Jack Eichel has the narrative juice as the imported star making a mark in the postseason for the first time. Jonathan Marchessault is leading the Conn Smythe Trophy race while beating up on the team that allowed him to be picked in the expansion draft. Adin Hill has been nothing short of brilliant between the pipes.
Stephenson doesn't have as high a profile as some of his teammates, but he offered a reminder of how important he is to Vegas by scoring two of the team's three goals in 3-2 Game 4 victory.
WHAT A START TO THE (K)NIGHT FOR THE AWAY TEAM ‼️ pic.twitter.com/Toe1aea8KK
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 11, 2023
wanna see Chandler Stephenson score a goal? wanna see him do it again? 🔥 pic.twitter.com/qFcNZYdfCF
— z - Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 11, 2023
The 29-year-old — who leads Vegas in points over the last two seasons with 129 — now has 19 points in 21 playoff games. He's skating 18:26 night as the team's second-line pivot, winning 53.5% of his draws and nine of his 10 goals have come at even strength.
None of this is shocking considering how effective and consistent Stephenson has been in recent years. What is surprising is that he reached that level of performance in the first place. When Vegas acquired the centre, he had 33 points in 168 games over five seasons while averaging 11:40 of ice time for the Washington Capitals. He was available for a fifth-round pick.
Looking at what Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said at the time of the acquisition in 2019, it's clear he didn't believe he was getting an top-line producer.
"He's got good NHL experience," he said. "Versatility was a real key for us; he's got the ability to play any of the three forward positions and he's a guy who can move up and down the lineup."
Stephenson put up 22 points in 41 points with Vegas down the stretch, earning more ice time (15:40/game) than he ever did in Washington. That work allowed him to land him a four-year, $11 million extension that provided absurd value for the Golden Knights.
Vegas often gets credited for its meticulous roster building, and rightly so. The team's masterful expansion draft sent them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Many of the top players from that draft are still making important contributions to the team.
The franchise has also been opportunistic when it comes to snagging stars that become available. Eichel is just one example, as Vegas also able to pry two-way force Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators in 2019 and gave Alex Pietrangelo a mega deal in 2020.
There's even been some method to the Golden Knights' madness in net, as the team acquired a number of capable goaltenders in recent years, bolstering their depth with Laurent Broissot — who got them through the first round — in 2021 and adding Hill after learning that Robin Lehner would be out for all of the 2022-23 campaign. The team even gave Jonathan Quick a brief shot at the end of the regular season.
When you don't have a star goalie, the quantity-over-quality approach makes sense, and that's what Vegas has gone with.
Stephenson is the anomaly in all of this. He's not an original Golden Knight and he wasn't the type of player the team felt the need to jump on due to the scarcity of available stars. Vegas added Stephenson as a depth player that just about any team in the NHL could've easily acquired for a similar cost.
The Golden Knights did a good job of fostering his growth, but they arrived where they are today with him primarily due to luck. The type of player Stephenson has become doesn't tend to just fall into your lap, but in this case, he did.
Winning a championship requires a team to be both lucky and good, and that luck can take a few different forms.
In some cases, it looks like a peculiar bounce or an unlikely hero taking the spotlight. In the Golden Knights' case, the good fortune came via a trade made four years ago paying dividends in a way they never could've anticipated.