Alec Martinez delivering a surprisingly strong season for Golden Knights

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks. Golden Knights-Sharks coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of Vegas Golden Knights defensemen, you probably picture Shea Theodore, or Alex Pietrangelo. Maybe you even ponder defensemen who are no longer with the team, like Nate Schmidt.

But Alec Martinez is enjoying the sort of season that’s making the Golden Knights look smart for nabbing him from the Kings around the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Much like with Max Pacioretty, it seems like the trade is paying off more after Alec Martinez is settling in, but either way, he’s playing some of his best hockey since his peak years with LA.

“A Warrior”

Earlier this season, Alec Martinez did receive praise from the Golden Knights and others for at least one thing: shot blocking. Head coach Peter DeBoer described him as a “warrior,” stating that “it’s not an accident” that Martinez won two Stanley Cups.

Shea Theodore, Martinez’s frequent partner, echoed those thoughts about Martinez making those bruise-battered sacrifices.

“He’s got the guts,” Theodore said of Martinez, via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger (sub. required). “I think when Burns, or whoever it is, is winding up, he’s not afraid to step into the lane. Even when there’s no time on the clock and he rips it from the red line, he still eats it.”

(Hey, if you’re going to eat it even without any time on the clock, you better have guts. Right?)


Indeed, you don’t need to dig deep to see that Martinez will throw his body in front of pucks that should receive traffic tickets.

Heading into Tuesday’s Golden Knights-Sharks game, Alec Martinez doesn’t just lead the Golden Knights with 139 blocked shots. He’s also far-and-away the league leader, as Adam Larsson‘s the only other player in triple digits (115). For every 60 minutes of ice time, Martinez averages a bone-rattling 8.4 blocked shots.

No doubt about it, that’s impressive. That said, Martinez is valuable enough to the Golden Knights that they might want him to let that occasional no-time-left Brent Burns burner hit his goalies’ pads instead. At least every now and then.

Martinez putting together some of his best hockey for Golden Knights

That’s because Martinez is playing at a very impressive level this season.

In many cases, old-school hockey types lavish praise on shot-blockers, but might miss the bigger picture. After all, if you’re sprawling out for that many shots, you might be in poor position.

Well, that’s probably true sometimes, but Martinez shows evidence of being an all-purpose player for the Golden Knights. And while it’s clear Vegas targeted him as an asset, they might even be surprised by his improvement.

After some great years with the Kings, Martinez declined. Those struggles extended into his Vegas season, as you can see in this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey.

Alec Martinez RAPM chart recent previous seasons, Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

Sure, Martinez could bring some offensive value, but his defense had been lacking. So far this season, other teams do still create some offense vs. the Golden Knights when Martinez is on the ice, but his strong work outweighs those worries.

Alec Martinez 2020-21 RAPM Chart, Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

While Shea Theodore leads all Golden Knights defensemen with 36 points, Martinez ranks second with 25 (including seven goals). As an all-around defenseman, Martinez reached greater heights in early days with the Kings, but he’s on pace for 46-47 points, which would eclipse his career-high of 39.

Expect some slow down, but he can still be helpful

Now, sure, there are some reasons why Martinez probably won’t actually maintain that .57 point-per-game pace (career average: .35).

Ever since he joined the Golden Knights, he’s had a Midas-like touch with his shots. (It begs the question: is Martinez possibly to blame for those extremely loud, gold helmets they sometimes where? Someone launch an investigation.)

After being traded to the Golden Knights, Martinez closed the 2019-20 season with two goals on just 16 shots on goal (12.5 shooting percentage). He’s really only cooled off a bit so far this season, reaching seven goals on a mere 70 SOG (10%).

Plenty of scoring NHL forwards would settle for that kind of efficiency, so it’s remarkable that Martinez has been that precise (and, probably, picky with his shots). Interestingly, he’s enjoyed some other high-level stretches before, though. (Martinez scored 11 goals on a 13.9 shooting percentage in 2013-14).

Eventually, that puck luck should slow down. With Alex Pietrangelo settled back into the lineup, it will also take away certain plum scoring opportunities for Martinez. Yet, looking at his ice time splits, it’s clear that Peter DeBoer trusts the “warrior” defenseman.

He’ll probably just lean more toward blocking shots, rather than getting them behind opposing goalies. That said, the Golden Knights might not regret it if Martinez dusts off his shot every now and then, either.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.