minutes together and therefore provide the best sample to analyze. Here are Haula’s stats with and without various linemates, as well as those players’ numbers without Haula, at even strength.

Haula’s possession stats: linemate comparison

Linemates Time On Ice Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance Share High-Danger Share HD Goal Share On Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
Linemates Time On Ice Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance Share High-Danger Share HD Goal Share On Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
Haula with Hyka 33:39 57.81 62.86 50 70 62.5 50 0.923 53.57
Haula w/o Hyka 1064:22 50.45 49.47 44.92 50.24 46.05 39.66 0.886 54.55
Hyka w/o Haula 71:43 48.44 44.74 75 48.15 50 66.67 0.976 65.71
Haula with Carpenter 18:16 36.84 40.91 40 38.1 14.29 33.33 0.769 25
Haula w/o Carpenter 1079:45 50.91 50.04 45.22 51.06 47.34 40.35 0.89 54.83
Carpenter w/o Haula 396:01 51.57 51.55 50 54.41 52.14 45.45 0.906 48.92
Haula with Nosek 18:49 51.11 60 71.43 50 41.67 33.33 0.8 50
Haula w/o Nosek 1079:13 50.65 49.65 43.36 50.82 46.9 40.35 0.889 54.58
Nosek w/o Haula 615:01 50.38 49.6 51.28 52.12 48.6 41.18 0.94 50.56
Haula with Carrier 12:28 52 52.94 0 56.25 75 0 0.875 57.14
Haula w/o Carrier 1085:34 50.65 49.83 45.38 50.72 46.44 40.68 0.887 54.48
Carrier w/o Haula 309:34 53 51.18 44.44 53.95 53.6 62.5 0.94 54.74
Haula with Eakin 15:04 64.29 80.95 60 68.18 66.67 50 0.5 42.86
Haula w/o Eakin 1082:58 50.4 49.3 44.35 50.43 46.26 39.66 0.89 54.74
Eakin w/o Haula 979:52 47.13 47.43 42.31 48.42 44.19 38.64 0.914 49.51

Clearly, Haula and Hyka have demonstrated that they play well together. They both have speed and can both get to the high-danger areas, and they’re both capable of setting up plays as well. Hyka plays a better two-way game than Haula, but that just further complements Haula’s more offensive-based game.

Another option could be Eakin. While Eakin is fast, he doesn’t have the same speed as Haula and Hyka; he does represent a better defensive presence, though, which could help the duo of Haula and Hyka focus more on offense. But if Eakin sits back, Vegas’ rush may not be that effective, which would inhibit the line’s ability to produce. Instead, Carrier could be an intriguing addition to that line. He can match their speed, and while he hasn’t demonstrated that he’s a threat in the offensive zone, he’s someone who could boost the line’s defensive capabilities.

But if Carrier gets promoted to the third line, who would replace him on the the fourth line?

The fourth line

Bellemare and Nosek are locked in on the fourth line. They were two of the best players for the Golden Knights all season and played especially well in the Stanley Cup Final. They’re both excellent on the penalty kill, and while they both could use more time in the offensive zone, their hard work on defense led to offensive chances throughout the year. They should both return to their roles from last season.

But they played with multiple linemates throughout the year. Carpenter and Reaves could both get significant time on the fourth line, and Eakin, because of his defensive abilities, could get that slot as well. Here are the stats for each of these wingers with the Bellemare-Nosek duo.

Bellemare-Nosek duo’s performance based on linemate

Bellemare-Nosek Time on Ice Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance High-Danger Share HD Goal Share On Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
Bellemare-Nosek Time on Ice Corsi Shot Share Goal Share Scoring Chance High-Danger Share HD Goal Share On Ice Save % Off. Faceoff %
BN with Carpenter 56:16 52.89 55.36 50 50 47.06 33.33 0.88 52.27
BN w/o Carpenter 400:57 51.48 50.4 50 53.51 52.67 50 0.946 50.41
Carpenter w/o BN 218:39 46.39 44.93 40.91 50 43.84 42.86 0.896 46.09
BN with Reaves 85:46 46.27 44.12 100 40.98 32 100 1 56.76
BN w/o Reaves 371:25 52.67 52.35 48 55.42 56.1 40 0.924 49.8
Reaves w/o BN 66:50 49.18 49.25 60 50.88 46.67 50 0.941 40
BN with Eakin 3:49 45.45 80 N/A 60 100 N/A 1 33.33
BN w/o Eakin 453:22 51.76 50.71 50 53.03 51.7 45.45 0.938 51.06
Eakin w/o BN 903:09 47.22 48.23 40.79 48.61 45.32 40.91 0.904 51.34

Ironically, Bellemare and Nosek always manage better numbers on their own than they do when paired with any other linemate, so it’s possible they just haven’t found the right player yet. Having said that, of the available options, Carpenter seems to be the best choice. The duo’s numbers with Carpenter are stronger than with other players, and Carpenter adds a goal-scoring dynamic that would help the duo be more productive. For as many good chances as Bellemare and Nosek set up, they could use more help converting those plays. Nosek got better at that as the season progressed, especially in the playoffs, but it’s always better to have two finishers than one.

The ideal bottom six

That means the ideal bottom six for this upcoming season could be the following:

Carrier - Haula - Hyka

Nosek - Bellemare - Carpenter

The third line brings a lot of speed and therefore the ability to draw penalties. Haula and Hyka can be a dangerous offensive combination, and Carrier has an uncanny ability to drive possession. It would be more of a skilled bottom-six line but would need a decent offensive zone start rate percentage.

The fourth line, on the other hand, should be able to drive possession from the defensive zone. Bellemare and Nosek have shown the ability to play well defensively and then get the puck up the ice, and Carpenter can help drive the play as well as put the puck in the net. He would add an extra offensive component to the line, which would be beneficial.

These lines represent better depth scoring for the upcoming year, and that’s a very important thing for the Golden Knights.