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Golden Knights’ hopes hinge on several key factors

It would be fun to have a computer in the office that could run 10,000 simulations of the Golden Knights’ upcoming season. Alas, it’s left to the imagination to envision what will happen during Year 3.

Had the simulator been available, though, it likely would have discovered a few key patterns from the Knights’ first two seasons.

For instance, if right wing Mark Stone surpasses his career-high totals of 33 goals and 73 points from last season, the Knights might have to make room for another Pacific Division banner in T-Mobile Arena.

And if the team’s highest-paid player dips below the 25-goal mark where he’s been most of his career, well, you get the idea.

Here are five more factors that could determine whether the Knights contend for the Stanley Cup or suffer another early playoff exit:

1. Max Pacioretty’s goal scoring

Dream scenario: The veteran left wing is able to play 70-plus games for the first time in three seasons and picks up where he left off in the playoffs, when he posted 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games against San Jose.

He leads the team in goals and is able to rejuvenate his career playing on a line with Stone and center Paul Stastny.

Nightmare scenario: Pacioretty struggles to crack the 20-goal barrier, slides to the third line when coach Gerard Gallant shuffles his forwards and sees his ice time significantly cut.

The contract extension he signed with a $7 million salary cap hit for the next four seasons becomes an anchor on the Knights’ payroll.

Golden Knights left wing Max Pacioretty (67) on Friday, March 29, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in L ...
Golden Knights left wing Max Pacioretty (67) on Friday, March 29, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager Review-Journal) @BenjaminHphoto

2. William Karlsson’s productivity

Dream: Karlsson feels at ease after signing an eight-year contract in June, and he falls somewhere between last season’s 56-point output and his breakout 2017-18 campaign when he was third in the league with 43 goals and finished with 78 points.

He also connects with linemate Jonathan Marchessault for several one-timer goals the way they did in their first season together.

Nightmare: Opposing teams continue to pay extra attention to the 26-year-old center, and his goal total dips into the teens or — egads! — single digits like during his Columbus days.

Karlsson shaves his golden locks, horrifying his legion of fans, and coach Gerard Gallant swaps the Swede for third-line center Cody Eakin.

Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) on Monday, April 1, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in Las ...
Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) on Monday, April 1, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager Review-Journal) @BenjaminHphoto

3. Rookie D-man

Dream: One of the youngsters, whether it’s Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt or Zach Whitecloud, emerges in training camp and earns top-four minutes during the regular season.

He skates with Nate Schmidt or Shea Theodore to give the Knights the dynamic pairing they’ve been missing on defense and also sees time on special teams.

Nightmare: The jump to the NHL proves overwhelming, and assistant Ryan McGill, who coaches the defensemen, loses trust.

The Knights return to the tried-and-true pairings that are more bland than sodium-free potato chips, and the team ranks in the bottom third of the league in points by defensemen.

Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Coghlan takes a slap shot during the third day of Golden Kn ...
Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Coghlan takes a slap shot during the third day of Golden Knights development camp at City Center Arena on Thursday, June 28, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye

4. Goaltenders’ workload

Dream: Marc-Andre Fleury, who turns 35 in November, avoids injury and makes 50 to 55 starts. He pranks commissioner Gary Bettman and finishes as a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time in his career.

Backup Malcolm Subban finally beats Calgary after receiving some offensive support and also remains unscored upon in shootouts.

Nightmare: Fleury goes down early.

Or, Subban can’t stay healthy, Garret Sparks isn’t able to solidify himself as a reliable backup and goes on a rant about needing more emotion from his teammates, and Fleury is worn down after making more than 60 starts for the second straight year.

Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save in the third period during game s ...
Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save in the third period during game seven of the NHL Western Conference quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, April 23, 2019, at SAP Center, in San Jose, Calif. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @BenjaminHphoto

5. Power play success

Dream: Theodore takes another step forward in his development and quarterbacks the No. 1 unit with aplomb, doubling last season’s total of nine power-play points.

The Knights go from a 16.8 conversion rate, which ranked 25th in the NHL with the man advantage last season, to better than 20 percent.

Nightmare: The second unit cycles through multiple candidates (Cody Eakin? Brandon Pirri? Alex Tuch?) searching for a fourth forward and struggles to get the puck into the zone.

Pacioretty and Stone, who’s never scored more than six power-play goals during his career, don’t click with the man advantage for some reason.

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) celebrates his power-play goal against the O ...
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) celebrates his power-play goal against the Ottawa Senators with teammates center William Karlsson (71) defenseman Brad Hunt (77) and right wing Tomas Hyka (38) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2018 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press via AP)

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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