William Karlsson is reaping the rewards of being reunited with his two partners in-crime.
It has been a hot start to the 2020-21 NHL season for the Vegas Golden Knights who are 3-0-0 on the year, and a lot of that early success has to be attributed to the play of their dynamic second-line who are relishing being back together again, particularly William Karlsson.
Jonathan Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith formed the bedrock of the substantial success the Golden Knights enjoyed in their inaugural season in 2017-18, with the trio combining for 213 points during the regular-season and 58 points in the Playoffs as Vegas made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final.
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Underused, undervalued and under-appreciated with their previous teams, Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith all truly flourished with the Knights and they developed instant and lethal chemistry together on a line that quickly emerged as one of the most feared and one of the most productive in the entire National Hockey League.
Of course, a dip in each players’ production was expected and that happened in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, except for Smith who carved out a career-high in goals with 27, with Karlsson spending a large chunk of last year on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone rather than with his usual line mates.
Now, while a regression in offensive output can be put down to a number of different factors, it is clear that Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith share special chemistry and, after three years together, they boast an almost telepathic understanding on the ice that leads to high-danger chances galore, while both Karlsson and Smith are elite two-way forwards who are incredibly effective in their own zone.
William Karlsson and Vegas Golden Knights benefiting from 81-71-19 reunion
It is a line that just works and, although three games is a small sample size, Golden Knights Head Coach Pete DeBoer has gone back to exclusively using Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith together on the second-line and he is seeing instant results.
For instance, Marchessault has three points (1 G, 2 A) with a plus / minus rating of +3 in three games, Smith has two points (2 G, 0 A) and a +3 rating in three games and Karlsson has two points (1 G, 1 A) with a +3 rating. While the offensive production isn’t at an elite level yet, the established chemistry between these three has been clear to see.
It is benefitting Karlsson in particular, and we mapped out in our Four Big Questions for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21 Season Preview that being reunited with Marchessault and Smith could spark a bounce-back year for the Swedish center, who endured a down year in 2019-20 with 46 points (15 G, 31 A) in 63 regular-season games, a 10-point drop from the year before.
And that is already looking to be the case with Karlsson already boasting a shooting percentage of 14.3%, while he’s averaging 19:17 of total ice time and playing wth a real swagger and a real confidence. I mean, just look at this ridiculous and sublime play to set up Smith in Vegas’ 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night:
— NHL (@NHL) January 19, 2021
Smith also scored his second of the game with an empty-netter and, although there were no assists on the goal, Karlsson was on the ice at the same time and it is clear that the strong chemistry between the two and Marchessault will reap rich rewards in what is a shortened 56-game season.
Having an elite second-line is a godsend in a plethora of different ways, including the fact that it takes a hell of a lot of pressure off the top line, and the second-line of Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith just gets things done for Vegas both offensively and defensively, with Karlsson and Smith two of the best penalty killers in the NHL.
And, likely to stay on a line with his two trusted partners in-crime for the foreseeable future, this could be the season that William Karlsson gets back to the player that put up 43 goals in 2017-18 and the early signs suggest that 2020-21 could be a hell of a season for the Three Musketeers on that explosive second-line.