On a lake in northwest Ontario, some 45 minutes from the Manitoba border, two cottages sit just across the water from one another—“a 9-iron” apart, as Golden Knights forward Mark Stone puts it. It’s there that his journey to Las Vegas began.
Last summer, as Stone decompressed by that lake—in the house belonging to his parents—after a trying season with the Ottawa Senators, Cody Eakin arrived at the cottage—his permanent offseason residence—fresh off the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. And naturally, Stone asked Eakin about his experience with the expansion team that had just captivated the hockey world. “He raved about how well the operation was run for just one year,” Stone recalls.
Fast-forward eight months, and Stone is surrounded by reporters in front of his newly assigned locker at City National Arena. The scrum stretches out so far, the neighboring Eakin stands near the front of the room, unable to access his space. He doesn’t seem to mind the momentary inconvenience. “He’ll be a great pleasure to have on as part of this group,” Eakin says while he waits.
Stone and Eakin are teammates now, longtime friends reunited at the game’s highest level, and Stone is now “the guy” in Las Vegas. Billboards and welcome signs adorned with Stone’s picture went up across the Valley as soon as he was acquired from Ottawa at February’s NHL trade deadline. Soon after, he officially became the Knights’ highest-paid player, signing an eight-year contract with an average annual value of $9.5 million.
The 26-year-old has been anointed the future face of the franchise, ready to seize that mantle whenever 34-year-old goaltender Marc-André Fleury steps away from the game. “I kind of took that a little bit in Ottawa this year, tried to be the guy. We had a really young team,” Stone says. “Coming in here, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. I just want to be myself, play the way that I play and do the things that I do.”
THE ICE LESS TRAVELED
Stone’s path to NHL stardom has been anything but conventional. Ottawa selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft—178th overall—after the then-18-year-old had played two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. That wasn’t the first time he’d had to endure a long wait to hear his name called. The Wheat Kings themselves hadn’t plucked him until the fifth round of the WHL Bantam Draft in 2008.
In those days, Stone had a reputation for being both a weak skater and injury-prone. Once he began to overcome it, though, he began to look like a steal for the Senators. In 2012, he made Canada’s World Junior Championship team, tallying seven goals and 10 points in six games.
“When you were on the ice with him day to day, you gained a real appreciation for how quickly he picked everything up as a young player,” remembers former Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon. “Mark would have been a fourth-line player as a 16-year-old, but he was one of the top players in the Western Hockey League when he was done with his 19-year-old season.”
McCrimmon now serves as assistant general manager for the Golden Knights, and in that role, he helped bring his former junior star to the Strip. It’s not as if McCrimmon dug into his old player files to uncover a hidden gem—Stone was the Senators’ leader in points at the time of the trade—but past connections do help.
McCrimmon vouched for Stone and even picked him up at the airport after the trade. “He gave me my first shot at junior hockey,” Stone says. “Him being here is comforting. He understands what good people are all about, so I knew that between him and [general manager] George [McPhee]and [owner] Bill [Foley], they put good people in good places. I’ve noticed that ever since I got here.”
Stone was happy not just to come to a team like Vegas, but also to leave Ottawa. After coming within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final in 2017—losing in overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins—the Senators have been the losingest team in the entire NHL.
Ottawa dealt captain Erik Karlsson to San Jose last offseason—after engaging with Vegas in trade talks for the defenseman during the regular season—and then unloaded Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades at the 2019 deadline.
“The last year and a half has been a bit of a struggle, or was a bit of a struggle, for me and my teammates,” Stone says. “It wasn’t fun to be a part of. There’s a lot of good people in that dressing room, so to see it go that south was tough for me. [When] a new challenge came about, I was really excited to jump on it.”
THE TURNING POINT
Stone’s impact on the Golden Knights was immediately evident. In the 11 games before his acquisition, the Golden Knights went 3-6-1, falling in the standings as the Arizona Coyotes threatened to catch them and potentially knock them from the playoffs. Then the 6-4, 220-pound Stone came to town, and Vegas won 10 of its next 11 games en route to clinching a postseason spot. Old friends like Eakin were elated from the start, and old rivals have adjusted to being Stone’s teammate.
As captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Max Pacioretty regularly slammed Stone into the boards—and vice versa—during games between the Canadian divisional rivals. The man they call “Patches” smiles while describing his emotions upon first hearing about his new teammate.
“You think something about a guy, and then you get to know him and you’re more similar than you would think,” Pacioretty says. “He’s a great teammate, and I’m so happy that he’s here.”
The Senators swept Montreal in the 2013 playoffs following Stone’s first year in the league, though he didn’t log any ice time in the series. Montreal won a six-game 2015 playoff tilt against Ottawa, during which then-Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban slashed Stone’s wrist and broke it.
“It’s Ottawa and Montreal—the tension is high,” Stone explains. “It’s no different than when we used to play against the [Toronto Maple] Leafs … or us here playing against the Sharks. Those types of games are usually so much more intense than the others.”
Stone and Pacioretty aren’t just teammates now, they’re linemates, too. Pacioretty scored in Stone’s first game and joked that he almost put his hands up to defend himself when he saw Stone skating over to celebrate. “You don’t meet a ton of bad people in this game,” Stone says. “I kind of figured he was a good guy.”
Count the friendship as another revelation in a season full of them for Stone. He started the year with the Senators—hoping to prove the 2017-2018 season was a fluke—then traveled west in a blockbuster trade brokered in part by his ex-junior coach. Now he’s back in the playoffs, trying to realize every hockey player’s dream of holding the Stanley Cup.
Regardless of when it ends, Stone plans to head back home and relax afterward. He’ll clean out his locker, say his goodbyes and board a plane for the Great White North. Then he’ll travel back to his parents’ lakehouse, kick back on the deck and wave at Cody Eakin, knowing his time with the Golden Knights is just getting started.