With zero goals and just one assist in his first four games in Vegas, many might be tempted to say that Mark Stone hasn’t worked out so well early on for the Golden Knights.
Luckily for Stone (not to mention Golden Knights GM George McPhee), there are plenty of other numbers to suggest that things are going right as planned. More or less.
Most obviously, the Golden Knights are winning. They’re currently on a four-game winning streak, including consecutive 3-0 victories with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.
Piling up wins likely cools would-be hot takes, and Stone also doesn’t have to flinch every time he fails to score a point, as he already essentially agreed to an extension upon being traded to the Golden Knights.
The deeper you look, the more promising things get — at least while acknowledging that four games is an incredibly small sample size.
For one thing, Stone is getting his chances. While that first Vegas goal continues to elude the 26-year-old, Stone’s fired 13 shots on goal in his first four contests. Considering Stone’s robust career shooting percentage of 16 (up to 17.7-percent this season), it’s difficult to imagine this cold streak going much longer.
Stone’s carried his strong possession play to Vegas, a team that already showed proficiency in puck hoggery even before they landed Stone. As TSN’s Travis Yost notes, the Golden Knights have been carrying the play when Stone is on and off the ice so far. Overall, they’ve been in a top three possession team (Corsi and Fenwick percentages) since the trade deadline, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.
Gerard Gallant’s made a logical call early on in placing Stone with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, while keeping the Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Jonathan Marchessault line intact.
Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault has shown some strain in trying to duplicate last season’s brilliant work, but the Stone addition could really make life easier. In an ideal situation, the Golden Knights could essentially boast two “top” lines.
From matchups to adjusted roles, the Stone trade is making a positive ripple effect. Pacioretty stated as much, as Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported this past weekend.
“I think Stone coming in and giving us that balance throughout our lineup, I see a lot of similarities in our forwards now compared to when (Nate Schmidt) came back from his (20-game suspension),” Pacioretty said. “It’s not one player that makes a huge difference. I think it’s one player that puts everyone in a position to succeed with a role that they’re comfortable in.”
The Golden Knights have already been a nightmare matchup during their home games in Vegas. Now imagine how much Gallant might be able to exploit different situations with the last change. Stone could be used to shut down an explosive opponent, while Marchessault & Co. might enjoy cushier zone starts.
With Vegas basically locked in to the third spot in the Pacific (see the Playoff Push here), Gallant shouldn’t be afraid to run with different alignments.
Perhaps there would be situation where the Golden Knights would want to load up with Marchessault, Stone, and Karlsson on a top line? Maybe Alex Tuch might find especially strong chemistry with Stone, as they’re both bigger forwards? Which groups of scorers would work best on the power play, and would Gallant be wiser to either go top-heavy or maybe echo Mike Babcock by aiming for two fairly even power-play units?
In most cases, teams that made big trade deadline purchases can only experiment too much. After all, many of those squads either are desperately fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or are trying to avoid matchups by securing a better seed.
The Golden Knights have the luxury of basically using the next month as a hockey laboratory to see what works the best, and figure out which wrinkles can be ironed out by April.
If the current combinations work best, that’s a nice problem to have, because from the look of things, the Golden Knights plus Stone equals some serious problems for the rest of the NHL.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.