The Vegas Golden Knights haven't been around long – this is just their second season – but by no means are they your average newbie franchise.
While expansion franchises in the past have adopted a draft-and-develop strategy, the Golden Knights have gone the other way, trading two top prospects with star potential over the past seven months. In September, Vegas GM George McPhee used Nick Suzuki, drafted 13th overall in 2017, to land Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens. And at the February trade deadline the Golden Knights made a splash by moving Erik Brannstrom, the 15th overall pick in 2017 and considered by some to be the top blueline prospect not yet in the NHL, to the Ottawa Senators for Mark Stone. Add to it the signing of Paul Stastny to a three-year, $19.5-million contract in the off-season – not to mention the big-money, multi-year extensions handed to Pacioretty and Stone – and suddenly Vegas has manufactured and locked up one of the best lines in hockey.
The trio have made their deals worth it in a hurry, too, with instant production in the opening round of the post-season against the San Jose Sharks. In Sunday's Game 3, Stone and Stastny registered five points apiece, while Pacioretty had a goal and an assist in the Golden Knights' 6-3 victory over the Sharks, a win that propelled Vegas to a 2-1 series lead. Stone and Stastny became just the third set of teammates to record five-point nights in the same game since 1990. And Stone in particular has been a game-changer as of late.
Upon arriving with the Golden Knights, Stone played well, scoring 11 points in 18 games, but he's taken his play to another level in the early days of the post-season. In three games against the Sharks, Stone has a playoff-leading eight points and his six goals are more than the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have scored as a team. The six goals also put Stone level with the entire Dallas Stars roster. Stone's goal total was supplemented in a big way Sunday when he notched the first hat trick of his career – in the post-season, nonetheless.
Of course, Stone hasn't done it alone, and Stastny (eight points) and Pacioretty (six) round out the top three in playoff scoring, giving Vegas' three amigos a combined 22 points in three games. It's a line for which San Jose hasn't had an answer, either, in part because the Sharks need to give attention to the Golden Knights' top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. That has yielded better matchups at times for the so-called second line. And in San Jose's Game 1 victory, Stone scored both of Vegas' goals in a 5-2 loss, with Pacioretty (two assists) and Stastny (one assist) also etching their names onto the scoresheet. Maybe that means the rest of the team needs to pick up the pace, but through three games, the Golden Knights have had a fun run with its top guys.
Stone's contract lasts until 2026-27 and he will be one of the biggest reasons why the Golden Knights remain a contender for years to come. His two-way play is superb, with the winger making life miserable for his opponents by always being on the attack in all three zones. His hard work has been rewarded through three contests, performing at a level the Golden Knights were hoping for when they acquired him back in February. The best part? Stone is bringing his new friends along, too.
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