Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the greatest expansion clubs in the history of the NHL. In fact, they have been probably the most successful expansion club of any major sport in North America. Their season has been a surprise for sure, but who have been the unsung heroes of the Vegas Golden Knights?
Throughout the season pundits have looked to the depth of the Golden Knights as their strongest asset. It is possible to say that they have two second lines and two third lines up front and no one would question you. Players like Jon Marchessault and James Neal have led the way up front as expected. Both are putting up points and pushing the team forward. We also cant forget about the likes of Reilly Smith and David Perron who many expected to be leaders along with Neal. Both Smith and Perron have actually outscored Neal this season.
On the back end, the players we expected to have an impact were few. Sure, Shea Theodore was expected to be a leader on the team despite starting the season in the AHL. Since his recall he has shown his ability to be a leader. Outside of Theodore and possible Brayden McNabb, another young piece, not much was expected defensively for the Knights.
Of course in net Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid while he has played. Missing part of the season with a concussion hasn’t slowed down the 33 year old. Since returning from injury Fleury has only lost four games, two of those coming in overtime or a shootout. He boasts a .943 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average this season, by far the best marks of his career. While maybe not expected to do this well, Fleury was always going to be a key to this inaugural season for the Golden Knights.
While those players may have been expected to lead, many on this Vegas team have not only exceeded expectation but shattered them.
Prior to this season Karlsson was always a prospect waiting for his shot. He had two full seasons under his belt in Columbus in which he scored 20 and 25 points respectively. Both solid seasons considering he was never given top six minutes. Since arriving in Vegas though, Karlsson has taken his opportunity and run with it. Playing alongside Marchessault and Smith on the Vegas top line has allowed Karlsson to become a serious threat in the league. Through 43 games Karlsson has already obliterated his career high of 25 points with 37 this season. In fact, he already has 23 goals, almost matching his career high point total and has already doubled his career goals mark. Its clear all he needed was a chance and now he is becoming a household name in the league.
Karlsson also has been a positive player in advanced stats too. His 55.2 corsi for rating is good for fourth on the team behind Stefan Matteau, Marchessault and Colin Miller. Considering Matteau has only played four games, Karlsson’s number looks even better. Its clear Karlsson has been a surprise for the Knights and become a hero.
To be fair, Miller has been playing third pair minutes this season. Still the results speak for themselves. Miller leads all Knights defensemen in points with 21 and goals with five. He is part of the second power play unit where he has gotten seven of his 21 points. On top of that he plays on the penalty kill. He may not light up the score sheet and his 18:44 average time on ice may not be that impressive but Miller has become someone the Knights can turn to in high pressure situations.
Outside of Fleury, not many people expected the Knights to utilize many goalies this season. Yes they have a been competent back up in Malcolm Subban but he was not expected to make many starts this year. Instead we have been able to watch the Knights goalies drop like flies and yet not miss a beat. So far this season the team has started four different goalies in games, with a fifth, Dylan Ferguson, appearing in relief just once. Fleury, Subban, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace have all backstopped the Knights this year to wins.
If you take out Legace, who’s numbers are not indicative of his record, no starter for the Knights has a goals against average higher than 2.38. also add in that each of the three (Fleury, Subban and Dansk) have save percentages above .918 and your looking at one of the most feared creases in the league. If you take out the numbers for Ferguson and Legace, the team boasts a 1.94 goals against average which would rank first in the league, by a mere 0.50. their save percentage is just as impressive, sitting at a modest .931 for the main trio. That would put them first in the league as well, .007 percent higher than the Los Angeles Kings goaltenders.
The Story continues
Each of these players has become heroes in their own way. And without even knowing it the Golden Knights brass have put together possibly the greatest expansion squad in the history of the sport. The only question now is how far can they go. A playoff berth is looking like a lock at this point as the team sits second in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning. The next step would be to win a playoff series. It may be tough, but all of hockey is keeping a close eye on the Knights in the desert.