On Thursday night, ex-Caps forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s first goal and ex-Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer saved 35 shots from his former team. If it hurts you to hear about your exes thriving in their new relationships on Valentine’s Day, then you may wish to skip this story about Chandler Stephenson.
Stephenson was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in December, a promised soft landing from Caps GM Brian MacLellan for a depth forward who
is was famously allergic to offense. Since the trade, Stephenson has lived a charmed life. He scored in his very first game as a Knight and hasn’t really slowed down since. Here are his boxcar stats from 2019-20, plus his impact on the teams’ expected-goals percentage via Natural Stat Trick:
Eight goals and ten assists. Guy’s been on a 20-goal pace since he moved out west.
But I’m pulling my punches. Here’s the real stuff. Below are heatmaps from HockeyViz for Stephenson’s on-ice offense and defense before and after the trade. On defense, you want a lot of blue near the net. On offense, you want a lot of red near the net.
What in the– . By Micah McCurdy’s reckoning, the Golden Knights posed 44 percentage points more of a threat than an average team when Stephenson is on the ice.
Here’s the part where I tell you something I should have told you earlier. With Washington, these were Stephenson’s most common linemates:
And with Vegas:
That goes a long way towards explaining Stephenson’s breakout, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. After gently eviscerating Stephenson for having one of the lowest individual offense rates in the entire league, I have to note that Stephenson basically doubled that rate this season — even before he made the jump to the desert.
And while Stephenson is getting some amazing looks as a result of his elite linemates, that’s not the only way he’s scoring. Yeah, sure, there’s this breakaway set up by Stone:
But he also been the sole author of some highlight-reel plays. This OT winner was entirely his doing:
And he completely criss angel mindfreaks a couple defenders (admittedly, ones from Buffalo) to set up Nosek here:
It is unfortunate that the Capitals missed out on Chandler Stephenson’s next level, but more than that — it is encouraging. Hockey players, like anyone else, aren’t fixed objects. They can change, and they can surprise you. I think that’s heartwarming and a little bit humbling for anyone (e.g. me) who thinks they’ve ever got someone figured out. Good for Chandler. Keep kicking ass.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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