LAS VEGAS — The first time Mark Stone ever skated onto the ice for an NHL game, he was 19 years old and his Ottawa Senators were facing the New York Rangers in the playoffs.
Erik Karlsson was his teammate then and he remembers it well. ”I’ve been with Stoney since he played his first game,” said Karlsson, now a San Jose Sharks defenseman. ”I’ve seen him kind of evolve into the guy he is today. He’s taken the right steps from day one. He was very fortunate to be around some of the guys in Ottawa that were still there.”
Today, Stone is 27 and one of the best forwards in the league, and Karlsson said things have come full circle for his friend in Las Vegas, where Stone has emerged as a mentor and leader for the Golden Knights.
Stone’s arrival in Vegas in February via trade after six-plus years in Ottawa solidified the third-year franchise as a contender as the big-bodied defensive forward makes things happen in both zones.
Though they now play for heated rivals who will open the season facing each other Wednesday, Karlsson said he is happy for his friend, whom he believes is in a good place with Vegas, where many young players can benefit from his leadership on and off the ice.
”He’s a fantastic man and a good hockey player, I think we all know that,” said Karlsson, who reunited with Stone in Ottawa this summer for several offseason workouts. ”He has the right values and he knows what needs to be done to be the best that you can be.
”I think that he’s always realized what his attributes are on the ice and he’s used that as an example over the course of the years and I think he’s learned his own way of leading and I think he does that by example. As of lately, I think that he’s evolved in helping others reach their potential. He’s taken the long hard road and he’s turned himself into the player that he is today by the dedication and the love of the game that he has, and I know he’s gonna be great for the guys here.”
Stone’s talent is no secret.
He positions himself on offense to make things happen, whether for himself or his teammates. His sturdy 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame allows him to hold the puck a second or two longer in the offensive zone and tends to draw an added defender. The tactic generally leaves one of his linemates open, allowing him to find someone in the crease.
”The minute you think he’s gonna pass it, he shoots; he’s not afraid to do both,” Golden Knights center Paul Stastny said.
On defense, Stone has a knack for disrupting opposing forwards by pickpocketing pucks, intercepting passes, or singlehandedly shutting down another team’s offensive attack before it even starts.
”He’s able to clean up other people’s mistakes and turn them into quick offense,” wing Reilly Smith said. ”He’s a mainstay in this league, he’s one of the best players, so we’re happy to have him for sure.”
Where he’s been just as valuable has been in blending perfectly into a system that has relied on locker-room chemistry. Now the Golden Knights benefit from having him for an entire season, being the type of mentor he once relied on in Ottawa.
”You add Mark in for the whole year this year and he’s such a presence for our group,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. ”He makes a lot of guys better around him.”
Stone said he has no problem taking on a leadership role with a team that became his number one choice when he knew things would no longer work in Ottawa.
”I heard awesome things about the organization, the ownership, the management, the coaches and, ultimately, the players in this room and it hasn’t disappointed,” said Stone, who had 11 points in 18 regular-season games and 12 points in seven playoff games for Vegas last season. ”This is a group of guys that I love to come to the rink with and work with every day and going and competing with every day.”