With new head coach Peter DeBoer behind the bench and the struggles the Vegas Golden Knights have experienced on the blue line this season, he is looking for a spark on the back end. Early in his tenure, he was giving Nicolas Hague more responsibilities and he ended up scoring his first NHL goal, but DeBoer is now giving Zach Whitecloud an opportunity.
Whitecloud’s Career Path
The career path of Whitecloud has been something out of a fairy tale. Playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), the undrafted defenseman ended up going the NCAA route, playing with Bemidji State University. After playing his sophomore season, general manager George McPhee signed him to a three-year entry level contract in 2018 and he made his NHL debut that season.
In his second year, but technically a rookie, he learned the professional game at the AHL level for the Chicago Wolves. However, the Wolves had a magical run that season and Whitecloud was a big part of that. As a rookie, he led the entire league in plus/minus at plus-39 and contributed 22 assists with a total of 28 points. In their run to the Calder Cup, he added another 15 points as they ultimately fell short in the Final to the Charlotte Checkers.
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No matter what type of game you play, it is always fun to chip in offensively and Whitecloud is no exception. He knows he is relied upon to shut the opponent down in his own zone, but he still has his head up and uses his IQ to create offense.
“Obviously I want to make plays, but they have to be the right plays,” Whitecloud said. “They have to be the smart plays. At certain times you have to simplify the game. Just make sure it’s there, and execute it.”From ‘Golden Knights rookie Zach Whitecloud displaying poise beyond his years,’ The Athletic, 02/05/2020
With his smarts, he has earned an NHL call-up and has played in four games for the Golden Knights thus far this season, skating in a season high 17:06 against the Carolina Hurricanes in his most recent game. He is showing he can play with the best, but the question is will he remain in Vegas or end up elsewhere?
With this season’s trade deadline fast approaching, was Whitecloud’s call up an audition for other NHL teams or for the DeBoer regime to have a look at what type of player they have. DeBoer has connections to San Jose Sharks’ Brenden Dillon and Ottawa Senators’ Dylan DeMelo for a potential rental upgrade at the trade deadline and either of those players would fit nicely into a middle pairing for the Golden Knights.
However, Whitecloud has impressed in his early NHL stint.
“He’s got good composure for a young guy,” coach DeBoer said. “You have to be able to make plays in small areas and have that type of composure. He’s done a real good job of that.”The Athletic, 02/05/2020
With his early success, management could decide to stay put at this season’s deadline as they have dealt a lot of assets over the past two seasons to add firepower.
No matter what team Whitecloud suits up for in the future, he will be relied upon to provide stability on a team’s backend. The 23-year-old has faced adversity his entire career and has proven scouts wrong in every league he has played in, working his way through the MJHL, into the collegiate ranks and now playing pro.
Whether he finishes the season in the Golden Knights organization or with another franchise, his high IQ and composure should not be affected. He will continue to climb up his team’s depth chart and make contributions on and off the ice. As long as he keeps studying the game and learning from his peers, he will earn a nice living as a number four defenseman for many seasons.