The Vegas Golden Knights look like the early favorite to run through the Western Conference. Here's everything you need to know about the the Golden Knights heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
The big question: Is this the West's Stanley Cup favorite?
The Golden Knights shocked the world by making the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1. They bolstered their lineup in their second season with veteran standouts -- Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty in the summer, Mark Stone at the trade deadline -- and then were stunned by the Sharks in that epic penalty-killing fail (on a penalty that shouldn't have been called) in Game 7 of the first round.
As their third season dawns, does it all come together? Two great lines, quality depth and a goaltender who can still carry this team deep in the postseason. Underlying stats, like a 54.66 expected goals percentage. Is it Knight time?
Offseason comings and goings, cap situation
Otherwise, this Knights team is very similar to the one that finished last season rather bitterly. (Seriously, the NHL changed its rulebook because the Knights were so jobbed by that major penalty call.)
The Knights spend some of their draft-pick and prospect capital to pick up another puck-moving defenseman by the trade deadline.
Breakout candidate: Cody Glass
He's right on the cusp of an NHL gig, after jumping from juniors to the AHL last season. The sixth overall pick in 2017 by the Knights, the 20-year-old projects to be a solid two-way center in the show -- whenever the Knights decide it's time.
Their forwards. Few teams can boast two top lines like the one anchored by the explosive Jonathan Marchessault and solid two-way scorer William Karlsson, along with a potential trio of Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone, considered the best defensive winger in the NHL and a consistent 20-goal scorer.
Their defensemen. There's nothing wrong with the Vegas blue line, per se. Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore are solid puck-movers, while Brayden McNabb, Nick Holden, Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill can hold their own. But the group lacks the kind of foundational, 25-minutes-per-night defenseman that most -- but not all -- Stanley Cup champions have on their rosters.
Golden Knights in NHL Rank
45. Mark Stone, RW
Led by the NHL roster (No. 4) and owner/GM/coach (also No. 4), and bolstered by a solid prospect group (No. 8), the Knights are kept out the top two by the cap/contracts situation (No. 20).
Pipeline ranking: 13
Fantasy facts to know
Vegas' other top line at even strength, comprised of Stone, Pacioretty and Stastny, boasts the highest fantasy ceiling up front heading into 2019-20. After coming together late last regular season, this trio proved its productive wherewithal by combining for 31 points in only seven playoff games. While Stone leads the way as an undisputed point-per-game producer, Pacioretty stands to enjoy an impressive rebound campaign surrounded by such talent.
After posting 37 points, including 12 goals, in his first truly full NHL campaign, offensive defenseman Theodore is perceived as ready to break out. Projected to play on the Knights' top power play, the 24-year-old will be provided ample opportunity to contribute to the score sheet. And his diagnosis of testicular cancer from this spring seems a non-issue after he underwent surgery.
At age 34, the Golden Knights' No. 1 goaltender still ranks securely in the top 10 of fantasy netminders after enjoying a second solid season the desert. Earning steady work for a great hockey team, Marc-Andre Fleury will garner 30-plus wins for fantasy managers, while posting better-than-respectable numbers otherwise. -- Victoria Matiash