Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. These players have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams this upcoming season. These players can be new faces or familiar ones looking to have a strong return to form. Each day we will be looking at a different team! Today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Vegas Golden Knights key players.
2020-21 Vegas Golden Knights Candidates
Zach Whitecloud has been incredible in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. While the Vegas defence group is very strong with players like Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, but there is still a place for a player like Whitecloud. He was able to put together an impressive stretch in limited games at the NHL level.
Data and visuals from HockeyViz
As seen in the heat map Zach Whitecloud had an incredible sample this past season. If he can continue to play similar to the small sample he could be an incredibly valuable piece for the 2020-21 Vegas Golden Knights roster. This is a style of player that the Golden Knights currently do not possess. Pietrangelo and Theodore provide excellent offence, but they lack a top-end defensive player.
Whitecloud could provide stability to the penalty kill, likely the worst part of the Vegas Golden Knights last season. At 5v5 Whitecloud was able to post an xGF% of 68.55% through this short period. While this is all dependent if the small sample is reflective of Whiteclouds future style as a player, it certainly is promising and could help Vegas a lot for the upcoming season.
Similar to Whitecloud, Nicolas Roy played in limited games for the Golden Knights last season, bouncing between the NHL and AHL. He was very successful in the AHL and posted five goals through 28 games with the Vegas roster. He was able to perform slightly above a replacement-level player in every regard, as seen in his RAPM chart.
Data and visuals from Evolving Hockey
He was especially successful in limiting chances against, as seen in Corsi against category. As he continues to gain experience and playing time with the Golden Knights he could prove to be a solid all-around player for Vegas in the upcoming season. Roy is still young and is a player that is primed to break out. He will likely be seeing third line minutes, but could still be very successful in that position.
Alex Tuch had an amazing 2018-19 season, however, he really fell behind in 2019-20. He was only able to play in 42 of the 71 games. He posted just eight goals and overall was pitiful offensively. He was still a net positive player for the Golden Knights defensively, but for him to truly provide the team with value for the 2020-21 season he will have to return to his 2018-19 form. Being healthy for the entirety of the season is the first place to start having a better year. Even when players are back from injury, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100%. Tuch’s poor season could be an indicator to that.
He is also playing third-line left-wing behind Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty. Having consistent linemates, like Nicolas Roy, could lead to a stronger season from Tuch. The lack of depth centres could prove a hindrance to Tuch bouncing back, but he has shown he can succeed in spite of that.
Tuch could really prove to be an X factor for the Vegas Golden Knights bottom six, the other weakest aspect of their roster. Tuch is also a player that will thrive if there are any injuries in the Golden Knights lineup, moving up and playing with others more his skill level. A healthy season and either more consistent or better linemates will lead to Tuch bouncing back to 2018-19 form.
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