Vegas’ ‘Original Six’ headed back to the Stanley Cup Final

The Golden Knights have their own version of the "Original Six," the only six players remaining from the team's inaugural season.

LAS VEGAS — They’re known as the Original Six, that being the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs – the teams that comprised the National Hockey League between 1942 and 1967.

At City National Arena, the Vegas Golden Knights’ headquarters in Summerlin, the term “Original Six” has taken on a new meaning.

Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, William Carrier, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb are the only six remaining members of the Golden Knights who played in the Stanley Cup Final during the franchise’s inaugural season.

“It’s a great feeling,” Karlsson said, after the Golden Knights eliminated the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final on Monday. “You know, been in the conference final a couple of times and I made it back to the finals to make a second time now and hopefully have a better outcome. It’s a great feeling.”

Especially for Vegas’ OGs, who have suffered through the pain of many heartbreaks, while surviving plenty of roster turnover.

And for this group, heartbreak started long before losing to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. The original band of Golden Misfits was thrust into hero mode, lifting a city that was terrorized by the largest mass shooting in U.S. history just a mile or so down the road shortly after a preseason game on Oct. 1, 2017.

The Golden Knights helped forge the hashtag #VegasStrong with Southern Nevada, and lifted an entire valley with a glimmer of hope when they opened the season 8-1-0 and became an immediate hit when so many doubted the thought of hockey in a desert, let alone on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The town hadn’t fallen in love with a team like this since the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball program was a national powerhouse under the leadership of the late great Jerry Tarkanian.

Since Day 1, there have been 76 skaters on the roster (per Hockey Reference) – and 46 of them didn’t make it to 2023. There have been 12 goaltenders between the pipes for Vegas since opening night, and none of the netminders from the original team remains, though it’s arguable there are throngs of fans who will always envision Marc-Andre Fleury in a Golden Knights sweater.

Since Day 1, there have been four trips to the conference finals (in 2020 it was called the Stanley Cup semifinals), led by three different coaches.

The fans adored Gerard Gallant, and booed loudly when Peter DeBoer was hired. They changed their tune and cheered louder when he guided them to the NHL semifinals in a COVID-marred season that was completed in a bubble. He got them to the brink of the Stanley Cup Final twice before being fired after the Golden Knights barely missed the postseason for the first time, despite finishing with the second-highest man-games lost with 505, per NHLInjuryViz.com.

Now, VGK’s faithful fans have fallen for Bruce Cassidy, whose low-key personality has remained calm, cool and collected throughout the season, and turned the Golden Knights back into a Western Conference contender as the No. 1 seed. They waltzed by the Winnipeg Jets, and as underdogs in consecutive series, skated through the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas.

Yet through it all, the one consistency with this team – well, six – has been the sextet of Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Carrier, Theodore and McNabb.

And they’re just as productive as they were in the 2018 postseason.

Five years ago, Vegas’ Original Six finished the postseason with 73 points (25 goals and 48 assists) in 20 games.

This year, the Golden Knights’ Original Six heads into the Stanley Cup Final with 55 points (23 and 32) in 17 games.

Considering the six players have seen their roles change slightly, and are playing with several new playmakers – including two of the best forwards in the league, Jack Eichel and Mark Stone – it’s impressive they’re on pace to register nearly 68 points (67.9).

Most importantly, among a star-studded roster that includes a few Stanley Cup winners, Vegas’ OG 6 brings experience from playing a Stanley Cup Final in Vegas in the month of June. It’s summertime, it’s hotter, the ice may be different, the atmosphere is zany, and those fans, they expect victories.

Four more, to be exact.

The depth certainly helps, as the Golden Knights have gotten at least one goal from 16 of the 22 skaters who’ve touched the ice this postseason.

“It’s huge,” said Karlsson, who leads the team with 10 postseason goals. “That’s one of our strengths and a reason why we have gotten this far. If we can have all four lines going every night, we are going to be a tough team to beat.”

For Carrier, the fourth line has an entirely different role this season. In 2018, he was part of the heavy-hitting “Meatgrinders Line” that featured the league’s heaviest hitter Ryan Reaves. This year, Carrier was part of a line that set the tone early in the series-clinching game in Dallas, including his game-opening goal

“We did that all year,” said Carrier, who has four points in the postseason, including two goals, both against the Stars. “We were all playing together before the injuries, so we knew exactly what we wanted to bring right off the bat, and getting that goal in the first was huge for us.”

Just behind Karlsson for the team lead in goals is Marchessault with nine. Smith, who Gallant once called one of the smartest players he’d ever coached, has two goals and nine assists in the playoffs.

Neither McNabb nor Theodore have scored a goal, but have combined for nine assists.

And while the “Misfit Line” of Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith is no longer intact on the regular, the fondness for one another remains.

“It’s nice to see a guy you love play really well and contribute,” Karlsson said of Marchessault, who had the most points among Golden Knights players against the Stars and scored the winning goal in Game 3. “You think about his backstory and how he fought his way to get where he is today, and that it makes it all better. Very happy for him.”

Marchessault, who came to Vegas with Smith from Florida, scored in three straight games against Dallas, his third goal streak of at least that length in his playoff career. He also led Vegas in points during the 2018 Conference Finals against the Jets as he recorded 4 goals and 3 assists in five games, including the winning goal in Game 2.

Now he’s ready to finish the job the inaugural Knights couldn’t, as part of a team that includes an Original Six he’s confident can beat the Panthers.

“That was the goal since year one,” Marchessault said. “To come back here. Since the beginning of the season, too, we knew we had a good team.”

Added Carrier: “I think a lot of great teams were more mature than what we were in that first year. No one was expecting us, and we went out there and took the opportunity. I think this team wants to win, so we won’t be finished until we raise that cup.”