The Vegas Golden Knights are one of the most high-profile teams in the NHL. They are led by superstars such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury, who have helped them reach the top of the Honda West Division. However, there are some players who are flying under the radar despite putting up some impressive numbers. These underrated players include Nicolas Hague, William Karlsson and Zach Whitecloud.
Entering his second season in the NHL in 2020-21, the former second-round draft pick of the Golden Knights has been playing some impressive hockey. He has already matched his point total from the previous season in 12 fewer games, despite only being on the third defensive pair. This season, Hague has seemed to be more confident with the puck and has been shooting the puck far more. On the season, he has 40 shots and is on pace to destroy last season’s mark of 54. Despite only having three goals on the season, he does sit at 11 points and is currently third in scoring among Vegas’ defensemen.
Hague’s ability to generate scoring chances comes from his solid play in the defensive zone. During the 2020-21 season, he has a plus-9 rating. This positive plus/minus rating can be attributed to his responsibility in the defensive zone. Currently, he has 35 blocked shots and 53 hits. This is great news for the Golden Knights coaching staff and fans because he is using his 6-foot-6 frame to the best of his ability.
If Hague can continue his development at his current rate, the Golden Knights could have another elite defenseman in a few years. He is only 22 years old at the moment, and with the Golden Knights’ success of developing younger players, it is only a matter of time before he becomes a household name.
Ever since his breakout season during the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, Karlsson has had a watchful eye placed on him. Although he has not been able to reach the 40 goal mark again, he has stayed true to his playmaking ability as his assists numbers have been consistent. Now that some of the pressure is off of his shoulder with Stone and Pacioretty on the top line, he has been able to fly under the radar and become a consistent offensive threat. So far, he’s tied for fifth in scoring for the Golden Knights with 20 points.
The rise in Karlsson’s numbers could be from his increase in ice time. He is currently leading all Vegas forwards in TOI with 18:40 per game. His near 20 minutes per game is due to the large amount of responsibility he has on the team. He plays on the top unit for both the power play and penalty kill as well as being the second-line center. His skill as a two-way player has been on display for the entire 2020-21 season and is evident by his plus-10 rating and high faceoff win percentage of 54.47 percent.
Karlsson has finally found the role that best suits his game. The pressure of being the main guy at all ends of the ice did not fit with his two-way playing style. Now he has the freedom to play his game effectively without the same critique he first had.
Whitecloud made a name for himself during the 2020 Playoffs due to his stellar defensive ability. Now in the 2020-21 season, he has added offense to his game without sacrificing anything defensively. Looking more confident with the puck, he has managed to produce 7 points and has a game-winning goal. Even though his offensive production has been up, he still remains one of the Golden Knights’ best defenders.
On the season, he has 42 blocks and 42 hits. Seeming to have grown into his 6-foot-2 frame, Whitecloud has been able to protect the front of the net at both even strength and on the penalty kill. His defensive skills have only seen the 24-year-old defenseman be on the ice for 11 goals against while at even strength. Another strength of his is his hockey IQ. He seems to know exactly where to be on the ice at any given time, which has lead to some goal-saving plays.
Despite not lighting up the scoresheet, Whitecloud is underrated in the fact that he rarely makes any mistakes and completes the simple plays with ease. He is a key piece of the Golden Knights because he is responsible in both ends and will play hard each and every night. If his development continues, much like his partner Hague, he could develop into a very high-level player.
The Golden Knights are highlighted by big-name players, but they are not the only ones that are playing great hockey this season. Hague, Karlsson and Whitecloud may be flying under the radar, but their play is worth the praise. Each of these players has been performing well during the 2020-21 season, and they should continue to be important players for the Golden Knights as the playoffs approach.
I am a former Jr. A hockey player that is currently attending school at San Diego State University. At SDSU, I study Journalism and Public Relations while also playing on the school’s rugby team. Hockey has been a big part of my life, as I have been playing since I was three years old. Other than hockey, I enjoy watching and playing all kinds of sports.