In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.
After an encouraging 29-point campaign in 2017-18, it was only a matter of time before defenseman Shea Theodore signed a long-term contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. As a restricted free agent ineligible for salary arbitration, Theodore’s contract extension became a topic of hot debate over the summer. But just in the nick of time, the young blueliner finally reached an agreement with the Knights, signing a seven-year, $36.4 million contract just before the start of the 2018-19 regular season. With the contract taken care of, it was time to focus on hockey. And Theodore did not disappoint in his second season as a Golden Knight.
Season in review
Theodore thrives in the offensive zone. He exhibited this in Vegas’ inaugural season, netting six goals and assisting on 23 others in just 61 games. And while it took him a little while to get going in 2018-19 — he only registered one point in his first nine games of the season — he did managed to take a decent step forward.
In terms of raw offensive statistics, Theodore led Vegas’ group of defensemen with 12 goals and 37 points in 79 games. However, advanced metrics show just how valuable Theodore really was offensively in 2018-19. In over 1,330 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, Theodore logged a downright fantastic 56.28 Corsi For percentage, ranking second out of all nine defensemen to play a game for the Knights this season. Remarkably, the only blueliner with a better Corsi For percentage in 2018-19 was, believe it or not, Jon Merrill, whose ridiculous 5-on-5 CF% of 59.16 led all Golden Knights skaters comfortably (minimum 200 minutes at 5-on-5).
Theodore’s individual play-driving numbers were very good, but even more impressive was the effect he had on his teammates. For the most part, it didn’t matter who he was partnered with on the blue line — in general, Knights defensemen drove play at a markedly higher rate when they were paired with Theodore as opposed to when they were away from him. Curiously, Merrill was the one exception.
The Shea Theodore Effect
|Player||5v5 CF% With Theodore||5v5 CF% Without Theodore|
|Player||5v5 CF% With Theodore||5v5 CF% Without Theodore|
Thanks to his savviness as a play-driver and captivating skating ability, Theodore will always be regarded as a puck-moving, “offensive-minded” defenseman. But he’s much more than that. While Theodore is very good with the puck on his stick, he’s also more than capable of making a significant impact in his own end of the ice. For instance, Theodore led all Golden Knights skaters by a country mile with 82 takeaways on the season. Nate Schmidt, who had the second-most takeaways of all Knights defensemen, finished the season with just 45. In fact, only two defensemen in the entire NHL ended the regular season with more takeaways than Theodore — Brent Burns and Jaccob Slavin.
He may not have the reputation of a shutdown defender, but compare his defensive work to that of Deryk Engelland, who many consider one of Vegas’ best “stay-at-home” blueliners, and it might surprise you that Theodore appears to reign supreme in Engelland’s area of expertise.
Theodore’s game obviously isn’t perfect. While he’s mastered the art of intercepting passes and creating turnovers, he himself was quite prone to coughing up the puck as well this season — only Jonathan Marchessault (68 giveaways) turned the puck over more than Theodore (59 giveaways). But while the occasional turnover can be frustrating, that sometimes is a necessary evil for a 23-year-old puck-mover. And despite that blemish in his game, Knights coach Gerard Gallant appears to trust him about as much as any player on the roster. Aside from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (obviously), no one on the Golden Knights received more ice time than Theodore this season. Granted, things may have been slightly different had Schmidt not missed the first 20 games of the season, but that still speaks volumes about Gallant’s confidence in the young defenseman.
Theodore’s standout moment came in Game 4 of Vegas’ playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Despite being surrounded by Sharks, Theodore managed to cut through the San Jose defense and put a nice move on Martin Jones for arguably the prettiest goal of his young career.
This was Theodore’s only goal of the postseason, but it certainly wasn’t his only big play in Vegas’ seven-game series against San Jose. Unsurprisingly, he led all Knights defensemen with eight points in the series.
Looking ahead to 2019-20
Theodore is by no means a finished product. At 23 years old (he turns 24 in August), he has still yet to reach his age-related prime and figures to remain a key cog on the Golden Knights’ blue line. This is evidenced by the long-term deal he agreed to last summer — which, looking back, can reasonably be considered a massive win for George McPhee and company.
Who will Theodore be paired with next season? That may depend on what the Knights ultimately decide to do with Deryk Engelland. If Engelland returns, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the two reunite. However, it’s also fair to wonder if Theodore will continue to play alongside Brayden McNabb. The two seemed to compliment one another well when they were paired up in the final quarter of the regular season. If Engelland does retire, it’s almost certain the two would remain together.
For now, though, Theodore just needs to keep on improving. The sky really is the limit for No. 27.
How would you grade Shea Theodore’s 2018-19 performance?
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