Chandler Stephenson has absolutely flourished for the Vegas Golden Knights.
There is a big belief within sports that a change of scenery can single-handedly help to resurrect a player’s career, providing a timely boost and leading to a remarkable turnaround that can’t really be explained or quantified. Well, we are seeing that with Chandler Stephenson and the Vegas Golden Knights right now.
While he was hardly struggling with the Washington Capitals, Stephenson was nothing more than a role player for the top-heavy Caps, averaging less than 13 minutes of total ice time throughout his time with the organization and making his name as a bottom-six forward. He did provide secondary scoring, though, and his best year came in 2017-18 when he recorded 18 points (6 G, 12) in 67 regular-season games, before putting up seven points (2 G, 5 A) in 24 postseason contests as the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup.
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However, Stephenson endured a down year the following season with five goals and six assists for 11 points in 64 regular-season games and, after posting just four points (3 G, 1 A) in 26 games to start the 2019-20 season, the forward was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights for a Fifth Round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. And that’s when everything changed.
Stephenson immediately benefited from being thrust into a brand new situation and, like everything else the Golden Knights have done, their decision to trade for a bottom-six grinder with seemingly little upside turned into a golden asset overnight. He meshed perfectly with a talent-laden roster and proved to be a great fit in what was an already close-knit locker room.
Chandler Stephenson rewriting his career story with the Vegas Golden Knights
The 26-year-old unlocked offensive potential that no-one within the Capitals organization obviously saw, recording 22 points (8 G, 14 A) in 41 regular-season games last year for the Golden Knights, while also proving responsible in the defensive zone with 20 blocked shots, 32 hits and 24 Takeaways.
What really made Stephenson so valuable to the Vegas Golden Knights, however, was his versatility and his ability to play in all situations. For instance, he was often used on a second-line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty and developed lethal chemistry with the two stars, while he also provided an offensive punch from the third-line. Stephenson’s total ice time jumped to an average of 15:47 with the Knights, and he was used on both the power play and on the penalty kill.
His ability to play a real 200-foot game gave the Golden Knights a real edge, perhaps something they had missed before, with Stephenson able to create chances for his line-mates by battling hard against the boards and in the dirty areas, while he also crashed hard to the net in order to create high-danger chances. Also, the center’s blistering speed made him a real elite weapon on the penalty kill and it was no surprise that he recorded two short-handed goals in 2019-20.
Having proved his worth and established himself as much more than just a role player, the Golden Knights signed Chandler Stephenson to a four-year, $11 million contract with an Average Annual Value of $2.75 million in the offseason, and that faith has already been well justified.
Despite Cody Glass, Vegas’ No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, reporting to Training Camp having piled on some muscle and looking to fulfil his potential after a tough rookie year in 2019-20, Stephenson won the No. 1 center job between Pacioretty and Stone and he’s stayed there for the duration of the 2020-21 season, with the trio playing over 145 minutes of ice time together so far.
And Stephenson seems right at home in a top-six role, recording 9 points (5 G, 4 A) in 13 games this year with a plus / minus rating of +7, averaging a career-high of 16:56 of ATOI and recording 9 blocked shots and eight hits. The Swiss-Army Knife-type player has also contributed three points (2 G, 1 A) on the power play and his rapid speed continues to be a significant weapon on the PK. He just does the little things that make a huge difference in any given game and Stephenson has already morphed into a key piece on what is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Having also recorded two game-winning goals in addition to putting up an impressive 53.1 percent CF% and an even-better 57.8 percent oZS%, Chandler Stephenson continues to play a huge role for the Vegas Golden Knights and he could well go down as one of the best most underrated trade pickups in recent memory given the considerable impact he has made on this team. He’s already making the contract he signed back in the offseason look like an absolute bargain, and he’s also perfect proof that sometimes a change of scenery can work absolute wonders for a player.