Sunday, July 4, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Since they’ve existed, the Golden Knights have relied on their group of Misfits.
Left winger Jonathan Marchessault, center William Karlsson and right winger Reilly Smith took the hockey world by storm in 2017-18 in leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their maiden season. That team was affectionately called the Golden Misfits, and the three have been dubbed the Misfit Line as some of the most important players from the original team that are still with the franchise.
They were spectacular in the inaugural season and have continued to play big roles ever since, including in this year’s playoffs. In a postseason where Vegas forwards struggled to score, Karlsson led the team in assists and points, Marchessault led in goals, and Smith trailed only Karlsson in assists from forwards.
It’s rare one line stays together for four years, but when it comes to the Misfit Line, there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken.
“I truly feel fortunate to be able to share the ice with those guys all the time,” Smith said. “Two guys that compete just as hard as anyone. They’re hard-workers who really care about the game, care about the process, doing things the right way.
“I’ve learned a lot playing with them. Hopefully I’ve shed some insight on their careers as well.”
That first season everything went right, with Karlsson netting 43 goals and all of them clearing 60 points, the only time any of them have done that in their careers. Their point totals all finished in the 50s the next season, so even though they couldn’t maintain their stratospheric heights, they remained terrific players.
But as the Golden Knights grew older, their roster evolved. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson have taken up the top-line mantle, allowing the inaugural top line to thrive against other teams’ second lines.
In the playoff rounds against Colorado and Montreal, Stone and his line shut down Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and struggled against the Canadiens’ shutdown line led by center Phillip Danualt.
It drew matchups the Misfits were happy to exploit. While Stone, Pacioretty and Stephenson combined for 14 points (and 10 from Pacioretty) in those two series, Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith combined for 27. They were particularly lethal in the Avalanche series, where Karlsson and Marchessault had seven points each, including five goals from Marchessault.
“I think they’re the identity of this franchise,” coach Pete DeBoer said during the Avalanche series. “They’re three guys that all bring something different to the table, all have been probably overlooked at some point in their career. They have great chemistry. They hop over the boards and work hard every single night and hard to play against. That chemistry they have is hard to replicate so we haven’t messed too much with it.”
Four years later, Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith serve as a warning for 30 teams going into the Seattle expansion draft this summer. Vegas is exempt and won’t lose a player, but all three players came to the Golden Knights as part of side deals at the 2017 expansion draft.
Karlsson was selected from Columbus as part of a deal that had Vegas take on David Clarkson’s contract while also acquiring a first- and second-round pick. Marchessault was the pick from Florida as part of an agreement where Vegas would also take Smith in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
They were all basically throw-ins to the Golden Knights to protect other players Columbus and Florida deemed more valuable, and in return Vegas got the cornerstones of its new team.
They’re all under contract for next season too, so it’s likely they return for at least one more year together.
It’s conceivable the Golden Knights look to move Smith, who makes $5 million against the cap in the final year of his contract, and elevate fellow right winger Alex Tuch to a top-six role, but as of now they’re all planning on coming back. Marchessault has three years left at a $5 million cap hit, and Karlsson has six years left at a $5.9 million cap hit.
As long as they’re all Golden Knights, they’ll be on the same line together. Sometimes lines get reconfigured throughout the season but they always find their way back to each other.
Because when you find a line that works — and has worked for four seasons — you ride that wave as long as you can.
“It’s been a dream come true to be able to play with those guys for as long as we have,” Smith said. “Knock on wood that we stay together for as long as possible.”