Two of the Golden Knights’ rocks are right wings.
Mark Stone and Reilly Smith are not only two of the better two-way forwards in the NHL but also provide consistent effort and leadership for a franchise that’s had a lot of success during their tenures. That’s why their absence was felt so much last season.
Stone missed 45 games and Smith 26 as the Knights missed the playoffs for the first time. Making sure they stay in the lineup is a clear priority for next season. That’s especially true because the depth behind them took a hit with right wings Alex Tuch and Evgenii Dadonov leaving in trades.
The Knights have some high-upside prospects at this position, but Stone and Smith might be more difficult to replace than ever. Here is their depth chart at right wing:
The Knights’ captain is arguably their best and most important player.
That’s why they need to hope his offseason back surgery fixed an injury that caused him to miss time every month last season. The team needs him to be healthy and productive to have success.
Another key for Stone will be finding a new wing partner with Max Pacioretty gone. The Knights outscored opponents 116-62 at five-on-five in their four seasons together. They were outscored 32-25 when Stone played without Pacioretty.
Smith returns on a three-year, $15 million contract he signed the first day of free agency.
He should be a favorite of new coach Bruce Cassidy because of his ability to play in all situations. The 31-year-old probably will remain a top-six fixture and one of the Knights’ main penalty killers.
Kolesar scored a career-high 24 points in the bottom six last season and still has more upside. That’s what makes the three-year, $4.2 million contract the Knights gave him intriguing.
The 25-year-old has generated scoring chances in his first two NHL seasons but struggled to finish. His 7.4 shooting percentage last season ranked 14th among the Knights’ regular forwards and well below the league’s 9.8 percent average.
He could be a double-digit goal scorer if he improves around the net and gets better luck.
Amadio played the best hockey of his career after getting claimed off waivers by the Knights on Oct. 30.
He had a career-high 11 goals and 18 points in 53 games with the team. It might be hard for him to maintain that level of production — he shot 17.7 percent as a Knight compared with his career average of 10.7 percent — but he proved he’s an NHL player.
He’s likely to get plenty of opportunities again this season.
The young guys
The Knights are likely to mix in some youngsters at this spot as injuries arise.
Jonas Rondbjerg played 30 games as a rookie and had six points. His offensive game is still growing, but he’s responsible enough to earn more NHL playing time.
Brendan Brisson, the Knights’ 2020 first-round pick, could become an option if he proves himself in his first full professional season. The 20-year-old had eight points in seven games with the Silver Knights last season after compiling 42 points in 38 games as a Michigan sophomore.
Pavel Dorofeyev, Henderson’s leading scorer last season, also could factor in as a left-shot forward who can play the right side. He had 27 goals and 25 assists in 63 games last season.
The new vet
The Knights added one player for depth in free agency in Spencer Foo, who spent the past three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
The 28-year-old had 31 goals and 45 assists in 154 games for the Kunlun Red Star. He signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Knights.
2022-23 outlook: So many of the Knights’ hopes hinge on Stone and Smith’s health.
It was much easier to slide Tuch or Dadonov up the lineup previously when an injury occurred. The Knights now have to hope Kolesar or Amadio take a step forward or Rondbjerg, Brisson or Dorofeyev emerge as an NHL regular. They also have the cap flexibility to add someone via free agency or trade.
Those are all secondary options, however. The Knights’ odds of a successful season take off if Stone and Smith stay in the lineup.