Shea Theodore didn’t even have to shoot to score Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Theodore took a pass from forward Brandon Pirri and raced towards the net in overtime. He blew past Blackhawks defenseman Carl Dahlstrom, who was forced to swipe at Theodore’s stick, only to knock the puck in the net and give the Knights a 4-3 win.
It wasn’t the prettiest goal of Theodore’s career, but it illustrated how the defenseman’s rare combination of speed and skill can make things happen on the ice. Such dynamic play was why the Knights gave him a seven-year, $36.4 million contract this fall.
“He used his skating ability to get around the guy and create some havoc and when you’re working hard, you get rewarded,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “His ceiling is extremely high. I think we’ve just started to see what he’s going to be able to accomplish in this league. I’m looking forward to seeing how high we can get him.”
The Knights bet on Theodore by making him their highest-paid defenseman, and after an early lull he’s lived up to the billing. He missed most of the offseason and training camp while working on that deal and took time to get up to speed.
In his first nine games, he scored one point and had a plus-minus of minus-7. Since then, he has 20 points and is plus-6 in 39 games.
“It took a little bit of time,” Theodore said. “I feel like I got caught up pretty quick.”
Theodore has also worked this season to ensure his value extended to both ends of the ice. He’s still an offensive force from the blue line and a weapon on the power play, but Engelland said his defensive partner is contributing in front of his own net, too.
“The biggest thing is his confidence,” Engelland said. “Coming in after missing some camp probably wasn’t easy, but his confidence has risen pretty high. He’s so fun to watch out there. He’s a great skater who is very gifted offensively and he’s only getting better every single day in the defensive zone.”
As proof, Theodore’s expected plus-minus — a stat created by Hockey-Reference.com that calculates a player’s projected plus-minus based on shot data — of 10.3 is the best on the team. Only forward Jonathan Marchessault (9.0) is within three points of Theodore.
“He’s very highly skilled and the contract shows that,” roommate and teammate Alex Tuch said. “He deserves that and you know what? He’s an elite player on this team and we’re going to need him to play really strong moving forward.”
Theodore will keep earning plaudits from teammates as long as he stays responsible on defense and picks his spots to shine on offense. Like Saturday, when he received the puck at center ice, accelerated and created a game-winning goal with hustle.
“I didn’t really have to touch the puck,” Theodore said. “I was on a pretty long goal (drought), since the last time we were in Chicago (on Nov. 27). It was good to get that bounce and get rolling a little bit.”