LAS VEGAS — Should the leading scorer of the team in first place in its conference and division be part of the league’s All-Star Game?
In Chandler Stephenson’s case, absolutely.
The 28-year-old forward has been tremendous for the Vegas Golden Knights this season, leading the team with 11 goals and 40 points going into Saturday’s game with the Edmonton Oilers at T-Mobile Arena. He has done it despite playing different positions with a number of different linemates. And he does it with nary a complaint.
The starters were named last week, one for each of the NHL’s 32 teams for the Feb. 4 event to be held in Sunrise, Fla. Rookie goaltender Logan Thompson was selected as the Knights’ representative and he is deserving of the honor. Considering that had everything been normal prior to the start of the 2022-23 season Thompson would have likely been tending the net in Henderson of the American Hockey League with Robin Lehner and Laurent Brossoit handing the duties in Vegas.
And with first-year coach Bruce Cassidy earning the honor of coaching the Pacific All-Stars thanks to his team being at the top of the standings earlier this week, the Knights will be well represented. But there should be room for another Golden Knights player to participate in the All-Star weekend and Stephenson should be that player.
It’s up to the fans now. Voting for the additional roster spots is underway and runs through next Tuesday. Stephenson is going have some stiff competition to make the roster. There’s Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras, Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Seattle’s Andre Burakovsky who undoubtedly will be backed by their fan bases to be included.
Stephenson doesn’t worry about it since it’s totally out of control. He probably wouldn’t mind the time off so he can spend it with his family as he became a father in the off-season. Then again, it would be a nice honor to receive and the game’s 3-on-3 format would play to his skills as a skater and passer.
“I think it would be great for him,” Cassidy said of Stephenson earned an All-Star roster spot. “It would be well-deserve recognition for him and what he has done for the Golden Knights. I think he’s as good an option as anybody, especially in this format. He can use all his skill-sets — open ice, 3-on-3. Hopefully he gets in.”
Stephenson, who said he already has vacation plans with his family during the All-Star break, said he can change them if necessary.
“It would be a great honor,” he said. “But we have a lot of guys who are deserving. So I don’t know if it will happen. If it does, great. If not, that’s fine too.”
That this discussion is even taking place is a testament to how far Stephenson has come as a hockey player. He was a third-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2012 NHL Draft, didn’t make his debut until the 2015-16 season, languished between the fourth line and a healthy scratch while the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup and beat the Knights in 2018, then was traded to Vegas for a fifth-round pick on Dec. 2, 2019 as the Caps gave up on him. He scored in his first game with the Golden Knights, a 4-3 win over New Jersey. He is one of only a handful of players on the current roster to have played for all three coaches in the Vegas franchise’s six-year history — Gerard Gallant, Pete DeBoer and Cassidy.
But he has really blossomed the last two years. He had a career-best 21 goals and 64 points last season and is well on his way to eclipsing those numbers this year. He has played in all 43 games, which seems like a remarkable accomplishment given the vast number of injuries the Knights have sustained and also how hard Stephenson plays every shift. He plays to contact, does a fine job in his defensive responsibilities and is a quiet leader in the dressing room.
It remains arguably the greatest trade in the history of the franchise. Washington used that fifth-rounder from the Knights to trade with Philadelphia for Michael Raffl, who is no longer in the NHL and is playing in Switzerland. The Flyers eventually used the fifth-rounder the Knights sent to Washington to select defenseman Ty Murchison in the 2021 Draft. Murchison is currently playing college hockey at Arizona State.
“He’s been an excellent player for us,” Cassidy said of Stephenson. “For me, it’s about the everyday talent. He’s been terrific.
“If anything, he should be more selfish when it comes to shooting the puck. He finds himself in the slot a lot. He just likes to pass first, which is fine.”
Stephenson said he hasn’t had a problem fitting into Cassidy’s system where centers have added defensive responsibilities.
“It’s been fine,” he said. “I think everyone has adjusted their game and we just need to get everyone healthy.”
The Knights are still missing some key pieces. Defensemen Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud are still out and while Theodore may be back soon, the blue line remains thin. Center Brett Howden last played Nov. 23 and he is still out.
The latest setback was to captain Mark Stone, who suffered an upper body injury with just under eight minutes to go in the first period of Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Cassidy said Friday that Stone is week-to-week but would not say if the issue is with his back, which required surgery last season.
It means Stephenson will have another different linemate to work with Saturday against Connor McDavid, Draisaitl and the rest of the Oilers. Jack Eichel was with him for the remainder of Thursday’s game and it’s likely they’ll stay together and keep Michael Amadio on the other wing as Stephenson goes back to wing from center.
Whatever happens, Stephenson will handle it and go about his business, which has been very good for both he and the Golden Knights.
“Whatever they need me to do,” he said, smiling.