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Tag: Zach Whitecloud

Offseason Outlook: Defensemen

Through the course of the playoffs, the surprise unit for the Golden Knights were the defensemen. They completely shut down the Kings, they stifled the Sharks, and they bent but didn’t break against the Jets. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, it kind of fell apart for the Vegas blueliners.

So, as we head into the offseason the burning question for George McPhee and the Golden Knights front office is whether or not they need to add to bolster their defense or of the missing piece is already on the roster.

Here’s a look at who the Golden Knights currently have under their control.

Nate looks like he’s become a star in the NHL. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Established and Signed
Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt

While this list contains 310 games played and three players who played all 20 playoff games, there are really only two fully reliable options as full-time starters moving into 2018-19. McNabb and Schmidt are expected to be stalwarts on the Golden Knights blue line this season and moving forward. They may not be paired together again next season, but they’ll certainly be in the top four.

Engelland is a bit of a mystery as he probably had the best season of his career at the age of 35. The question is can he continue playing at that consistent level as he heads into the final few seasons of his career.

Then there are Merrill and Hunt. Hunt is a player that’s bounced around the NHL and AHL and has never really gotten a full-time shot to prove himself. The reason for that is because he’s a bit of a liability defensively due to his size. He’ll have to play well in camp once again to make the roster, but even if he doesn’t, Hunt will be a good option in the event that a puck-moving defenseman becomes unavailable during the season. Merrill is a bit of a different story as he’s more of a defensive-minded player but has the ability to pinch in and help out offensively. The Golden Knights signed Merrill to an extension last season which indicates they believe in him, but it’s still not probable that he’s a 60+ game defenseman next season.

Established and under VGK control
Colin Miller, Shea Theodore

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6th Defenseman

Expect Sbisa to get back in the lineup, but who he’ll be paired with remains a question. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Just as is the case with the 12th forward, with the return to health along the Golden Knights blueline, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has some tough decisions to make heading into Wednesday’s playoff opener.

Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, and Shea Theodore are certainties to be in the lineup. Deryk Engelland is likely to be crack the lineup but there’s at least a bit of decision making needed with him as his play has seemed to slip as the season has worn on.

That leaves four defensemen with just once spot available in the Vegas D-core. As we did with the forwards, here’s a pros and cons list of each player and then both Ken and I made selections as to who we believe will get the call.

Luca Sbisa
20 Playoff games
1 goal, 4 points, -10 rating, 17:15 ATOI

Pros: Sbisa was one of the most reliable Golden Knights defenseman to start the season, was once considered VGK’s superstar shadown, and he has played several playoff games. Before being injured in mid-November Vegas was 10-5-1 with him in the lineup. Usually, Sbisa was paired up with Nate Schmidt and split duties covering the best forwards in the NHL. Like Englland, Sbisa is best staying home and protecting the net. Although he has done his share offensively. When Sbisa records a point the Golden Knights are 10-1-1 this season.

Cons: Sbisa has been hampered with injuries most of his career, and this year has been no different. Vegas was expecting a healthy defenseman after playing a full 82 games in Vancouver last season. It’s uncertain how injured he is, or if he’s even healthy enough to play against the Kings. Sbisa has suited up for 20 postseason games, going 8-12 with three different franchises. Sbisa could be the better overall option but Gallant may decide to go with Engelland because of similar style and trust.

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GOLDEN KNIGHTS SIGN ZACH WHITECLOUD (D) TO ENTRY-LEVEL CONTRACT

Reinforcements are on the way for the Golden Knights who have recently become a bit thin on the blue line. Zach Whitecloud, an undrafted free agent defenseman from Bemidji State University, has signed an entry-level contract with the Golden Knights.

He’s a very well-rounded player. A highly sought-after defenseman by a lot of clubs and we are delighted to acquire him as our first college signing. It should be a very good fit for the Vegas Golden Knights. -George McPhee

As mentioned in our previous article, Whitecloud is a well-rounded defenseman that’s been described as having “no deficiencies.”

He’s got a good, balanced skillset, has good depth to his game, good size, good puck skills, shoots the puck extremely well, and he’s a good defender. Zach Whitecloud’s biggest strength is probably that he has no deficiencies. If you want to sit there and analyze every shift, he’s doing something different every shift. That, to me, is a sign of a pretty good defenseman. -Tom Serratore, Bemidji State coach

He’s a mobile defenseman. He moves the puck real well and he’s a safe player right now. We think he plays conservatively and we believe he can give us a lot more offensively. He has lots of room for growth. He’s good and safe and conservative. He’ll build the offensive in his game. -McPhee

Whitecloud is expected to join the Golden Knights in Buffalo on Saturday. Nate Schmidt is also supposed to join the team and play in that game, so we are unsure of when (or if) Whitecloud will make his NHL debut.

Three Undrafted College Free Agents That Should Be On VGK’s Radar

Many college hockey programs finished their seasons this week, which means it’s entry-level contract time and all NCAA players are free to sign pro-level contracts. In most cases the player would sign with the team that drafted him and team get assigned to an AHL affiliate. When it comes to undrafted players, they have the option to sign with any team that makes an offer. Just take a look at what Pittsburgh does every March.

Hey you two, don’t forget about the NCAA guys! (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Penguins never back away from NCAA players in the draft and on the free agent market. Last season, Pittsburgh signed coveted Northeastern University forward Zach Aston-Reese. He was immediately sent to the AHL but was given the opportunity to play this season, totaling 6 points (4G, 2A) in 10 games before he got hurt last month. They did the same with Connor Sheary after his senior season at UMass-Amhert wrapped up in 2014. See Thomas Di Pauli and Ethan Prow for a couple more examples.

We suggested this last year, and it didn’t happen, but that’s not going to stop us from suggesting it once again this season.

Here are a few defenseman that could help the Golden Knights organizational depth. Remember, Vegas splits an AHL team and they need more bodies in the system.

Mattias Goransson: UMass-Lowell
22-years-old/6’3/Left Defenseman

If Vegas is concerned about the lack of depth on the blue line, they could target the highly skilled Goransson. The Swede is effective shutting down forwards, moving the puck and starting rushes. Mostly he’s a stay at home defenseman, and scouts rave about Goransson’s gap control. Opposing players mention how aware they were of his presence on the ice. At 6’3, Goransson has NHL blueline size combined with NHL skill. If I were ever a GM, I’d take a risk on any Swedish defenseman.

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