The Review-Journal presents its “Roster Review” series, which will examine each Golden Knights player’s current production and future outlook in alphabetical order. Friday: Forward Chandler Stephenson.
Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson shook hands on the T-Mobile Arena ice June 7, 2018.
Stephenson’s Washington Capitals had just won Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final 4-3 to clinch the franchise’s first championship. And Stephenson didn’t know it, but he was about to get a glimpse of his future.
Karlsson came to the Golden Knights as a grinding winger for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Within a year, he was an electric center whose speed allowed him to become a two-way force.
Stephenson, on a smaller scale, has mirrored that transformation two years later. He just had no way of knowing when he and Karlsson locked palms that night.
Stephenson was the 20th Capital to hold the Stanley Cup that night in Las Vegas. Two years later, he hadn’t moved up the pecking order much.
His average ice time with Washington in 2019-20 (11:50) was almost identical to his 2017-18 mark (11:52). There was little opportunity for him to progress on a veteran team chasing a second Cup.
He needed a change. The Knights provided it.
President of hockey operations George McPhee, who drafted Stephenson in the third round in 2012 when he was the Capitals’ general manager, bet that the 26-year-old was capable of more in a larger role. The gamble paid off. The fifth-round pick that McPhee sent Washington looked like a steal for the Knights.
Stephenson, a grinding wing with the Capitals, was reimagined as a speedy center just like Karlsson once was. He hasn’t reach Karlsson’s heights, but he’s gone from castoff to contributor in five months.
Stephenson never scored more than 18 points in a season with the Capitals. He has 22 in 41 games with the Knights.
“There’s a list of guys every year who are stuck in depth roles and need a fresh start, or a clean slate, somewhere else,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said in February. “To (Stephenson’s) credit, he’s made the most of the change.”
Stephenson has shown his value beyond scoring. His speed makes him an effective two-way player at five-on-five, and he’s long been a good penalty killer.
His stick handling is also sharp, and his shot was praised by teammate Max Pacioretty in December.
That total skill set led to Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby calling Stephenson “one of the best young two-way forwards out there” in February.
He just needed a chance to prove it, and the Knights have given him that.
Stephenson, 26, is a restricted free agent this offseason, but his likely modest price tag makes it almost certain he’ll be retained.
The only question pertains to his future role. Stephenson played some wing late this season because the Knights have a glut of centers. That probably won’t change next season with Karlsson, Paul Stastny, Cody Glass and Nicolas Roy under contract, and Nick Cousins likely to return as a restricted free agent.
Stephenson can help alleviate the potential logjam by playing out wide again. But his metamorphosis this season showed he might be at his most valuable in the middle.
Chandler Stephenson file
Birthplace: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Position: Center/Left wing
2019-20 stats: 65 games, 11 goals, 15 assists (with Washington Capitals and Golden Knights)