2019-20 Player Review: Shea Theodore entered number-one defenseman territory

The now-25-year-old defenseman was sixth in Norris voting last season.

In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we revisit and evaluate the individual performances of Vegas Golden Knights players from last year’s regular season and extended playoff format. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games will be included.

Shea Theodore was in his third season with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019-20, having been a member of the organization since being acquired from Anaheim in the Vegas Expansion Draft as compensation for the Knights taking on the contract of Clayton Stoner.

Theodore has become one of the most dependable postseason performers for Vegas, and that proved true again in 2020. He led the team in scoring, just the fourth defenseman to do so and make the third round of the playoffs (P.K. Subban, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Karlsson all preceded him, while Miro Heiskanen also did so in 2020).

Season in review

Theodore finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting in 2019-20, his highest finish to date. He was the youngest member of those six, although technically he’s no longer the only Golden Knight to receive votes (Alex Pietrangelo finished fourth).

In terms of season performances, perhaps no Golden Knight had a better season. Theodore finished with 18.1 expected wins above replacement and 3.2 expected wins above replacement, both first on the team. His 6.4 real GAR and 1.1 real WAR are likely results of both his and the team’s poor luck in the 2019-20 regular season, as Theodore had just a .989 PDO, with a 6.78 on-ice shooting percentage strongly playing into that.

Still, Theodore’s impact on the team cannot be undervalued. His 13 goals were seventh on the team (first among defensemen), and he led Vegas’ blue line in both points (46) and assists (33) as well. He finished the season 10th among all defensemen in the NHL in scoring.

Theodore, despite seeing a decline in takeaways (55 in 2019-20 after 82 the year before), also contributed to the Golden Knights’ superior possession stats, with a 58.5 percent Corsi (CF%), 59.09 percent expected-goal share (xGF%) and 57.67 percent high-danger share (HDCF%) at 5-on-5 play.

After two seasons with Deryk Engelland, Theodore finally got a full-time partner capable of supporting him when the Knights acquired Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings. In 124:03 with Martinez at 5-on-5 in the regular season, Theodore saw his goal share (54.55 percent to 55.56 percent), xGF% (58.76 to 61.84) and HDCF% (57.54 to 58.62) go up.

But Theodore’s biggest impact was on an individual level. He made almost everything better, but that’s especially true of the Golden Knights’ offense, as illustrated by the charts below.

The charts explain where shots come from when a player is on the ice and when the player is off the ice. Areas in red represent where more shots come from, while blue means fewer shots originate from that area. The expected goal number is compared against league average. In the chart below, the +33% indicates that with Theodore on the ice, Vegas was 33 percent better than league average offensively.

The +10% below indicates that Vegas was just 10 percent better than league average when Theodore was not on the ice.

Despite very limited minutes (11:31 shorthanded), Theodore had a similar impact on the penalty kill (the PK was 22 percent better than league average with Theodore and five percent worse without him). It may finally be time for that ice time to change, as Theodore hasn’t played very many shorthanded minutes throughout his Vegas career. It doesn’t hurt that in those 11 minutes Theodore also scored a shorthanded goal.

Theodore was one of the best defensemen in the league last season (those xGAR and xWAR numbers aren’t just the top of Vegas’ roster, they’re good for fifth among all defensemen). There’s always room for improvement, but for Theodore, that room is rapidly growing smaller.

Standout moment

Remember when no player on the team could score a goal on Thatcher Demko? The Vancouver Canucks’ rookie netminder stood on his head in the dying games of the second-round series, and despite a heavy amount of shots, no one got a puck into the net.

That held true until there was a little over six minutes in regulation in Game 7. With a power-play opportunity, having not converted on two previous chances in the contest, the Knights got their first power-play unit on the ice. That is, of course, the one led by Theodore. William Karlsson did everything he could to win the faceoff, Reilly Smith backhanded a pass and Theodore sniped the daylights out of the Canucks.

One player could beat Demko. That was Theodore, who in the series against Vancouver had nine points in seven games, including two goals, both on Demko (the only two he allowed). The most important was this one:

The power-play goal won the series for Vegas and advanced the Golden Knights to the Western Conference Final. Theodore was the one who stepped up in the playoffs the most, and no moment showed that more than this one.

Looking ahead

Just three players were reportedly labeled as untouchable by the Golden Knights this offseason: Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo and Theodore. Theodore is not going anywhere in the immediate future and likely not in the distant future either.

While Pietrangelo will be an obstacle, Theodore will look to contend for the Golden Knights’ number one defenseman role yet again this season. He’ll also likely look to finish higher than sixth in Norris voting this season, although again having another Norris favorite on the team may put a damper on those ambitions.

Still, with both Pietrangelo and Theodore in the mix, Vegas’ depth on the blue line is better than ever. Plus, the two could form one of the most elite defensive pairings in the league if paired together at some point this season. A team can’t score if they never have the puck, and the combination of Pietrangelo and Theodore would be a possession hog.

How would you grade Shea Theodore’s performance in Year 3

C or below0

Statistics from NaturalStatTrick.com, Evolving-Hockey.com and HockeyViz.com.