The Vegas Golden Knights are struggling through a vicious sophomore slump, but there are still a lot of positives surrounding the organization. One in particular is defenseman Shea Theodore, a key building block at 23 years old and someone who is locked up on a seven-year contract with a very reasonable $5.2 million cap hit.
“Poise, skill, great power play defenseman,” said teammate and roommate Alex Tuch. “He’s really smart, too. Loves jumping up in the play. Really good along that blueline – he comes in with that puck poise and if he beats the forward off the line, it’s almost game over; everyone is scrambling around. He’s going to have a really long career.”
And that recent contract is evidence of how important Vegas and GM George McPhee believes that Theodore will be for the organization in the coming years. Originally drafted by Anaheim in 2013, Theodore had a solid junior career that included a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 world juniors. But the Ducks have been loaded with good defensemen in the past few years and it was hard to see Anaheim keeping the whole band together through the Vegas expansion draft. Ultimately, the Ducks dealt Theodore to their new division rival, who picked Clayton Stoner off the Anaheim roster instead of Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen. It was bittersweet for Theodore and really unfortunate for the Ducks.
“It was a shock getting traded over the summer,” Theodore said. “But coming to this group and getting comfortable – I loved it.”
And why wouldn’t he? The Golden Knights made their magical run to the Pacific Division title and a berth in the Stanley Cup final while helping an excitable fan base flourish in less than one season. During that time, the young blueliner played a career-high 61 games in the regular season and all 20 playoff matches, where he registered 10 points to lead all Vegas defensemen. Fit was key.
“I like to move the puck, I like to skate,” Theodore said. “We like to play fast and play that style of game and I thought I did a good job.”
This year, he’s taking on more responsibility – which has been necessary due to Nate Schmidt’s suspension, but also a natural progression for Theodore. The B.C. native ranks second in average ice time for Vegas with 21:29 per game, about half a minute less than fellow D-man Colin Miller. That’s a full minute more for Theodore versus last season’s totals and he’s also playing great possession hockey.
Of course, the team results are not there. Vegas has sunk near the bottom of the Western Conference due to a variety of factors, from Schmidt’s suspension and Paul Stastny’s injury to William Karlsson falling back to Earth with an 11.4 per cent shooting average. But Theodore also believes the Knights haven’t been playing the style that brought them success during their maiden voyage.
“Last year, we took a lot of teams by surprise and this year they’re a little more ready,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to do a better job bearing down on our chances and getting some of that puck luck.”
And if there’s anyone that can help in that department, it’s the still-evolving Theodore.