- The Vegas Golden Knights will be without center William Karlsson for approximately six weeks after he sustained a broken foot in Friday’s win over Anaheim.
- VGK head coach Pete DeBoer is expected to update Karlsson’s status after Tuesday’s morning skate.
- Vegas has withstood a brutal run of injuries in the early going with forwards Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Nolan Patrick along with defenseman Zach Whitecloud currently out of action.
The Vegas Golden Knights are just 4-4-0 on the season but given the circumstances they’re likely very happy with this .500 mark. The team entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup along with Tampa Bay and Colorado but after a season opening win over the expansion Seattle Kraken have hit a downright absurd run of bad luck. Unlike most of the ‘bad luck’ experienced in ‘Sin City’, the ill fortune experienced by the Golden Knights has come in the form of injuries. The team has been nothing if not scrappy and after starting the season 1-3 they’ve won three straight to get back to the .500 mark.
Unfortunately, the injuries just keep coming to key players. The most recent addition to the injury list is center William Karlsson who is expected to miss around six weeks after suffering a broken foot in Friday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks. Karlsson was hit by a shot from teammate Shea Theodore late in the third period of the Knights 5-4 shootout win. Despite the hit, he took three more shifts in regulation and saw 2:26 of ice time in OT. Karlsson has been a very durable player throughout his career. Prior to an injury in January, 2020 he played in 234 straight games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and VGK. He played in all 56 games last season.
Karlsson joins the injury list comprised of several of the team’s best players. Already sidelined are forwards Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Nolan Patrick along with defenseman Zach Whitecloud. Team captain Stone suffered a lower body injury in the second game of the year and has been described as ‘somewhere between day to day and week to week’ by head coach Pete DeBoer. Stone has been skating on his own but as of yet no timetable has been given for his return. Pacioretty suffered a broken foot in the same game and, like Karlsson, is expected to be out approximately six weeks. Also on IR is Nolan Patrick–details of his injury are unknown though he’s listed as ‘day to day’. Whitecloud is ‘week to week’ with what was initially believed to be a ‘lower body’ injury but turned out to be an injured hand. He’s been out since October 23 but some sources are suggesting that a return could be imminent. Forward Alex Tuch remains on long term injured reserved while forward Mattias Janmark missed the past two games but will make the team’s upcoming Canadian road trip.
The injury bug has taken a big statistical toll on the VGK offense. Pacioretty, Stone and Karlsson accounted for more than 30% of the team’s goals during the past two seasons. The team now has depth issues at center and are currently relying on Chandler Stephenson, Nicolas Roy, waiver pickup Michael Amadio and rookie Jake Leschyshyn. The team will likely be playing rookie winger Peyton Krebs at center going forward. The situation also complicates the Golden Knights’ rumored interest in Buffalo Sabres’ center Jack Eichel–Eichel is an elite center but is facing what will likely be an extended absence due to a neck injury. That means that they simply might not be able to afford losing any more frontline players without Eichel able to play immediately.
One positive development from the injury situation has been the emergence of Chandler Stephenson as a legit top tier center. Stephenson usually centers Pacioretty and Stone and with players of that quality on his line hasn’t been considered a legit top line player. The thinking is, after all, who *couldn’t* center for two All Star level teammates? With his usual linemates out he’s been playing excellent hockey and currently leads Vegas in scoring with nine points (4 goals and 5 assists). That’s 5 points more than the three players tied for second in the team points tally (defenseman Nicolas Hague, forward Jonathan Marchessault and winger Reilly Smith). Playing primarily with rookie Peyton Krebs and fourth line winger William Carrier he’s playing the way he always has, perhaps with a bit more emphasis on finishing as opposed to facilitating.
Stephenson caught a big break when he was traded from the Washington Capitals–where he saw minimal action and kept around as ‘depth insurance’–to Vegas midway through the 2019-2020 season. All it took for VGK to pry him away from Washington was a fifth round pick and he’s become the perfect compliment for Pacioretty and Stone on the top line. Even without his usual linemates around him he says that his game hasn’t changed:
“That’s kind of I think where you get in trouble, when you try to change too much and do too much. You’re almost kind of doing a whole lot of nothing if you play like that. I still try to make as many plays as I can, shoot when I can. Just trying to do my game and be myself.”
Teammate Jonathan Marchessault is happy that Stephenson is finally getting his just due with Stone and Pacioretty sidelined:
“I actually love that he’s having success without Max and Mark. I mean, obviously when you play with world-class players like that, I hear you guys saying ‘Chandler, is he a top-line centerman?’ He is. Like, he’s been showing enough right now and since the moment he showed up here.”
Watching Stephenson now it’s hard to imagine that the Capitals couldn’t find a role for him. He has elite speed and is an adept playmaker–he finished 20th in successful passes by forwards per 60 minutes last season. He has the full compliment of skills expected of a NHL center along with consistency. Head coach DeBoer says he might have the most natural puck and skating skills of any player on the team:
“The guy’s a great player. Individual skill, he might have the most on our team as far as skating and puck skills. When you watch this guy in practice, the sky’s the limit for him with the talent he has.”
Despite his coach’s praise of his individual skill, Stephenson says that the ‘team first’ mentality is why Vegas has been so good:
“I’m not trying to be somebody I’m not. That’s why we’ve found some success here lately. I think that’s kind of everybody’s mindset, mentality is try to help the team out as much as you can and do you. Don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. That’s been the good thing about our team, is everybody buys in and plays their style.”
Now that the team has found some stability with so many top tier players out, the early season injury bug could be the proverbial ‘blessing in disguise’. It is giving reserves more opportunity to play and rookies like Peyton Krebs have been forced into roles with responsibility. Assuming that Stone, Pacioretty, Patrick and Whitecloud return at 100% the way that Vegas has been developing their depth out of necessity could pay dividends at playoff time.