Mark Stone’s journey to his highest accomplishment Wednesday has been storybook.
Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon knows that all to well dating back to their days with the Brandon Wheat Kings; when McCrimmon saw Stone grow from a 15-year-old man to a 19-year-old captain in the organization he once owned and coached.
That relationship led to then-general manager George McPhee pulling the trigger on the trade for Stone from Ottawa in February 2019. And from the moment he stepped foot on the ice at T-Mobile Arena, he’s shown the leadership and willingness to push the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup.
Now, if Stone ever wins the Cup with Vegas, he’ll be the first to hoist it.
The Golden Knights named Stone the first captain in team history on Wednesday, one day before the puck drops on their fourth NHL season.
“Honestly, I was kind of speechless,” Stone said after practice Wednesday, detailing the moment Pete DeBoer asked him if he would take this next step in his career. “It’s very humbling for me. It’s a big honor. Something I’m not going to take lightly and something I’m very excited to do.”
It goes beyond what Stone has done on the ice to give him this opportunity. His production — nearly a point-per-game player in one-plus season with Vegas — is well documented. His ascension to being the best two-way winger in the game is also understood; hence his runner-up finish for the Selke Trophy in 2019 and a fifth-place spot in 2020.
But it’s the road Stone has taken that has made him the right choice for this spot. It’s the way that Stone has elevated his game from his time with the Wheat Kings — being one of the most dominant players at the junior level — to an on-and-off-again two-year run with AHL Binghamton. Then came five-and-a-half years with the Ottawa Senators, where there were some nights those outside of the Canadian Tire Centre wouldn’t have known about Stone’s game.
After signing Paul Stastny and trading for Max Pacioretty prior to Year 2, Stone was the icing on the cake. Who knows what would’ve happened had the Golden Knights not blew that 3-1 lead to DeBoer’s Sharks in the playoffs two months later, but Stone thrusted himself into captaincy discussion with 12 points during that seven-game slate.
“He’s really committed to being the best player he can be,” McCrimmon said. “He’s got a real good understanding of a team, he’s got a real good understanding of a dressing room, of the people involved. I think he’s a player Pete has a really good relationship with as far as a leader has with a coaching staff. Those are just maturity things. I can’t tell you that I’m shocked with the path he’s traveled based on the person he is. I feel happy for him to be recognized this way for our team.”
Just past the interstate on this road traveled is an eight-year contract extension with Vegas, making him the highest-paid player in team history ($9.5 million AAV) and all the responsibilities that come with being the presumptuous face of the franchise.
It’s one thing to be named a captain of an NHL franchise; it’s another when your name is the first of that team. The Golden Knights ran through the alternate captain route the first three years. The 23-captain mantra has been a staple since 1 October and hasn’t been questioned since.
But Stone will not be short on who to go to for advice. Teams would be envious of the Golden Knights’ assembled leadership group; from Marc-Andre Fleury’s championship pedigree, to Pacioretty being a former captain in Montreal, and now Alex Pietrangelo after being the first player to lift the Stanley Cup as a member of the St. Louis Blues. The understanding of how to win, plus the mix of wanting to win, is a desirable mix.
The Golden Knights have that. Also, Pietrangelo and Reilly Smith will be the alternates this season.
It’s a group that Stone doesn’t have to feel the pressure of leading, which won’t change in his day-to-day approach.
“I don’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but I don’t think I’m going to change a ton,” Stone said. “I’m an emotional player, very passionate about the game, and ultimately my main goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and I’m going to for sure be preaching that to everybody.”
DeBoer noted that it’s been 40 years since a team without a captain has won the Stanley Cup. Not that that has any bearing as to who hoists the Cup — see the Golden Knights three years ago, as DeBoer noted — but it’s a staple within an NHL locker room that one person is relied upon to lead the charge. There’s no better example of that with Stone to what he produces night in and night out, from the #ExpressiveMarkStone to blocking shots where he shouldn’t.
“I think he’s a guy that does it right every single day, how he approaches the game, how he approaches practice, how he approaches and is with his teammates,” DeBoer said. “I also love the emotion that he displays on the ice. He’s invested in the game, and you can tell that every shift.
“I’ve never seen a guy happier when other guys on the team score than Mark Stone. He’s happier than when he scores himself. So that selflessness shines through. He’s got all those qualities you’re looking for.”
Stone is leading a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, such which have grown since the moment he arrived in Las Vegas. It’s why he wanted to come here; it’s why he’s established roots with his fiancé Hayley. He’s a soft-spoken man in the locker room that has a stellar golf swing, but has the mindset of a competitor unlike any the NHL can have.
From a 19-year-old captain in Brandon to being the captain of the Golden Knights is a road many could dream of. But that journey is far from over.
“This is an organization that wants to win and wants to win now,” he said, “and we’ve got to have everybody who’s part of this organization committed to winning and being the top team at the end of the season.”