The NHL is returning after a long-awaited hiatus and although we should be well into the offseason right now, we find are selves getting ready to watch summer playoff hockey.
The postseason is set to be unlike any other with 24-teams competing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup. The Vegas Golden Knights are one of the few teams who get to skip the play-in rounds due to finishing first in the Pacific during the regular season. While Golden Knights fans will have to wait a little longer to see their team back in playoff action, we can begin to speculate which players could have the biggest impact for Vegas in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights made a big splash at the trade deadline when they acquired Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks. With Marc-Andre Fluery having a bit of a down year statistically, adding Lehner was a solid move.
They wanted a top-tier option for the playoffs if Fluery is not able to play the playoff hockey he has been known for in the past. While Lehner does not have a whole lot of postseason experience, he had a great playoff run with the Islanders last year.
He had another great year despite playing majority of the season with the Blackhawks, whose defense was the league’s worst in regards to shots on goal concealed per game (35.1). If Lehner gets the start in the playoffs, he could be a key reason why Vegas has a deep playoff run and if they do end up winning the Stanley Cup, he may very well be in Conn Smythe conversation.
It may have taken some time to get adjusted but Max Pacioretty has proven himself to Golden Knights fans. After leading the Golden Knights in goals (32) and points (66), Pacioretty proved skeptics wrong regarding his ability to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2019 campaign.
In Vegas, Pacioretty seems to have found his old confidence that he had once upon a time with the Canadiens and played some of his best hockey over the course of the season. Maybe it’s the fact that he did not have the pressure of wearing the “C” in a market as passionate and tough as Montreal, or maybe it’s because he is playing under a system that works right for him.
Pacioretty had a great first-round series against the Sharks last season, recording 11 points in seven games. In the 2016-2017 playoffs with the Canadiens, Pacioretty faced a lot of backlash for his lackluster performance in the playoffs where he posted just 1 assist in 6 games. Coming from a player who is known as a goal-scorer and wore the “C”, fans were certainly disappointed in their captains performance.
Last year he looked like a completely different player in the postseason and clearly learned from his final playoff appearance in Montreal. This year after leading his team in points and regaining his goal-scoring touch, Pacioretty will be doing what he does best this postseason, putting pucks on net and scoring goals.
Shea Theodore had a career year and will surely be looking to resume such dominance in the postseason.
Theodore is arguably the Golden Knights’ best defenseman and one of their most important skaters. He has the trust of his coaching staff to the point where he finished the year with the most time on ice per game at 22:14. Theodore finished tied for 5th place in team scoring with William Karlsson with 46 points in 71 games.
In the postseason, Theodore has always been a solid presence for his team and is especially reliable in the offensive zone. He had eight points last season and has a 0.55 PPG % in his playoff career. If Theodore can enter the postseason and continue playing the way he has during the regular season despite months away from ice, then Theodore will play a key role in helping the Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final once again.