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5 surprising Golden Knights contributors this season

The unexpected is woven into the Golden Knights’ fabric.

It was the story of their inaugural season, when other teams’ castoffs came together for a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. And it’s part of the Knights’ success this season.

The Knights were leading the Pacific Division when the NHL season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, partly because of the efforts of players that the team wasn’t counting on out of training camp.

Here are five players who have been surprising contributors:

5. Defenseman Alec Martinez

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez (23) warms up before an NHL hockey game against t ...
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez (23) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Let’s start with the most recent.

Martinez was acquired Feb. 19 from the Los Angeles Kings, but he isn’t on this list just because he started the season on another Pacific Division club. He’s here because he flipped his game completely in Las Vegas.

Martinez, 32, had eight points in 41 games when he was traded. He doubled that total in 10 games with the Knights. Coach Pete DeBoer gives his defensemen freedom to join the rush and make plays in the offensive zone, and it’s led to Martinez’s offense soaring.

“The fact that Pete gives us that freedom, that’s awesome,” said Martinez, who has scored more than 25 points only twice in his 11-season career. “That kind of thing, as long as you do it responsibly, can only lead to more offense.”

4. Defenseman Zach Whitecloud

Vegas Golden Knights' Zach Whitecloud plays against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL hockey ...
Vegas Golden Knights' Zach Whitecloud plays against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL hockey game Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Whitecloud has done nothing but surprise during his career.

He didn’t play in a prestigious junior league. He had only one college scholarship offer. Yet at 23, he already has the demeanor of an NHL veteran.

Whitecloud’s steady, quiet game made him a lineup fixture after the All-Star break. He went from bowing out of a preseason competition for a roster spot because of an injury to becoming a regular sooner than anyone expected.

The two-year extension he signed Sunday means he isn’t going anywhere, either.

“When he’s at the top of his game, he’s not a player you’re going to notice a lot, but neither is there going to be chaos when he’s on the ice,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “He’s a really intelligent player that does a good job of defending and breaking pucks out.”

3. Forward Nicolas Roy

Vegas Golden Knights center Nicolas Roy (10) during the first period of an NHL hockey game agai ...
Vegas Golden Knights center Nicolas Roy (10) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Roy went from trade piece to top-six forward in eight months. It only took him 31 transactions to get there.

The 23-year-old was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Erik Haula trade in June and proceeded to spend the season bouncing between the NHL and American Hockey League. He played 28 games with the Knights and 27 with the Chicago Wolves.

Between all the flights, Roy developed. He learned to throw his 6-foot-4-inch frame around when necessary, and his confidence grew every month. He spent his last four games at second-line right wing with center William Karlsson and left wing Max Pacioretty and looked as if he belonged.

The three had a 52-19 edge in scoring chances at 5-on-5 together.

2. Forward William Carrier

Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier (28) plays against the New Jersey Devils during ...
Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier (28) plays against the New Jersey Devils during an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

This list can’t be all newcomers, right?

Carrier has steadily progressed with the Knights. The speedy, yet physical force is showing more and more why he was a second-round pick in 2013. That has resulted in a career season in which the 25-year-old blew away several benchmarks.

Carrier had four times as many assists (12) as he had in any prior season. He played in 17 more games than last season. And he scored 19 points, more than double his previous career high.

He did all that without forsaking his rugged style of play. He still ranked sixth in the NHL in hits (213). That earned him a well-timed four-year extension just before his daughter, Stella, was born.

“I think they like the way I play,” Carrier said. “I play an honest game night after night, so I just got to bring it the next four years here.”

1. Forward Chandler Stephenson

Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) waits for the puck to drop in a face off a ...
Vegas Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) waits for the puck to drop in a face off against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

When Stephenson was traded, he was an infamous part of the Knights’ past. Now he looks like a key piece of the team’s future.

The 25-year-old has done nothing but impress since being acquired in a Dec. 2 trade with Washington. He went from being an afterthought in the Capitals’ lineup to a key part of the Knights’ lineup.

His speed impressed, his defense dazzled and his breakaway moves almost never failed. He’s the Knights’ ninth-leading scorer with 22 points despite his late start. The restricted free agent could soar with an offseason to adjust to his surroundings.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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