The Vegas Golden Knights continue to impress this season, this time signing one of the top college free agents. Zach Whitecloud has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Golden Knights, after finishing his sophomore season at Bemidji State University. The press release indicates that Whitecloud will join Vegas tomorrow in Buffalo, and wear #2.
Whitecloud was being pursued by several teams around the league, including Los Angeles, Detroit and Tampa Bay according to the latest 31 Thoughts column by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. The 21-year old defenseman grew up in Brandon, Manitoba where Vegas AGM Kelly McCrimmon ran the Wheat Kings for more than a decade. Whitecloud will go down as the Golden Knights’ first NCAA signing, and he’s an impressive one.
He’s a mobile defenseman who moves the puck real well. Is a safe player right now. We think he plays kind of conservatively, we believe he can give us a lot more offensively. There is lots of room for growth there. I like that he he’s got his base attributes that he’s safe and conservative, and if we can build the offense into his game he can be a pretty good player.
Whitecloud’s offense isn’t is calling card, but he’s also no slouch there. Scoring 19 points in 36 games this season, the right-handed defenseman has a hard shot and can quickly move the puck up the ice. If he starts to jump into the rush more often, and develops a willingness to attack in the offensive zone, there might be an uptick in point production. Even without the added offense, Whitecloud can handle himself in the defensive end and could be used as a penalty killing option at the professional level.
While the Golden Knights spent several draft picks acquiring Tomas Tatar at the deadline, the team still needs to add to their development system over the next few years. One way to do that is mine the college ranks for talents like Whitecloud, who at the very least can be a solid addition to a minor league program. Even if his NHL ceiling is somewhat limited, adding young free agent depth is always a good thing. Whether he gets into a game this season is still unclear, but he’ll be practicing with the team and learning what it means to be a professional hockey player.