The Vegas Golden Knights need more from William Karlsson in 2020-21.
While there have been many, you can make a strong argument that Karlsson is the biggest success story in the short history of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Nothing more than a bottom-six forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Karlsson was a solid role player who recorded 25 points (6 G, 19 A) in 81 games during the 2016-17 regular season.
That proved to be Karlsson’s final year in Columbus with the center left exposed and then selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft, a move that changed the fortunes of both player and franchise.
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Karlsson flourished in Vegas on a top line with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, breaking out in spectacular fashion in 2017-18 with 43 goals and 35 assists for 78 points in 82 games, before lighting it up in the postseason with 15 points (7 G, 8 A) as the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year.
He logged top-line minutes, averaging 18:43 minutes a night during the regular season, while he quickly established himself as one of the most impactful two-way pivots in the National Hockey League.
It has been a pretty sweet honeymoon since then too with Karlsson recording at least 45 points in each of the last two seasons, while he’s also collected votes for both the Lady Byng Trophy and the Selke Trophy for his polished two-way game.
However, the Golden Knights will need Karlsson to level up offensively heading into the 2020-21 NHL season.
While Karlsson set new career-highs in ATOI (18:52) and Faceoff Win Percentage (51.9%) in 2019-20, in addition to playing an elite two-way game, the 27-year-old regressed in a key area…
Although a drop-off after his stellar debut season in Vegas was to be expected, Karlsson produced his lowest output for the Golden Knights in 2019-20 with 46 points (15 G, 31 A) in 63 regular season games, before putting up four goals and six assists for 10 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But Karlsson went cold for substantial stretches on far too many occasions last season, particularly during the postseason when the offense simply dried up for the Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars.
He went four or more games without scoring a single goal on two occasions inside The Bubble, four straight games without recording a point and he also went 20 straight games without lighting the lamp during the regular season.
That isn’t going to get the job done when you are a top line center, and there will be added pressure on Karlsson in 2020-21 given that he is Vegas’ only real proven and high-end center following the trade of Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets.
Chandler Stephenson is a nice piece but isn’t a true top-six forward, the jury is still very much out on Cody Glass and both Nicolas Roy and Tomas Nosek are more suited for the bottom six, so the offensive load will have to be carried by Karlsson.
The good news is that with either Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone or Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault as his wings, Karlsson will be surrounded by potent weapons and elite playmakers who will give the Swede the puck in the right areas.
I mean, in 104.03 of TOI with Stone and Pacioretty as line mates, Karlsson helped that line record a xGF% (Expected Goal For Percentage) of 68.26 and a CF% of 60.89, while a line of Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith had a xGF% of 60.7 and a CF% of 56.22, according to Evolving-Hockey.
It is feasible to predict that Karlsson will start the 2020-21 season on a top line with Pacioretty and Stone so, based on the metrics above, there is enough evidence there to suggest that Karlsson can enjoy an offensive resurgence with elite wingers either side of him.
He will need to be as the Golden Knights’ only proven top-six center, while you only have to look at other top line centers in the National Hockey League to figure out that Karlsson needs to up his production in 2020-21.
Just look at Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele who, like Karlsson is a two-way pivot, recorded 29 goals in 71 games last season, as did Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames who is arguably in the same bracket as Karlsson talent-wise.
And, with an AAV of $5,900,000, Karlsson will need to light the lamp more than the 15 times he did in 2019-20, especially now that he doesn’t have a proven center behind him on the second line.
Even if William Karlsson can add 10 more goals and 15 more points to his total tally in 2020-21, then that should greatly aid the Vegas Golden Knights who need their top line center to return to the offensive juggernaut he was in 2020-21.