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September 16, 2019

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Golden Knights’ William Carrier had a better season than you remember

Knights-Sharks, Nov. 24

John Locher / Assocaited Press

Vegas Golden Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, celebrates after left wing William Carrier (28) scored against the San Jose Sharks during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Las Vegas.

William Carrier is a bruising power forward who stumbled his way into some goals last season, but his league-leading hits-per-game and physical presence is the extent of his value to the Golden Knights.

Right?

Carrier has had his moments in his two seasons in Vegas, but he’s oftentimes an afterthought on the fourth line and pigeon-holed into the role of bruiser. Dig a little deeper, though, rewatch the game film, and you’ll find stats and evidence that indicate Carrier’s career-best eight goals last season could be just a starting point.

Let’s start with the numbers.

Among players who had 500 minutes on the ice at 5-on-5 last year, Carrier ranked eighth in the NHL in expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. The players ahead of him were Brendan Gallagher, Timo Meier, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Brady Tkachuk, Filip Forsberg and Evander Kane. Those are legit NHL scorers.

There were 349 players last season who scored at least eight goals. Only three did so in the less than the 535:34 time on ice Carrier had, and only one, Calgary’s Andrew Mangiapane, scored all those goals at 5-on-5 like Carrier.

Carrier didn’t have virtually any power-play time last year (3:25) but performed on a per-60-minute basis at even strength like a scoring savant.

More ice time could lead to a boost in production, but considering Carrier has 14 goals in 132 games, it could be that he excelled in a small sample and more ice time would expose him. He didn’t score in his final 13 games of the year or seven playoff games, after all.

Still, the stats say he made the best of the ice time he received.

What they don’t say is who he scored those goals against. If he was scoring against scrubs and AHL call-ups, the numbers get a little less impressive.

Of his eight goals, three came against a team’s top-six forward group, while he pounced on the bottom line more often than the top.

What’s interesting is the defensemen who were on the ice when he scored.

Carrier lit the lamp against Carolina when Dougie Hamilton and Jacob Slavin were defending, against St. Louis’ pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Carl Gunnarsson, against San Jose’s Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon and against Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty and Derek Forbort. That’s half his goals against the opposition’s top defensive pair.

And some of those were genuine skill goals, not the rebounds or tip-ins you’d expect from a fourth-line grinder. Watch this one against Ottawa on Nov. 8.

He dangles around poor Mark Borowiecki, then puts a nifty back-hander past Craig Anderson. That requires hands that fourth-liners don’t typically have. He showed off his mitts again on Dec. 29 against Los Angeles on a deflection during a game in which he was elevated to the third line.

Carrier puts himself between the puck and goalie Jonathan Quick, eyes Cody Eakin’s point shot and redirects it over Quick’s shoulder. He was also faster and more defensively sound last year than he got credit for. Watch him catch Lias Andersson sleeping and create an odd-man rush with Tomas Nosek.

He scored two rebound goals: against Carolina and against Vancouver. Twice, against San Jose and St. Louis, he beat the goalie on a breakaway. He got lucky once, against New Jersey, but showed off some slick skating and puck-handling to get a shot off.

Carrier scored in a multitude of ways. He picked up the greasy ones, but he also flashed some tremendous puck-handling and skating skills that aren’t normal for a player who had 277 hits.

The ability to score wasn’t an anomaly, either. He was a point-per-game player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and had 13 goals in 56 games his final year in the American Hockey League, a 19-goal pace over 82 games. He needs to stay healthy, as he has not played more than 60 games in a season since 2015 in the AHL.

He’s a 24-year-old who had the most ice time of his career last year and cashed in with the most goals in his still-young career. It still wasn’t much, but if he keeps scoring, he could work his way up the lineup and earn more time, which would lead to more scoring.

Carrier is never going to be the team’s top goal-scorer. But if he breaks his career-best in scoring that he set last year, don’t say you weren’t warned.

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