The Golden Knights for many years had enviable depth on the wing and question marks about their lack of a No. 1 center.
Things have reversed this summer. The Knights not only added a star in Jack Eichel, they kept their other top-six options in William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson. They’ve never been deeper at center considering Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden are also coming off strong seasons.
The team is now in a position where one of those skaters is likely to start at wing to fill the voids left by the departures of Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov and Mattias Janmark this summer. Who that is remains to be seen, but it does give the roster some flexibility. Here is the team’s depth chart at center:
The Knights’ most impactful addition next year will be a full season of Eichel.
The 25-year-old appeared in only 34 games for the Knights following his neck surgery and 20 of those came after he fractured his thumb March 17 against Florida. He still had 14 goals and 11 assists, a 34-goal, 60-point pace over a full season.
The Knights need Eichel to take on a larger scoring load with Pacioretty and Dadonov gone. He showed he was capable of that in Buffalo, scoring 139 goals and 355 points in 375 games there.
Stephenson appeared to be the perfect third wheel for Pacioretty and right wing Mark Stone his first two seasons with the Knights. Then last year he showed he could get by on his own just fine.
Stephenson finished second on the Knights with 21 goals and 64 points despite his two usual linemates each missing more than half the season. His 48 even-strength points led the team.
The 28-year-old showed he belonged in the top six even when he wasn’t with Stone and Pacioretty. He’ll likely be back there either at center or wing, where he briefly showed chemistry with Eichel.
Karlsson has held one of the Knights’ top-six center spots for almost the entirety of the franchise. He is also coming off a difficult season in which he said his confidence wasn’t where he wanted it to be.
Karlsson, who missed all of November with a broken foot, scored 12 goals and 35 points in 67 games. His goals (0.18) and points (0.52) per game were both lows for his Knights tenure.
The team needs the 29-year-old to rebound next season. That could be at center or wing after he spent a brief amount of time playing with Eichel last year.
Roy is coming off a breakout season that earned him a five-year, $15 million extension this summer.
The 25-year-old took a leap offensively, scoring a career-high 15 goals and 39 points in 78 games. He believes he can produce even more.
Roy is likely to fill a variety of roles next season as someone who can play in the top or bottom six, at center or right wing and on both special-teams units. He said coach Bruce Cassidy told him to “be ready for everything.”
Last year’s acquisitions
Howden was another pleasant surprise for the Knights. He scored 20 points in 47 games his first season with the team despite limited ice time. His 2.18 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five was fifth on the team.
The Knights also added Nolan Patrick last summer, but it’s unclear if he’ll contribute this season. He’s out indefinitely. His promising career has been held back by numerous injuries, including a migraine disorder/concussion that caused him to miss the 2019-20 season..
The young guys
Jake Leschyshyn and Ivan Morozov are two more players who should factor into the Knights’ plans at center.
Leschyshyn, 23, scored six points in 41 games as a rookie last season. His improved skating gives him a chance to see time on the fourth line again.
Morozov, 22, will be starting his first full North American season after scoring 42 points in 77 games in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League the last two years. He could emerge as a bottom-six option as well.
2022-23 outlook: The Knights center depth is as strong as it’s ever been entering camp.
There are no longer questions about what they’re missing. It’s who they’re willing to move to shore up gaps they’ve left on the wing.
Stephenson and Karlsson are both options to take the top-six left wing job opened up by Pacioretty’s departure. Roy, Howden and Leschyshyn all played on the wing as well last season. Cassidy has a number of players he could move around to throw different looks at teams.