When the Vegas Golden Knights added Chandler Stephenson to the roster via trade last season with the Washington Capitals, no one would have pegged Stephenson to be the top center anchoring the group.
Fast forward to the 2021 season and that is exactly what Stephenson has done and more. Largely flanked by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the top line, Stephenson has carved out a very important role on the Golden Knights roster. His speed and ability to cut through the defense paired with his size and strength on the puck has created a nightmarish top line for the opposition. Just having Stone and Pacioretty on the wings is enough to create a tough night for any defense but adding Stephenson in the middle with his play causes an additional ripple felt throughout the lineup.
With Stephenson centering the top line, it also creates a dynamic duo between Stone and himself. Both are excellent two-way players with Stone being one of the best (one could argue the best) in the NHL overall. That combination lends great not only to counterattacks but also defending overall which is not always one of the greatest quality of top line players. Add in the offensive abilities of both with 41 points combined through 21 games before even considering Max Pacioretty’s point production (21 through 21) shows just how great this top line has been out of the gate for Vegas.
While Stephenson always had the strength to factor in big top 6 minutes, he was not able to find his footing with the Washington Capitals due to the log jam at center. With players like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov anchoring the top two lines and depth with Lars Eller and Nic Dowd it eventually left Stephenson as the odd man out.
Since adding Stephenson to the roster, Vegas was able to shed crucial cap space by sending Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets. This move made possible the ability to acquire Alex Pietrangelo in the offseason to bolster the defensive side of the puck while not cutting out the legs of the offense.
Adding a dynamic top line center who brings Stanley Cup championship experience to the roster for a 5th round pick is tremendous. To say the trade so far for Vegas has been an absolute steal is an understatement.
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