Max Pacioretty admitted that the end to his first season with the Golden Knights, a controversy-filled Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks, made it difficult to sleep.
The left wing used that time to think about everything, including the possibilities of a full season playing with linemates Paul Stastny and Mark Stone. The three joined the Knights at separate points in the past calendar year, but they formed chemistry quickly to arguably become the team’s most dangerous line.
The team was 10-3 in the regular season when all three players were in the lineup. If they could play a lot more than 13 games together in their second season with the Knights, it could be one to remember.
“I’m very happy about the situation that we’re in, the team that we have, the depth that we have,” Pacioretty said. “To have this be my home base and really be looking forward to coming into a comfortable environment and knowing what to expect from Day 1, I think it should allow all of us newcomers to find our game a little bit quicker.”
Stastny had the earliest and least stressful arrival of the three.
A free agent last offseason, the center had options after he and the Winnipeg Jets lost to the Knights in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The 33-year-old decided to come to Las Vegas and signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract July 1.
Adversity struck early, though, when Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel crashed into the back of Stastny’s right leg in the third game of the season. The lower-body injury caused Stastny to miss more than two months, and he didn’t return until the 34th game.
Still, upon his return, he lived up to his reputation as an all-zones player with a penchant for passing and pestering opposing forwards. He finished with his most points per game (0.84) since the 2013-14 season and had the second-best plus-minus (plus-14) of his 13-year career.
“Everything I could have imagined, it exceeded those expectations,” Stastny said. “I had the injury there, so it was kind of tough early on. As the year went on, I got more comfortable.”
Pacioretty arrived second Sept. 9 as a heralded trade acquisition from the Montreal Canadiens.
The left wing had spent the entirety of his 10-year career in Montreal, but was coming off a scrutinized three-season run as the team’s captain. The Knights decided to give him a fresh start and traded forward Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick for him, then gave Pacioretty a four-year, $28 million extension.
“Not to say my time in Montreal wasn’t great, it was, but obviously there was a lot of adversity,” Pacioretty said. “When things don’t go well, you’re always looking for answers, and it seems a lot of the time it was directed toward me.”
The 30-year-old proceeded to have an eventful first season in Las Vegas, as he scored 22 goals, missed 16 games because of injury, welcomed the birth of his fourth son and put together the best stretch of playoff hockey of his career.
Pacioretty had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in the Knights’ first-round series against the Sharks after scoring 19 points in his first 38 postseason games.
“Being in Vegas has exceeded all my expectations,” Pacioretty said. “We have everything here. We have the best fans, the best ownership, coaching, players in the room, weather, city, building. It’s really a privilege to not only play in the NHL but to play in Vegas.
“Who would’ve thought before there was a team here that we’d be talking about this place as a destination where every player wants to play? I feel honored that I’m able to play here.”
Stone was the last, but perhaps most important, piece to arrive.
The 26-year-old right wing was a symbol of the best of the Ottawa Senators, a homegrown sixth-round draft pick that became a two-way force in the NHL. But with the organization preparing for a long rebuild (the Senators finished with the fewest points in the league), he was deemed a luxury.
He was traded to the Knights with minor leaguer Tobias Lindberg at the Feb. 25 deadline for prospect Erik Brannstrom, forward Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round pick, then agreed to an eight-year, $76 million extension.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Stone said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded, whether it was juniors or pro. I knew it was going to be an adjustment, I knew it was going to be a different lifestyle. But I’m happy with the decision I made. I’m excited about where this team is going to go.”
How far they go will depend on Stone, the rare forward who can score, pass and defend with seemingly effortless efficiency. His addition seemed to make the Knights’ lineup whole, as the team played at a 104-point pace after his arrival.
Now the team wants to keep that pace during its first full season with its revamped “second” line.
“We want to be a top team, so for us, we know that we’re going to have to contribute to making that happen,” Stone said. “It was a great first couple months playing with them, but there’s room for not only our line to grow but for everybody to grow.”