Updated June 25, 2020 - 9:39 pm
Chandler Stephenson’s career changed while he was grabbing his morning coffee in San Jose, California.
The forward learned Dec. 2, a day before his Washington Capitals were scheduled to play the Sharks, that he was being traded to the Golden Knights. His emotions were understandably mixed, but the move ended up working out beautifully.
Stephenson won the Seventh Player award during the team’s “Awards Knight” special Thursday on AT&T SportsNet for exceeding expectations on the ice. He was one of four players honored on the show — along with Reilly Smith, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny — which replaced the typical regular-season awards ceremony that would have taken place at the team’s final regular-season home game.
“I think I took the opportunity … and just kind of ran with it,” Stephenson said in a Zoom interview during the special. “The coaching staff and everybody in management, the fans, they’ve been so supportive, so it was easy to get comfortable.”
Stephenson was known in Washington as a versatile grinder who could provide depth. He showed with the Knights he was capable of much greater things.
The 26-year-old scored 22 points in 41 games after the trade. He scored 33 in 168 games with Washington.
Stephenson’s speed fit right in with the Knights’ identity, and he soon found himself contributing on both special teams units, too. He beat out nominees William Carrier, Nick Holden and Brayden McNabb to win the award.
“Obviously, (I’m) so happy with the way things went,” said Stephenson, a restricted free agent this offseason. “How smooth Vegas made the transition. I hope this is home for a while here.”
Stastny and Pacioretty won the Vegas Strong Service award for their work in the community. The “Paul and Patches” program tries to spread hockey to disadvantaged youth.
They’ve held ball hockey clinics and invited their pupils to Knights games. The cause means a lot to Pacioretty, one of the few players of Hispanic descent in the NHL.
“We’re completely honored to be given this achievement,” Pacioretty said in a prerecorded video message. “Times are tough right now. We’re looking forward to helping out as much as we can, especially when we get back on the ice.”
Added Stastny: “Max and I obviously are honored to have this award. More importantly, we’re happy to give back to the community and try to get as many people into the game of hockey.”
Smith won the First Star award as determined by the “stars of the game” voting at home games. The winger was second on the Knights in goals (16) and third in points (26) at T-Mobile Arena. The two-way player also was third in overall scoring with 54 points and had a career-high 27 goals.
The four recipients didn’t get to celebrate their achievements on home ice, but the Knights are still hopeful they’ll get to finish their season. Stephenson said “basically the whole team” is in town and skating as part of Phase Two of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.
“The bond that this team has, and the camaraderie and everything, it’s pretty special,” said Stephenson, who won the 2018 Stanley Cup at T-Mobile Arena with the Capitals. “When there’s a group like this, those are the ones that usually do something with it. I think everyone’s a believer we can win the Stanley Cup here.”