It is not very often that a team can make a trade midseason that results in them getting a significant upgrade to their lineup, and it is even less rare that you can do so while only giving up a late round pick in the draft. Now however it is starting to look more and more like the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and more specifically Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, have done just that.
Back in early December of 2019 the Golden Knights pulled the trigger on a trade deal that went relatively unnoticed, a trade that saw them acquire veteran forward Chandler Stephenson from the Washington Capitals in exchange for just a 5th round draft selection at the 2021 National Hockey League entry Draft. In spite of the fact that the trade itself did not get a ton of coverage, McCrimmon seemed genuinely excited to bring in Stephenson when he commented on the deal earlier this season.
"He's got good NHL experience," said McCrimmon as per NHL.com at the time of the trade. "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.
"He's a good penalty killer, a lot of experience in playoff time, obviously, being part of a Stanley Cup playoff team in Washington and just a guy we've had a lot of respect for his game for some time. He's a player that we've talked about in the past and when we had the opportunity to acquire him, we thought it was the right move for us."
No doubt McCrimmon had a good idea of what he was getting, he did make the deal after all, but I don't know that even McCrimmon had any idea of just how much of a steal this trade would turn out to be. Stephenson was by no means bad for the Capitals, the 25 year old had 3 goals and 1 asssist for a total of 4 points and a plus minus rating of +5 over 24 games with the Capitals, but his transition to Las Vegas has seen him take his gamer to the next level. In just 28 games with the Golden Knights Stephenson has already recorded 8 goals, a career high, 9 assists, the second best total of his career, for a total of 17 points and currently sits at an impressive plus minus rating of +18 with the Golden Knights.
To really highlight just how drastic the turnaround has been, Stephenson's 17 points with the Golden Knights are just 1 off his career best and that game in a 64 game season with the Capitals. The fact that he has been able to effectively match that total in less than half the number of games played is nothing short of amazing, and it may result in fans looking back on this trade as one of the biggest steals of the 2019 - 2020 NHL regular season. Whether or not Stephenson can maintain this pace remains to be see, but so far this one is looking really good for the Golden Knights.