The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Coach: Peter DeBoer (third season)
Last season: 40-14-2; second in Honda West Division, lost to Montreal Canadiens in Stanley Cup Semifinals
1. Lehner replacing Fleury
Robin Lehner needs to reward the Golden Knights’ faith after they traded Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 27. Fleury was the face of the franchise since the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and is the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the best goalie in the League as voted by the NHL general managers. But Lehner is younger (30 instead of 36), less expensive ($5 million average annual value instead of $7 million), locked up longer (through 2024-25 instead of 2021-22) and elite in his own right (a Vezina finalist with the New York Islanders in 2018-19).
2. Improving the power play
Vegas scored on 17.8 percent of its power plays in the regular season and 9.3 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020-21, and went 0-for-15 on the power play in six games against the Canadiens in the semifinals, a big reason the Golden Knights were eliminated. Adding forwards Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick should help; Dadonov, who scored 25 power-play goals for the Florida Panthers from 2017-20, finds soft spots and deflects pucks in the slot. Patrick can play the net front, bumping forward Mark Stone to the half wall, where he can make more plays.
3. Handling pressure
The Golden Knights tied the Colorado Avalanche for the most points in the NHL last season, losing the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the League on a tiebreaker, and reached the final four of the playoffs for the third time in their four NHL seasons. That’s amazing. Yet it wasn’t good enough in Vegas, where it’s Stanley Cup or bust. In an interview in September, Stone, the captain, said he didn’t handle pressure well, and his game changed because of it. He said a lot of his teammates felt that same kind of pressure, and the Golden Knights didn’t battle adversity as well as they would have liked. The next big test won’t come until the playoffs.
Defenseman Dylan Coghlan is trying to crack the top six. The 23-year-old scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 29 games for Vegas last season after two seasons with Chicago of the American Hockey League. Center Peyton Krebs, the No. 17 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is trying to earn a spot among a deep forward group. The 20-year-old scored 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 24 games for Winnipeg of the Western Hockey League, five points (one goal, four assists) in five games for Henderson of the AHL and one assist in four games for the Golden Knights last season.
Most intriguing addition
Vegas doesn’t have a true No. 1 center, and it traded center Cody Glass, the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, to the Nashville Predators in a three-team trade that brought Patrick from the Philadelphia Flyers. Patrick was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft. General manager Kelly McCrimmon coached Patrick with Brandon of the WHL from 2014-16, when Patrick scored 158 points (71 goals, 87 assists) in 127 games.
Biggest potential surprise
Lehner will be expected to carry the load, but as the Golden Knights have shown the past two seasons, it helps to have two dependable goalies. Few talk about Laurent Brossoit, the backup they signed as an unrestricted free agent July 28, and he’s capable of surprising. He went 13-6-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout for the Winnipeg Jets in 2018-19, tying for sixth in the NHL in save percentage with Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes among goalies with at least 20 games played.
Ready to break through
Patrick scored 70 points (30 goals, 40 assists) in 197 games over three seasons with the Flyers, a disappointment considering the high expectations, but he battled injuries and played low in the lineup. He’s still young at 23 years old and has the talent that made him such a high pick. Perhaps a change of scenery and a new role will help him fulfill his potential, and though he will start out on the third line, perhaps he eventually will get a shot on the first.
Dadonov (fantasy average draft position: 173.8) struggled in mostly a secondary role with the Ottawa Senators last season (20 points in 55 games) but has renewed fantasy appeal after being acquired by the Golden Knights. Dadonov, who scored at least 25 goals in each of his prior three seasons with the Panthers and had consecutive seasons of at least 65 points (2017-18, 2018-19), could give Vegas a new wrinkle on one of its first two lines and quickly return to fantasy relevance. — Pete Jensen
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark — Nolan Patrick — Evgenii Dadonov
William Carrier — Brett Howden — Nicolas Roy
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud